ARROW’s September Construction Project

Every September, our ham radio club, ARROW, does a construction project. In the past, we’ve done a keyer kit, J-Pole antennas, and other small projects that you can complete in an evening.

Bare Bones BoarduinoThis year, we’ve decided to build a low-cost version of the Arduino microcontroller called the Bare Bones Boarduino, from Modern Device. This is a pretty good introductory soldering project.

What’s an Arduino (or Freeduino)? It’s an open source microcontroller board that is cheap ($11), and fairly easy to program from Linux, a Mac, or even Windows. You program it in “C”, and there are libraries other folks have written to let you do things like run servos, blink LEDs, and so on. The Bare Board Boarduinos use the ATmega328Phave processor and have 32k flash memory and 2k of RAM.

What can you do with an Arduino or Boarduino? Well, you can check out the Arduino website for ideas.

In addition, the September/October 2009 issue of QEX contains a story on how to use the Boarduino to build a keyer. I don’t really need another keyer, but that article, coupled with an idea gleaned from the Ten-Tec-Omni-VII mailing list has given me an interesting use for the Boarduino, I think.

The mailing list thread discussing the 610 got my creative juices flowing is the thread discussing the elusive Ten-Tec 610 Remote Keyer. I say “elusive” because if you search the Ten-Tec website for information on this product, all you’ll find is a press release that says it will cost $169 and that it will be available sometime in 2009. There are no product specifications or photos to be found anywhere.

This dearth of information has, of course, led to a lot of speculation about what it will do and what it won’t do. Carl, N4PY, seems to have the most information on this product. He writes:

This keyer will interface through a USB port and become an additional keyboard for the computer. Paddles will plug into it and operating the paddles will cause the 610 keyboard to send characters to the application that has the focus just as though the characters were typed on a regular keyboard. There will also be a provision to add the Ten-Tec remote tuning pod to this device. Turning the knob left or right will cause certain special characters to be sent to the application that has the focus. The application will realize a right turning or left turning operation from the 610 keyboard and take appropriate action. So all programming will simply look at the receiving characters to figure out what to do.

This all sounds very cool, but $169 seems kind of steep. I’m guessing that I could program the Boarduino ($10 hardware cost, plus the cost of some kind of USB port) to interface to my computer so that I could use paddles instead of a keyboard for text input. Wouldn’t that be cool?

My iMac currently uses a USB keyboard, so I’m guessing (hoping?) that I won’t have to write a driver for the Mac end. Anyone know where I can find interfacing information for the Mac USB port?


  1. I don’t know about the third party kits, but the USB port on the original Arduinos is via a serial port emulation chip, so I think the best you could do with that one is to write a program on your computer that listens to that COM port and creates corresponding key presses (I’d put money on this possibly already existing). There might be a USB slave shield, but it wouldn’t fit on the BBB anyways.
    What I would look into is having it be a PS2 interface (if your computer has it, or use a PS2-USB adapter). I see projects all the time decoding PS2 keyboards on the arduino, so thinking you can encode PS2 doesn’t seem like that bg of a stretch.

  2. David Brodbeck N8SRE says:

    It needn’t be Mac-specific, and you shouldn’t need a driver on the computer end. USB keyboards are standardized and I’ve frequently used PC keyboards with Macs. So any info you find on emulating a USB keyboard should work. Keyboards and mice are sometimes referred to (somewhat redundantly) as “USB HID” devices, where HID stands for Human Interface Device, so that may help you in your search. I bet someone has written Arduino code for emulating a keyboard, but you may need an external chip to interface with the USB bus.

  3. Dan KB6NU says:

    Great comment, Dave. It does look like someone’s done a bunch of work along these lines already. Here’s a link to a forum posting describing just such a solution.

  4. Jim, WB8AZP, passed along this link to a Secret Knock Detector using an Arduino.

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