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SteppIR and Ultrabeam from Flex 6/smartsdr v2

G8ZPXG8ZPX Member
edited June 23 in New Ideas

SteppIR and Ultrabeam from Flex 6/smartsdr v2

I have always driven my SteppIR via the interface on Logger32. Now I have v2 I thought I would try remote. So, I connected the antenna controller directly to the radio USB port using a standard FTDI cable.

Now, whilst I can get it to work for simple frequency following, it appears that there is not facility in SSDR to show what antenna is currently selected, nor is there any control for functions such as Home, Calibrate, Reverse etc.

This means that presently the SmartSDR+SteppIR (or ultrabeam) combo is not safe for remote operation because we have no visibility whatsoever of the antenna behaviour. Anyone who uses either a stepper or an ultrabeam will know that the elements can and do get out of sync with the CAT control data sometimes. Its therefore very important to know what is presently going on with the antenna and be able to home/calibrate back to a known-good state.

It’s important when working remote as our assumptions cannot be verified by simply looking at the LCD of the controller. It’s doubly important if using an amp remote too.

Presently with SmartSDR driving the antenna it is entirely possible to be TXing full QRO in to a badly mismatched antenna, yet with no clue of a problem or status/visibility. I don’t want to risk wrecking expensive antenna and amplifiers due to this problem so I am switching back to logger32, and will abandon v2 remote operation until this can be fully implemented.

The SteppIR and Ultrabeam are very popular, so hopefully someone at Flex will come back to say this is scheduled to be fully implemented soon. :)

Comments

  • RiaRia Member ✭✭
    edited November 2019
    I use DDUtil. It works quite well. imageimage
  • G8ZPXG8ZPX Member
    edited October 2017

    Ria, does this mean a PC left turned on 24/7 in the shack just to run DDUTIL and also install it on the remote end too, then setup a reliable remote connection and hope the PC never reboots or locks up?

    v2 was to be the answer to integrated remote operation with ease. Would rather not see work-around solutions.

  • RiaRia Member ✭✭
    edited October 2017
    Yes it does mean that. I would also like to see SteppIR control but for now simple CAT control is what SSDR provides.

    2.x is not going to cover every single remote situation, and for now it’s a .0 product. Anyone seriously remoting their station has other bits and pieces anyway. The SteppIR situation has been discussed before and I’m sure the team is aware of it.
  • Mike va3mwMike va3mw Member ✭✭
    edited February 2018
    I use PSTRotatorAZ for my remote Steppir.  Like Ria, I have been at this for a long time.   http://www.qsl.net/yo3dmu/index_Page346.htm

    image


    Personally, what I do is have 1 computer there that is my command and control computer.  It is used to control antennas, amps, etc.  PSTRotatorAZ can do all the heavy lifting as it will talk to the Flex 6000.  PSTRotatorAZ even have a web front end do you can do you beam pointing from an iPhone if you wish.

    image


    I do a remote desktop to the command and control computer.

    This in combination with a remote web based really board and you are covered.  I use RemoteQTH server from https://remoteqth.com/remoteqth-server.php.

    image

    If it is urgent that I retract the elements on the Steppir, I do a quick Remote Desktop from my iPhone to the command and control computer at the remote station.

    Personally, while it would be nice to have all the control handled by Flex equipment, I would rather they devote their development and support time on the RF part only.  

    Since remote operation is highly specialized, each one would be unique and hard to support.  

    my 2 cents, Mike va3mw


  • Larry BenoitLarry Benoit Member ✭✭
    edited November 2018
    While I am not familiar with Logger32, if it has a serial (RS232) interface to control your Ultrabeam you can employ an Ethernet to serial device server to operate it remotely.  If the interface is something else, you can use any other app that has serial support for the antenna.  

    Whatever the control application, you do not need a running computer in the shack.  You install the Ethernet to serial device server in the shack, connect it to your router (set up port forwarding) and connect the serial cables to your equipment. On the remote PC you configure the control applications with virtual serial ports created for the Ethernet to serial device server (any app that uses serial com ports should work) and run it along with SmartSDR 2.x (SmartLink) and SmartCAT.

    I've installed Ethernet to serial  products from USR Jinan Technology, specifically the N540 four-port device, which costs about $80 USD.  The unit is well-built with an up-to-date custom driver by VCOM  that has worked flawlessly. 
    http://www.ebay.com/itm/USR-N540-4-Serial-Port-RS232-RS485-RS422-to-Ethernet-Converter-/292253177043...

    I also use single port Startech serial to Ethernet converters, but they are 5 times more costly per port with similar quality. And, I have experimented with a Moxa industrial server, but found the Windows 10 driver buggy and unusable. 

    I use DXLab's DXView or DDUTil to control a Green Heron RT-21 rotor controller and DDUtil or a custom Elecraft app to control an Elecraft KPA500 when operating from a remote site. The apps provide full functional control of the equipment, including current settings and status.  

    Again, no running computer is necessary in the shack.  You can remotely control any equipment with a serial interface with any software designed to support it.  
     
    73,
    Larry KB1VFU





  • Tim - W4TMETim - W4TME Administrator, FlexRadio Employee admin
    edited June 23
    G7BCX (sri I don't know your first name as it is only listed a "C" in call sign searches) brings up a valid concern.  Yes, there are other solutions that exist to control peripherals, but the crux of his idea post is to have more advanced control functions via SmartSDR and not have to run a separate computer (another single point of failure) when operating remote.

    The challenge with this request is that it is really unsustainable from a development resource allocation standpoint to support third-party devices.  What could work is a "plug-in" type architecture where an API enabled app at the remote end sends and receives commands with a radio which are translated to CAT or device-specific commands and sent to a USB connected device.  Then third-parties could write the UI and the command interface for specific add-on peripherals.

    Disclaimer: This is just one way to address the concern and is not indicative of a future feature or capability of the radio.
  • Ken - NM9PKen - NM9P Member ✭✭
    edited October 2017
    Tim, is that something like allowing a simple serial passthrough from the remote client’s computer through the Flex’s USB port to connected equipment? I would love to see that. Then all that Flex would need to support would be the “Virtual Serial Command Tunnel” Ken - NM9P
  • G8ZPXG8ZPX Member
    edited October 2017

    Mike, thanks for the info on PSTrotatorAz. I had used it many years ago but was not aware of its remote functionality so will give this a try as a work-around for now. I’m in the process of relocating my entire station to become remote, and therefore do not want any unnecessary single-point failures such as PCs, Windows lock-ups, update **** etc. etc.

    Tim, thanks for the reply. I agree that APIs must be the way to go and 3rd parties need to get onboard as well. I agree that Flex should avoid being ****-in to developing an interface for every 3rd party product out there. However, I do wonder what might have been the design ethos for developing the interface to the present point, that essentially produces less functionality than previously available from other more established methods. To me it either needs doing with a fully joined-up methodology or not at all.

  • Tim - W4TMETim - W4TME Administrator, FlexRadio Employee admin
    edited October 2017
    More like a CAT tunnel ;-)
    image



  • Tim - W4TMETim - W4TME Administrator, FlexRadio Employee admin
    edited October 2017
    G7BCX - the design intent was to connect devices directly to the radio hardware, sans a PC, to allow it them to receive band data for frequency control operations.
  • G8ZPXG8ZPX Member
    edited October 2017

    Sorry Tim, didn't mean that the way it might have sounded. What I mean is that I wouldn't want to be operating 'blind' with any 3rd party kit whilst working remote, in this regard I mean antenna, amplifier, rotator, antenna selector etc. These things need user interaction and real-time feedback for proper operation.

    For example take a look at the control panel of the OM2000a. I would not be happy working remote if I was not able to see at least the basics elements of that display, input, output, swr, temp etc. but connecting solely through the radio at present means just that, so not a tenable solution with a one-way data path in my opinion. It needs to be more like a cat flap, i.e. letting kitty in - and out of the box.

    image

  • RiaRia Member ✭✭
    edited October 2017
    I like the idea of the plugins. I realize it is not a promise but I think I would really like to see it being extensible in that manner. This way SmartLink turns your radio into a hub for your remote station. This would work twofold - let the GUI stuff and visual enhancements be added on by the community and the engine of the radio handled by flex. So users that want it can get their cosmetic features like spots in the panadapter and such with minimal dev team time.

    As far as G7BCX and her station, right now she'd need a third party solution to get the SteppIR controlled - which in my case is 100% fine with me as I am in the same situation. I use both DDUtil and a small experimental program I developed (using a Raspberry Pi).  Flex is committed to fully integrating its own equipment and its partners' equipment (eg. Power Genius XL) but I do agree that supporting every single third party solution is going to require a lot more dev team bandwidth than is available right now. 
  • Larry BenoitLarry Benoit Member ✭✭
    edited November 2018
    Do you have the OM2000A+?  The manual explains how to configure the remote software for control of the OM2000A+ over the Internet as well as your LAN.  Have you evaluated that option?  I believe the amplifier has RF sensing for automatic band switching, which would take care that function, absent a SmartCAT connection. 


    73,
    Larry KB1VFU

  • Ken - NM9PKen - NM9P Member ✭✭
    edited October 2017
    Yes, TIM...CAT Tunnel!   
    If I can connect my PstRotatorAZ to a Virtual CAT port, either serial or TCP, through SmartCAT/SL in the same way I connect my logging program at my remote site and have the commands come out the back of the FLEX radio's USB ports, which are connected to an amp, antenna rotator, Antenna switch, StepIR antenna, etc. then there would be seamless connectivity and control of those deices using whatever control program I wish to use on the operating end of the connection...It wouldn't matter what the user wanted to control.  All Flex would need to do is provide the communications channel transparently through the rig's USB ports.

    Kind of like having a VPN to the shack without needing a computer at the shack end.

    But I have no idea what the overhead would be to provide the "CAT Tunnel..."
    Cats are very unpredictable...at least mine is!  (;P)
  • G8ZPXG8ZPX Member
    edited October 2017

    Ken, I love the idea and it would entirely negate the need for a PC at the remote site. The secure communication channel is already there, so just opening up the tunnel at both ends to 3rd party apps, then anything is possible thanks to an inclusive Flex design schema. This idea has legs and I hope Flex take it on board.

  • Mike va3mwMike va3mw Member ✭✭
    edited October 2017
    I did the CAT tunnel one year (about 5 years ago).  It worked pretty well, however, that limited me to where I could operate from.  It works perfectly if you only operate from one place.  

    For me, that limited me hugely and as I was travelling, I decided keeping 2 remote computers made it simple to configure and simple to connect to.  

    If the CAT tunnels work for you, the RemoteQTH Server does have SER2NET built in giving you the ability to build your tunnels.  In fact, it also has VPN software (N2N VPN) and it does run on a PI that consumes 1W  of power.  Much less than my 2 PCs.

    On one other remote site, we do have PSTRotator talking to RemoteQTH to do beam control since RemoteQTH does listen to Raw RS232 Sockets.

    As you can see, a number of options depending on your goals for your remote setup.  

    I went my route as I don't then need to depend on a vendor to provide  I solution.  This way I control my destiny.  :)

    73

  • G8ZPXG8ZPX Member
    edited October 2017
    Michael, I know there are other way to achieve the same thing...just like there were already adequate ways to remote the F6k via vpn etc. 

    However, I think Flex could embrace a broad "all inclusive" principle by using the existing conduit within the SmartLink infrastructure to allow 3rd party traffic to pass unhindered. Most command and control traffic for rotators, SteppIR, Ultrabeam etc are very small low-duty cycle packets anyway.

    Flex should see Ken's idea as an marketing objective, an extra reason to buy Flex over the competition..."because Flex makes joining up all the dots much easier"

    There will always be hacks, work-arounds and bodges. However, we are seeing an evolution in radio centred around SDR principles. Joining up all the disparate pieces is a real challenge for many people, a problem that Flex can make easier and more attractive to potential customers.

    Blue sky thinking...making the Flex ecosystem the hub of your radio world instead of just being another peripheral hanging from your PC (which is often there only for connectivity reasons any way.
    The F6k is already a well interfaced single-board computer, it runs Linux...a real OS, and it has the capability, just needs to add some imagination!

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