Episode 608 – Automatic Packet Reporting System

This time on the show Tray Murphey, N4PAT, joins to to introduce the Automatic Packet Reporting System, radio licensing, hardware and building a kit on the cheap.

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In this segment Tray Murphy, N4PAT, joins us in studio to introduce the basic concepts of Automatic Packet Reporting System — an amateur radio based digital communications system.

Tray continues to show us various hardware options for using the APRS system, including a Garmin 350 Nuvi “bug” and a GPS & Pic combo that would fit in a bread box.

We’ll be back in studio next week with Matt and Shannon and special guest Jason with a touchscreen LCD mod and a lot more.


  • Brian Donofrio

    Great stuff; I’m thinking I need this for my ultimate motorcycle electronics kit. I never thought outside of the Cell phone box. This opens up a whole new, less corporate greed, more open source type homebrew option, to gps motorcycle location vlogging data capture. Great work!

    I do miss Shannon and Matt, more Shannon. Without her… ehh.. it’s a bit of a salami fest. I miss her warm glowing smile. I know motorcycles are very dangerous but maybe Shannon, Matt and paul on bikes would be cool. Just throwing that out there. Maybe Snubs on a Kawasaki Ninja 250 with some hot pink leathers would look really nice in the vlogging pics. Then Matt and Paul in a Ural Sidecar. You could use the side car as a platform for the camera.

    The Hak5 Gypsie motorcycle tour. Just needs some sponsors from the motorcycle world. Like they did with the Long Way Round.

    It’s amazing the great ideas you come up with every week. This APRS was a real thought provoking eye opener.

  • Hoi Chin

    It seems as if this show has lost it’s way. This episode was totally impractical for most of us. As getting a ARL is not that easy (time wise) and not to mention gets pretty expensive. Also I don’t feel like coughing up my social security number for it, I like some sence of privacy. This is not something you can just do at the house or even buy a few parts and do as a weekend project. You have to get licensed, etc,etc,etc. Just not practical. was this episode somewhat knowledgeable? Yes. Practical? NO. Although I did not watch it all the way through I can say times are tough and time and money are harder to come by. So this episode won’t get my vote. Again out of all due respect the guest on the show was cool and had good info.

  • Don aka LBDWAG aka KB2YSI

    Darren, this just might bring me back into the hobby that I have been out of for the last 10 years or so…

    Anyone who like to do geocaching, take a look at what is called a ‘fox’ hunt… same idea, but with radio’s and possibly some very evil people placing said ‘fox’.

  • Craig aka KB3SBI

    I am new to the hobby and have been interested in APRS so I really enjoyed this episode. One point I might add about using this technology is there is no reoccuring fee to use APRS. Then there is the homebrew aspect. Maybe you guys can have Tray back to do some homebrew APRS construction. I have been watching your show almost from the beggining and I have learned alot. I can’t wait for you guys to start hacking on some PCB’s. Keep up the good work. I look forward to more Ham stuff.

  • Juan Cubillo

    @Hoi Chin

    Your SS#, and probably all your “private” info is already out there.
    Episode was good.. you just didn’t liked it. so what? I don’t like some of the episodes.. so what? I don’t write saying… “hey duuude.. this episode is not for us!” WTF?

    Where’s the + comment???

    @everyone else

    Great show guys! and it’s true what donofrio says… we miss shannon and matt.

    APRS is great for making small ucontrolled beacons that transmit data back to a server. I’d like to get more involved with this tech.

    For a future show… show a way of interfacing an internet app to a cellphone to send sms messages… or even automate the sending of them… like a cron script that alerts you when evil server is doing stuff or something… you get me. 😉

    Showing some love all the way from Costa Rica!

    – Juan Cubillo

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  • Shawn

    I love this show! This episode came just in time. I’ve been looking for something that could provide long range real-time situational awareness. (tracking multiple mobile objects) Especially loving the past couple shows. Keep up the good work!

  • sukotto

    I have to admit, I thoroughly enjoyed this episode. I’ve been an inactive ham for quite some time (still keep my license valid though). It has become a LOT more practical to become a licensed operator these days. It isn’t for everyone, but it’s very enjoyable for many.

  • JC Denton

    @ Juan Cubillo
    Why should Hoi Chin give a plus comment if he truly didn’t like it? It is a matter of opinion and a difference in opinion is good. Not to mention You can’t say his SS# number is out there in a vast array you don’t know who he is or even what he does. Stop assuming. In the defense of Hoi he did give credit where credit was do.

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  • Langleyo

    Nice show folks!

    Ham radio has quietly been doing APRS for years! I believe even on the space station! Thanks for giving it a feature, Darren. I cut my teeth on ham radio and packet stuff back in the eighties, and it certainly helped me gain understanding about the OSI layers, AX-25, Networking, TCP-IP and loads of other low level hacking goodies. I used to chat regularly for hours with a guy in Santa Barbara from England in “real time” (around a minute turnaround back then on my 300 baud system). We used the LONNY – NBC “Wormhole” which came out in London, New York and Burbank CA. Using radio links only, I made it all the way up to Canada from New York! Great fun.

    DEFINITELY worth learning about. Don’t get me started on the VOIP networks they run too!

    Been following the bike ride, real interesting to see the ferry crossing on video.


  • Bryan

    Been a HAM for about 10 years, varying degrees of activity. If you like APRS, check out findu.com – a gateway access to APRS data from the Internet with robust search capabilities. Also, have some fun with EchoLink – basically VOIP for ham radio – where repeaters all over the world connect up to the Internet and you can use your computer, or another radio, to gate traffic all over the world. Still requires radio license to use, but a great way to talk to people about anywhere, and you don’t even have to have a radio to do so 🙂 http://www.echolink.org/

  • WD9HYM / Garry

    I love your shows ever since I found them on the Internet, I have been a radio Amateur since 1976-77. This was a good show, Tray failed to say that Packet\APRS is also used on the international space station. I have bounced packets off it and talked to others in different states so its not limited to only earth.

    There are many other programs that we use as well to send SSTV (Pictures), and other radio data formats, thanks to simple computer interfaces. Now no need to spend a ton of money for hardware.

    Both Linux and Windows can be used.
    Keep up the Great work on all of your shows

  • jimbobaggins

    Wow. I really liked this episode. I think you should demonstrate this kind of stuff more often. HOWEVER, As with any episode, I think you should actually make a small example for an application of the ‘hack’ in question. It would make the show a lot more interesting. I am really interested in this kind of thing, but even I get bored when it’s presented as it is.


    Great episode ! Wish someone could find a way to make radio’s that are computer controlled FOR cheap, as all the kits are very expensive.

    I have been a ham for a while now and did use APRS, also other modes like packet BBS and SSTV …..etc.

    Every hacker should be a ham !

    Keep up the good work darren ! love your shows ALL of them, it does not hurt to learn something you don’t need but you might use one day !

    From the valley of VA LOL !

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  • Rial

    APRS is what brought me into the hobby. The idea of amateur radio to me had always been a bunch of old guys talking into radios with humongous antennas. In helping my father teach a Radio Merit Badge class to a group of Boy Scouts I read a bit into the “Packet Radio” information available. Within a month later I was a licensed amateur operator, thanks to the fact that the FCC did away with the CW (Continuous Wave) a.k.a. Morse Code requirements.

    Within the realms of other amateur radio projects you might find of interest include “SDR” or Software Defined Radio. There are a lot of other micro-controller projects out there using the Arduino and Picaxe for Ham Radio applications. Even still, there is a newer technology called “D*Star” that is a digital voice and data protocol for use by amateurs.

    I was excited to see a friend I hadn’t spoken with in a long time, Tray is a great guy and really easy to get along with.

  • systemd0wn

    Just watched this episode and I have to say I really enjoyed it. To me it was two knowledgeable guys just geeking out and having a good time. I would be interested to see some new school hacks utilising this… Anyway I’m down for another HAM episode.

  • KB3SQE

    Getting an Am. License costly? time consuming?

    My wife got her tech. license with a total investment of about an hour and $15 test fee. Way cheaper than most projects here in both time and money.

  • kb8ufp

    I agree with KB3SQE – Not terribly difficult or expensive. You aren’t losing any sort of privacy – just registering with the FCC. It’s more of a recordkeeping thing anyways. Are you really scared to give your social to a government agency? The same that gave you the freakin’ number?

    I’ve been wanting to code up my own Microchip PIC to handle building the bridge from NMEA GPS to audio and handle the radio, good to know its already done!

    MOLOTOF – They have them already:


    Those are admittedly DAMN expensive. However if you recall they had FM cards for ISA slots. Those easily were modified to receive 2M.

    Also ATSC and NTSC PCI-E tuner cards can easily be modified to receive FM comms all the way up past 800mhz.

    It is entirely possible to pick up a transmitting 2m/440 rig for under $100 in perfect working order too. Also check your freecycle lists and whatnot for folks getting rid of “police scanners”. You can hear whats out there with those. Radio Shack still sells them and they are about $100.

    However I will say this – ham radio is indeed a dying hobby. The few folks that are left are growing older. As one of my former associates put it – He was describing how he used to talk from Brazil to his father in Miami on a regular basis in the 70’s and 80’s. I asked him why he didn’t anymore. His reply “Well…. Internet hehehe.”

    There are any number of interesting and fun things to do with ham radio:

    Earth – Moon – Earth bounce chat (i.e. use a very directional antenna and bounce your radio signal off the moon)

    Operate via satellite (there are a number of hamsats up there – http://www.amsat.org) – you use them as they used to in the 60’s – just transmit at the right time and your downlink goes to a place over the horizon.

    HF (using signals below 30mhz – the ionosphere tends to refract and bounce the radio signal – thus directing it back to earth over the horizon).

    Digital modes – PSK31 (only need a few hz of bandwidth for nearly worldwide comms – I can easily work Europe from south FL on HF when voice would never make it) Packet – TCP/IP over Packet (i.e. plain jane internet at 1200 baud over the air/AX.25, Pactor, G-tor, WeatherFax – Slow Scan TV (before webcams lol), RTTY (radio teletype – typing keyboard to keyboard was invented in the 60’s). AND the best digital mode of all – Morse Code!!!! CW (or continuous wave). dits and dahs that are the language of a true geek. My wife even understands a bit. She recognizes I love you and a couple others like CQ, but I don’t think she’ll ever get it mastered or even try.

    Skywarn – Assist the National Weather Service by becoming a severe weather spotter. Report tornadoes and flash floods.

    Traffic – Become part of the OLD method of quickly communicating before phones and the interwebs – Using radio to pass messages person to person.

    CERT/Emergency comms/volunteer/EOC work – Assist your local goverment and emergency staff.

    One of the cooler parts is that you can LEGALLY use up to 1500 WATTS of power in the 802.11b/g band – . NOBODY better be actually doing that and around it, cuz that is better known as a microwave oven. That is provided you are communicating via amateur radio with your 802.11b/g gear. Regular Internet stuff rarely adheres to the rules, so no wise ideas.

    I did just sell off my HF gear so my PSK31 days are over for a bit. We are at the dead bottom of the sunspot cycle…. Its dead out there. I live in the bottom floor of a strict apt complex – no way I can get an antenna outside where it needs to be. I don’t really like the local 2m/440 (they call em ragchew – basically the old fellas who talk all day on the “repeaters”), but my portable radio is also a general coverage receiver – so I go mobile a lot listening for stuff like the wendy’s drive through – EMS responders, helping out at accidents (making sure if someone is hurt they get EMS called quickly).

    Very soon I’m building a mobile GPS/APRS/WeatherNerd mobile station for the upcoming severe WX spotting season down in FL – also next years hurricane season can benefit from live weather data on APRS.

    Hope to see more ham stuff on Hak5!

  • Chris Drzewiecki

    In the Amateur “Ham” radio community, APRS is known as “Automatic Position Reporting System” and not “Packet” reporting. For all you gripers about getting your ham radio license, it really isn’t that difficult. All you have to do is memorize the questions to the technician test which are provided on ARRL’s website and take practice exams on QRZ website.

    Also you can interface to technology to any type of radio system, including those little FRS you use while going camping!


  • Brian Jester KB8UIP VE3SPG

    Great episode. I didn’t realize many GPS Navigation systems had a “Fleet Mode” and allowed you to do 2 way texting. I saw some comments that were grumbling about getting a ham license. It’s not hard to get a Technician license at all. Just study up and go get the license. It’s not about the license, it’s about the people, and knowledge you’ll gain. Also I saw that you can enable WAAS/EGNOS and get up to 3m/7m accuracy on your GPS.

    KB8UIP and VE3SPG

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