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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Lasers, LEDs, Tin-foil Hats, and QRP

Yesterday I got a very interesting message from Rye, K9LCJ. The map of Tasmania comes from the Modulated Light DX portion of the KA7AOI site (below).

Hi Bill:

I really enjoy your Solder Smoke show and news feeds. Great stuff that has got me back into ham radio again. Your note about optical comms got me fired up enough to add some notes that you might not be aware of.

There is a substantial worldwide community playing with optical communications and they have achieved some amazing records using simple off the shelf components – mostly big Luxeon LEDs which have some (debatable) advantages over Lasers. The most sophisticated component in typical systems is the Fresnel lens – which can be obtained at office supply stores or ebay as “page magnifiers” for a couple of bucks.

There seem to be about four major groups:

The Radio and Electronics Association of Southern Tasmania has an active bunch and they have achieved some great distance records with (QRP) LEDs. They have also been bouncing signals off of geographic features to establish communications paths. They are also doing some cloud/sky bounce things that are quite amazing. The REAST web site has lots of well documented test data that’s really interesting to read.

K3PGP has an exceptional web page full of test reports and construction details. His K3PGP preamp/receiver (and variants) are the basic building block for most systems. It uses a $1.00 pin diode, a MPF103 FET and a handful of common parts to get some almost fantastic performance.

Yves, F1AVY has a strong theoretical background and has been doing interesting stuff in France for quite a while and his web page has lots of interesting technical details.

Clint, KA7AOI has a very comprehensive web page. Clint holds the record for long distance communications (173 miles) and describes much of his equipment and testing. There is also a bunch of historical material that is very interesting.

There are probably a bunch of folks I have forgotten, but all of them are noted in the many and varied links found on these web sites.

I think that the most interesting thing about the activities is how the teams have adapted available technology to an interesting problem. Much of the work resembles current amateur weak signal activities. In fact, Spectran and WSJT are part of almost every activity. Much of the work is unique outside of the academic community and might even be called groundbreaking in some areas.

We have a small group here in the Raleigh North Carolina area, but so far we haven’t done anything of note other than build equipment and play in the local park. The fact that this sort of thing must be done outside at night draws all kinds of attention – some of which is not necessarily good. …a bunch of strange looking guys running around in the dark with strange flashing red lights…. I have a special cap that I wear for the occasions.


Keep up the good work.

Rye Gewalt


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