Radio Orienteering Hardware Initiative

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ARDF Coordinator

Sep 25, 2022, 2:59:45 PM9/25/22
When Jerry Boyd, WB8WFK, and I formed the ARRL ARDF Committee in 2019, we identified numerous issues that were dragging on Radio Orienteering’s growth in the USA. Those included the absence of rules tailored to North America’s radio-sport environment, a lack of knowledgeable Radio-O instructors, and at the top of the list was the difficulty of obtaining suitable Radio-O equipment for both organizers and participants.

We set the equipment issue as a top priority because the lack of equipment exacerbates all the other problems the sport faces in the USA. In effect, specialized Radio-O equipment is at the base of the food chain. A lack of equipment makes it difficult for organizers (including instructors) to equip themselves for practices and events, and it discourages newcomers from getting and remaining involved in the sport.

Transmit Equipment First

Jerry and I spent some time focusing on receiving equipment for competitors before we realized that supplying the event organizers was a more urgent need. Having receivers available isn’t of much use if there are no events and no classes for the participants to attend. Ideally, transmitters and receivers would be addressed simultaneously, but practically and realistically, transmitters needed to come first. And the design of those transmitters must address the issues that are most critical to organizers: they must transmit signals that comport with Radio Orienteering rules, they must be highly reliable, they must be easy to configure, synchronize, and deploy, and they should require a minimum of volunteers to help with set-out, pick-up, and maintenance.

Over the past couple of years, our hardware efforts have not solved every hardware issue that organizers face, but we have made progress on all of Radio-O’s competition formats with solutions providing accurate, stable, and continuous transmit frequency output with regulation output power; precise timing with settable turn-on and turn-off dates and times; easy set-up and syncing that virtually eliminates misconfigured transmitters; and relatively simple designs that are fully open source for both hardware and software.

This equipment has been demonstrated at the past two USA Radio Orienteering Championships (Quantico, VA, and Asheboro, NC). FlexFox80 transmitters with no-radial 80m vertical dipole antennas were used for both 80m classic and sprint events. The Arducon fox controller with direct AM modulator was used for the 2m classic (Quantico only). All the events using this transmit equipment were held without any hardware failures or configuration issues, and only a single individual was responsible for set-out, pick-up, and maintaining the equipment.

Now Meet NanoFox

At the 2023 USA Radio Orienteering Championships (April near Dallas, TX), a new transmitter for foxoring will be introduced: NanoFox. NanoFox is a small, full-featured foxoring transmitter. Jerry is busy building the first 15 units as I write this. Testing thus far indicates that NanoFox will generate the same accurate, stable transmitter output as the FlexFox80, with a clean sine wave output waveform covering the full 80m band. It will be capable of transmitting for over 40 hours on a fully-charged 1200 mAh LiPo rechargeable battery. It will have precise timing with settable turn-on and turn-off dates and times, and will be fully weather-protected and sealed against dew. And perhaps best of all, the NanoFox will be easily configured and synchronized, ensuring that all 12+ foxes (plus equipment check units) are set to the proper frequencies and timing.

Jerry will visit next year’s championships venue in about a week and will test one of the new NanoFox units on site. It appears that he is on schedule for NanoFox’s debut at the 2023 Champs.

Going Forward

Jerry and I want to make this equipment available to all organizers of USA Radio Orienteering Championships going forward. This reliable and easy-to-use equipment will reduce organizational headaches and hardware worries. Better yet, it will reduce the number of volunteers needed who are capable of orienteering to and from the fox locations.

We all know that Radio Orienteering faces numerous challenges. We must all use our unique skill sets to address those challenges if the sport is to grow. This hardware initiative can use help in a variety of disciplines: design reviewers, testers, technical writers, promoters/marketers, builders, as well as coders and web developers. Reply to me if you are interested in contributing.

Charles Scharlau, NZØI
USA ARDF Co-coordinator
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