[aprssig] "Superdigi" experiment at MB7UBN

Scott Miller scott at opentrac.org
Sun Mar 15 14:39:32 EDT 2009

> Let's not get radical, gone (unfortunately) are the days of amateur radio
> being the 'innovator'.

It's true that amateur radio isn't likely to be driving any cutting-edge 
technology, or at least not any that the commercial world is interested 
in, but I think there are still interesting areas for innovation.

APRS trackers are a good example.  Years ago a TNC was a fairly complex 
system with a bunch of different ICs, but today you can squeeze all of 
that into a single, sub-$2 microcontroller and get reliable data 
communications from obsolete voice-grade radios.  There's no incentive 
in the commercial world to work on that sort of low-cost system; the 
low-volume AVL stuff doesn't justify it, and the high-volume consumer 
cell phones and things need to be much more feature-rich to compete.

There's a company near me that develops satellite-based AVL systems.  I 
visited their office for an open house, and (after availing myself of 
the free beer and appetizers) hung out with their engineers and 
programmers for a bit in the hardware lab.  The system they've developed 
is considerably LESS sophisticated, software-wise, than something like 
my Tracker2.  Yet the manufacturing cost is many times higher; it was 
easier for them just to throw lots of computing power at the problem 
than to squeeze more performance out of lower-cost hardware.  And their 
equipment isn't even doing low-level comm stuff - it's just speaking 
RS-232 to an off-the-shelf satellite modem.

That's a perfectly valid approach for their situation.  They make their 
money on monthly service charges, though the CEO was clear that they 
didn't take a loss on the hardware.  But it's also the reason I sell a 
lot of trackers to places like India and Kenya and I'm pretty sure they 

My point is that hams still have a lot of opportunities to develop 
innovative applications and techniques, even if we're not driving the 
basic technology so much.  And a lot of the world can still benefit from 

To put it another way, just because all of the big companies are 
focusing on building bigger and better backhoes doesn't mean there's not 
a place for better, cheaper shovels.  And doing what you do because you 
love doing it and want to do something useful means you can fill niches 
that someone who has to answer to shareholders and demonstrate a 
reasonable potential for profit can't.


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