Part of the commitment of amateur radio is to experiment and look for ways to harness technologies. EmComm officials are looking for new tools with which to improve their effectiveness in emergency situations. A new product, the PiGate, is a creative and useful solution designed to bridge a gap between today’s smartphones and the amateur radio community’s web of radio message server gateways accessing the Winlink 2000 system.
I received a new RaspberryPi for Christmas and was looking for ways that I could use it for public service scenarios. I added Xastir software to the Pi and was looking for a TNC with which to connect my radios when I came across the TNC-Pi, made by Coastal Chipworks. You can buy it as a kit or pre-built and it mounts atop the Pi’s GPIO header. On the TNC-Pi web site was a link to the PiGate site where you can get all the information on this product.
The PiGate software consists of a RaspberryPi system image that includes a private WiFI access point, an e-mail server, and a client to access the Winlink 2000 gateway, primarily via radio using the TNC-Pi. Since I am already a registered user of Winlink this was a great fit as a project for me.
Generally, in a localized disaster situation there are likely to be power, cellular, or other service interruptions. Individuals in crisis may not be able to reach family or friends. This is where the PiGate can be a valuable asset for amateur operators deployed in the field.
The PiGate is a great project for the experimenter. The TNC-Pi can be purchased as a kit you can build. The PiGate software, which is FREE (although donations are welcomed!), can be downloaded and loaded onto a micro-SD card. The only other thing you need is a VHF radio, a data cable (there are diagrams for building your own on the PiGate site) and a Winlink RMS gateway in the area you can reach. Then you can register your phone, tablet, or laptop to test and tweak your system.
Mark Griffith, the developer of the PiGate, has put a LOT of effort into this project and is always looking for others to help test new features and provide useful feedback. This is a fun project and can be a powerful tool to put into your GoKit. Read up on Mark’s project here: http://www.pigate.net/welcome.html. You’ll find documentation, the PiGate software, links to trick out your project including 3D files for printing your own project case!
For those of you who want to take this to another level you can build your own RMS rf relay using two Pis, two TNCs, and the internet to create a local radio link between an incident site and the nearest access to the rest of the world.
Mark’s design is very clever and he pulls together a number of available open source pieces of software to make this work. Whether or not you are an ARES or RACES member you can put this project to work for your own education using the Winlink system and practice your project building skills. Winlink requires you to register with that service as a licensed amateur operator before you can use the system. There’s a lot to do on the Winlink web site as well. Between Winlink, PiGate, and TNC-Pi you will have many hours of interesting and important activities with which to strengthen your public service skills.