Amateur Radio And The Maker Community

The HamRadio360 Workbench #22 podcast episode released on April 25th, 2017 focused on two communities we love, the maker and ham radio communities.  The host, George (KJ6VU), points out during the introduction that this podcast will be exploring “What does being a ham get you as a maker”? George and co-host Jeremy (KF7IJZ) discuss the advantages these two communities bring to each other with Kenneth Finnegan (W6KWF) and Mark Smith (KR6ZY) during the nearly two-hour workbench discussion. This episode peaked our interest. FaradayRF is situated between these two communities and is bridging the gap. Our goal is to help interest people who do not find traditional amateur radio relevant or compelling enough to pursue it.

Several critical points were made during this podcast:

  • What can amateur radio gain from makers?
  • What can makers gain from amateur radio?
  • What types of makers would be interested in amateur radio?
  • The pros and cons between using FCC Part 15 radios or FCC Part 97 (amateur) radios

George, Jeremy, and guests provide personal insight into their experiences between both communities on both the technical and social fronts. Does this discussion actually raise a much larger question about the future of the hobby itself? Can we learn something from the tremendous growth of DIY electronics and the rest of the maker scene? Listen to the episode and hear what they have to say!

The Future of Ham Radio

At FaradayRF we believe that the future of amateur radio will be built on experimentation. Equally evident, the fundamental difference between both communities regarding wireless communication is how they use it. Makers generally use radios as a means of achieving a larger goal whereas radio amateurs generally use radios as a means of communicating. Today’s young generation has also grown up with digital networks being ubiquitous. Cell phones and WiFi access has certainly influenced how they view radio fitting into society. Overall, sending data over large distances is nothing new regardless of whether it travels through wires or radio waves.

Access to cheap electronics including unlicensed radio modules have lowered the barrier of entry for hobbyists utilizing radios in projects. This raises the question if amateur radio can remain relevant by continuing to embrace the act of “making contacts” as its main goal. We think something needs to be done to change this mindset.

Learning From the Maker Community

First production batch Faraday PCB

Faraday is based on a popular Part 15 ISM radio transceiver but designed for Part 97 amateur radio use

Amateur radio is in the position to enable the use of radios while also educating about how they work. While radio amateurs can develop enticing technology for makers we can also learn how to utilize this technology from them. The maker community will bring new skills and ideas into the hobby that will help shape how we as a community use amateur radio. APRS and HAMWAN are great examples of utilizing amateur radio without needing to focus on “making contacts”. They represent a taste of what the future may hold if we start embracing ideas outside of our comfort zone.

Clearly there are both technological challenges and a social challenges facing amateur radio’s future. The growth of the maker community and the popularity of wireless communications within it show a need to address these challenges soon so that we can grow together. FaradayRF is attempting to address some of these challenges with Faraday, our first radio intended to appeal to both electronics hobbyist and programmers.

It is unlikely that the traditional amateur radio values, skills, and activities will disappear as we embrace less of a “making contacts” ideology. This is similar to the continued popularity of Morse Code after the FCC removed the Morse Code requirements from amateur radio exams. Just because the hobby may start changing doesn’t mean it’s for the worse. Exposing makers to contesting, DXing, Morse Code, etc. is beneficial in a similar way. Ham radio operators would see technology being used in new ways to solve new challenges from the maker community. This mixture is where Ham radio should be headed if it wants to remain relevant as a hobby.

What do you think? How will amateur radio benefit incorporating new technology and activities that may challenge traditional norms within amateur radio? leave a comment below letting us know what you think.

 

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Author: Brent Salmi

Co-founder of FaradayRF and an electrical engineer working in the aerospace industry in Los Angeles. I’m a General class amateur radio operator (KB1LQD)

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