Hands on: A Ham Radio for Makers

The RS-UV3 is a shot in the armfor amateur radio. Mobile phones and the Internet have made the basic act of talking to a faraway person an everyday experience. This means that much of the appeal of ham radio is now in things like emergency response; technically challenging exercises such as bouncing signals off satellites or ultralow-power long-distance contacts; and exploring a host of digital communications modes.

In some ways, trying out such digital modes has never been easier. Free desktop programs like Fldigi can work with the audio tones used in a smorgasbord of communications schemes, from the 1930s-era radio-fax Hellschreiber protocol to today’s complete bulletin-board systems. But linking the computers running such software to radios is often surprisingly fiddly in the age of painless USB and Bluetooth. Except for high-end rigs, connecting a computer to a ham radio typically involves navigating legacy interfaces and connectors and can call for specialized additional equipment, a turnoff for makers who might otherwise be interested in the possibilities of radio.

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