HAMNET Report 12th April 2020

As expected, our lockdown has been extended by another 2 weeks. That might still not be long enough, but does help. This is bad and good news. Bad because our various forms of cabin fever get worse, but good, because we restrict the spread of the disease, AND because we radio amateurs can play radio for even longer! Please grasp the opportunity with both hands.

What can I report on this week that isn’t directly COVID-19 related?

The ARRL Letter reports that, despite the coronavirus pandemic, the March 20 – 21 HamSCI Workshop went on as scheduled, moving to a free, all-digital webinar workshop. The theme of the 2020 workshop was “The Auroral Connection — How does the aurora affect amateur radio, and what can we learn about the aurora from radio techniques?”

Organizer and University of Scranton Professor Nathaniel Frissell, W2NAF, told ARRL that he was quite happy with the outcome, after the in-person workshop had to be called off as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“In some ways, it was good for us,” Frissell said. “We actually got many more participants than had we just held it in person.” Expectations for the live event were for about 100 participants. Online, Zoom — the webinar platform used for the workshop — reported 290 unique logins from 24 countries. After cancellation of the in-person workshop, Frissell had to scramble to make the virtual event a reality.

“I had the webinar running in practice mode for about 2 or 3 days before the workshop, and I let presenters log in whenever they wanted to test things out,” Frissell said.

“Both aurora and ham radio citizen scientists work closely with the Earth’s atmosphere and ionosphere, but while aurora folks tend to think about how what we see reveals aspects of the ionosphere, ham radio operators tend to think about what radio waves can tell us about the ionosphere.”

The workshop served as a team meeting for the HamSCI Personal Space Weather Station project that’s funded by a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to Frissell as its principal investigator. The project seeks to harness the power of a network of radio amateurs better to understand and measure the effects of weather in the upper levels of Earth’s atmosphere.

KSNB TV News reports that, with a national shortage of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, people are doing what they can to fulfil the orders. When they heard of the need, some members of the Amateur Radio Association of Nebraska looked at each other and found a way they could help. Now with people outside of the group helping, too, they are using 3D printers to create face shields.

Their 3D printers have been running all day for over a week now. Volunteers across the Tri-Cities are quickly making face shields for hospitals and clinics who need to serve the public. The shield is a simple frame design with a plastic cover. The cover can be quickly changed out or reused.

“Material-wise we have pennies on the dollar for these things so we want to make sure our healthcare workers and everybody involved in the field are safe and so we’re doing what we can to help,” Amateur Radio Assoc. President Allen Harpham WD0DXD said.

The frames are printed, but the shield part is actually recycled overhead projector sheets from schools. They have gotten thousands of sheets donated to them from schools in central Nebraska who have no other use for them anymore.

Business Insider South Africa says South African cell-phone operators can now get access to radio frequency spectrum on an emergency basis, to help with Covid-19 disaster communications, under new rules published by the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) on Monday.

That includes frequency allocations that operators have been begging and pleading for, in order to roll out 5G services, as well as bands that will allow them to provide better data service.

But there’s a catch: the operators only get the spectrum until the end of November. On 30 November, say the Icasa regulations, the temporary licences to be granted will automatically become invalid.

That is if the licences are not revoked earlier than that. The spectrum allocation is also due to be revoked within three months after the end of South Africa’s national state of disaster around the coronavirus, so that if the state of disaster were to be cancelled at the end of May, cellphone operators would have to hand back the spectrum at the end of August.

The temporary allocation of the high-demand spectrum is to help operators “deal with the anticipated rise in demand for network capacity or data services” during the disaster, Icasa said.

There will be no fees for access, and operators could have the use of the spectrum before the end of April. Applications were due by Thursday, after which the regulator has given itself four days to process those applications.

The ARRL letter further reports that Radio amateurs continue to play key roles in developing the electronic control system for an open-source/architecture, modular, low-cost human patient ventilator. The device itself was designed by researcher Sem Lampotang and his team at University of Florida Health — the school’s academic health centre — using such commonly available components as PVC pipe and lawn-sprinkler valves. The idea is to create a bare-bones ventilator that could serve in the event of a ventilator shortage.

“The way I look at it is, if you’re going to run out of ventilators, then we’re not even trying to reproduce the sophisticated ventilators out there,” Lampotang said. “If we run out, you have to decide who gets one and who doesn’t. How do you decide that? The power of our approach is that every well-intentioned volunteer who has access to Home Depot, Ace, Lowe’s, or their equivalent world-wide, can build one.”

Dr. Gordon Gibby, KX4Z — a retired associate professor of anaesthesiology at the University of Florida and an electrical engineer — is among those involved in the project, developing control-system prototypes. He reports that a trial printed circuit board is being created, populated, and tested prior to large-scale fabrication. “This should lead to a documented open-source design that can be replicated or improved

upon by any interested manufacturer,” Gibby said, noting that the board could be built anywhere in the world, based on the Arduino Nano microcontroller.

“A huge amount of work has gone on in the design of the circuit boards,” Gibby told ARRL. “We have at least two, maybe three designs, ready for fabrication.” Current design specifications and a video of prototypes have been posted online. The Arduino-based control software will set the respiratory rate and other key parameters in treating critically ill coronavirus victims. Other radio amateurs involved in the control system aspect of the project include Jack Purdum, W8TEE, and uBITX transceiver maker Ashhar Farhan, VU2ESE.

Using a Groups.io forum, up to 140 volunteers have been studying or working to push the project to completion. Software is being created by multiple volunteers, with amateur radio operators involved in that phase as well.

The ventilator’s valves will precisely time the flow of compressed oxygen into a patient with lungs weakened by viral pneumonia in order to extend life and allow time for the body to clear the infection.

If you weren’t depressed enough already, spare a thought for Vanuata and Fiji, who have just suffered Tropical Cyclone Harold, on top of our worldwide agony, and then the entire Pacific rim of fire, which is just quietly going about its business of experiencing earthquakes on a more or less daily basis! Enough is enough, I tell you!

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.