The last few months have seen very hard times all around the world, the Covid19 pandemic which has affected almost ever corner of our planet. QRP Labs has continued to operate normally throughout the Covid19 pandemic. However, logistics have certainly slowed down during the pandemic. It has taken longer to get supplies of components. Customers who use post office shipment will have noticed very much longer delivery times in many cases. I hope that you and your family are in good health and remain so.
1. New product: QCX+ CW transceiver replaces QCX, many improvements
2. QCX/QCX+ firmware updates T1.04 and T1.05
3. QSX project update
4. FedEx Express (TNT) shipping option
5. QSO Today Virtual Ham Expo
6. U4B flight test program
7. Social media, Feedback, unsubscribing
In May 2020 QRP Labs introduced the new version of the famous and amazingly popular QCX kit, the new QCX+. To date, 10.568 QCX/QCX+ kits have been sold, of which over 600 are pre-orders for the new QCX+. The QCX+ has the same circuit, and the same firmware and operating features as the original QCX, but a new physical layout and many exciting improvements. At $55 the QCX+ has only a small price increase compared to the original $49 QCX.
The most noticeable change is that the QCX+ consists of TWO PCBs with pin-header interconnect between them. The LCD and controls are mounted on a vertical front-panel PCB and the rest of the circuit is on a horizontal rear PCB. The next thing you'll notice is that the PCB area has been considerably increased, the component density is much lower and this makes the assembly easier. All of the resistors are lying down flat. The main PCB is 13 x 10 cm (compared to 10 x 8 cm for the original QCX). Additional pin header pads throughout the board provide opportunities to experiment and modify your QCX+ to learn or to customize it to your particular wishes.
The three BS170 power amplifier transistors and the MPS751 key-shaping transistor are now lying down flat on an exposed area of copper on the PCB, with a nut, washer and bolt to push them firmly against the PCB; the copper groundplane of the PCB functions as a heatsink, drawing heat away from the transistors and dissipating it harmlessly. The original QCX has no heatsinking on the transistors, and since the Class-E PA has high efficiency, none is really needed for CW operation; however for WSPR operations which is a continuous 2-minute transmission, some kind of heatsinking is perhaps more desirable; QCX+ therefore provides this as standard.
QCX+ features two additional 3.5mm stereo jack sockets, for the CAT control port and PTT output (to control the 50W PA kit). The power connector is now a 2.1mm barrel connector type. QCX+ also has a latching push-button on/off switch on the front panel.
The QCX and QCX+ firmware are the same chip, so full backward compatibility is being maintained between the features of the two versions.
QCX+ comes with several new optional accessories too! These are:
- Enclosure $25: The very smart black anodized extruded aluminium enclosure is cut, drilled and laser-etch printed for the QCX+. It has a 106 x 55mm front panel and is 146.6mm deep. So far, around 90% of QCX+ customers have also ordered the enclosure.
- TCXO option $8.25: this tiny board replaces the 27MHz crystal with a 25MHz TCXO, providing very high frequency accuracy and stability
- Dev kit $9: This is a 120 x 95mm PCB with a matrix of through-hole plated holes. It has special pads which match all the interface pads of the main QCX+ PCB and can be connected using pin headers. The Dev kit is supplied with several male and female pin headers for this purpose, as well as 12mm spacers and screws to fix it in place above the main QCX+ PCB.
Not everyone has been happy about the larger size of QCX+, specifically people wanting to operate portable such as SOTA operators, who desire the smallest lightest possible equipment. Therefore I have undertaken to consider carefully whether it is feasible to produce another batch of the original QCX kits, or perhaps a new smaller layout QCX using SMD components.
Firmware version T1.04 was released on 15-Mar-2020
Firmware version T1.05 was released on 08-May-2020
These versions can be downloaded from the files section of the QRP labs discussion group on groups.io, or a programmed chip can be purchased from the QRP Labs shop.
The full description of the firmware changes is at http://qrp-labs.com/qcx/qcxfirmware
In summary, the majority of the changes in these two versions was aimed at improving the CAT control interface, making it more reliable and fixing bugs which had arisen in its implementation. The CAT control interface now works very well.
Aside from the CAT control improvements there were quite a few bug fixes, primarily concerned with cosmetic problems on the display; so many different things are going on inside the QCX/QCX+ firmware that sometimes parts of the display got corrupted when two different processes tried to access the display at the same time. Following a huge amount of work in this area, the display is now accurately rendered all the time.
The QSX project is an all-mode, all-band HF transceiver providing CW, SSB, AM, FM and Digimodes for all bands from 160m to 10m inclusive, with 10W output power. It is an embedded SDR transceiver providing extremely high performance and packed full of features, yet at a very low price. The project is described here http://qrp-labs.com/qsx
To my shame, embarrassment and regret, this product development has taken me very much longer than originally anticipated and the anticipated availability date has been and long gone. I frequently receive emails asking about the status of the project, and some people ask has it been dropped entirely? Will it ever be available?
Well the answer is no, it certainly has not been dropped, canceled, given up on, etc. The project is still very high priority. But at the same time, this is a very complex and ambitious project to be undertaken by a small business such as QRP Labs. The Research and Development is a large undertaking, requiring a considerable time investment. At the same time, all the other demands of running a small but growing family business have not gone away, and are far from negligible.
Many people who have not tried running a business, will find this hard to understand. I myself did not understand either, at the beginning. Basically, it is hard enough to design a circuit that works and is reproducible by others, often involving complex hardware and firmware bound together in harmony. But then producing it hundreds or thousands of times over, at a price that makes it attractive to hobbyists - and all the challenges of component supply, manufacturing, logistics, imports, administration that go with it... then all the after-sales support, both technical and mundane (lost packages, slow packages, missing components, etc)... let's just say you have to be crazy to even contemplate taking on such a thing! To say that it is time consuming is a chronic understatement.
QSX is a large scale project requiring a long development program. However at the same time, QRP Labs is a business enterprise that has to feed the family as our primary source of income. This makes it essential to continue to develop and offer other more minor new products or firmware versions to enhance existing products, in parallel with the QSX development program, to sustain our income. On the other hand, work on these other things in most cases also overlaps with tasks in the QSX program so in many ways the work is not lost.
I do feel very thankful that at least I was never so optimistic about development schedules that I took any pre-orders for the QSX!
Then to conclude this topic: I am as determined as ever, to finish the project and make it available to you all in large quantities. The project is definitely not canceled and is definitely not on hold, either. I have often said, I'm not rich, I'm not smart, I'm not educated in electronics hardware or software - but the one thing I really am is too dumb to know when to quit. So never fear, it will be done. And it will be worth the wait. I will be updating the QRP Labs discussion group and the QSX page as soon as I can be more definite about dates. Until then, I do not want to tempt fate with any promises about dates that I can't be sure of keeping.
At the end of February QRP Labs contracted with FedEx Express (TNT) to provide reasonably priced express shipping for QRP Labs packages. To most destinations, FedEx Express (TNT) shipment takes 3-4 days. (NOTE: FedEx and TNT are the same company since 2016; locally in different countries, service is normally provided by either FedEx or TNT). We were able to offer shipping for 0-500g packages at $10.99. The Covid19 pandemic caused an increase in prices to $11.99 which is the current price for 0-500g; then $19.27 for up to 1kg, etc.
The choice of shipping method is available during the checkout procedure on the QRP Labs shop. We are also now offering a cheaper un-registed, un-insured, un-tracked, at-your-own-risk post office airmail service.
FedEx Express (TNT) shipping costs only a few $ more than regular post office shipment and around 70% of QRP Labs customers have been choosing this option for their order, preferring the speedy shipment with frequent tracking updates (Note, since in Turkey TNT is the service provider, you will receive a TNT tracking code and use the TNT website for tracking.
In early July, the price of normal post office airmail shipping to United States literally tripled overnight. This is the result of changes to the pricing the US are able to charge foreign postal services for the "last mile" delivery of international packages within United States. Now for all but the lightest packages to United States, US customers will find that FedEx Express (TNT) is now the cheapest option, as well as by far the speediest.
QRP Labs Hans G0UPL was featured in episode 125 of the QSO Today podcast. Since then QRP Labs has been a proud sponsor of the QSO Today podcast. Hence I was excited about the Virtual Ham Expo the QSO Today organization is preparing for the weekend of 8th and 9th August 2020. This year, 2020, is the year of the Covid19 pandemic and has been characterized by lockdowns everywhere, border closures, flight grounding, and cancellation of hamfests everywhere. From my point of view, two highlights of my year were gone, that is to say, the Dayton FDIM/Hamvention event in May and the Friedrichshafen HamRadio hamfest in June.
Eric Guth 4Z1UG has recognized these gaping holes in our lives and taken on the task to provide a virtual, online alternative, the QSO Today Virtual Ham Expo!
I have had a guided tour of the way the expo will run and I found it fascinating and exciting. It won't exactly replace wandering around the Dayton fleamarket or the Halls at Friedrichshafen. But hopefully it will provide a new way to enjoy our hobby, meet new people and meet the companies you deal with or may potentially deal with, admire their products and so on; all from the comfort of your armchair.
QRP Labs has booked a Large size booth at the virtual ham expo. During the weekend we will aim to provide a live online presence for as high proportion of the weekend as possible, as well as non-live content when in-person attendance isn't possible. I hope that you will dial in via Zoom video and come and say hello, ask questions, discuss projects and products, talk about your experiences with QRP Labs products, etc., just as you would at the QRP Labs booth at Dayton or Friedrichshafen. Nearer the time I will announce the QRP Labs program on the QRP Labs groups.io discussion group.
Currently the expo is offering FREE attendee early bird tickets so go to https://qsotoday.vfairs.com/en/registration and sign up!
Many of you will be aware of the high altitude hobby balloon tracker program that has been underway at QRP Labs for a long time, with a long list of test flights in collaboration with Dave VE3KCL. The tracker was initially called the U3B and was a derivative of the Ultimate3S kit, using the same ATmega328 processor but in a miniaturized, all SMD package.
The tracker has now been changed to use the STM32-series of 32-bit ARM processors, which offer significantly more processor power, Flash memory and peripheral features than the ATmega328, at little or no higher cost. The new tracker is named U4B.
There is a YouTube video explaining the U4B here: https://youtu.be/CqNZeh575xw
Starting in February 2020, a series of 10 test flights were launched by Dave VE3KCL from Toronto, Canada. As usual there were failures, mysteries, peculiarities and successes. Several of the balloons completed one or multiple circumnavigations. At the time of writing, the U4B-9 flight is still operational and has been unique among all the flights to date, in taking many complex loops around the North Pole region. It flew so far North that it fell off the top of the Google Maps 2D projection map coverage, three times. Details of U4B-9 are on this page http://qrp-labs.com/flights/u4b9
The series of test flights are considered successful and in the coming months we will be moving to get this tracker into production. Alongside everything else going on at QRP Labs :-/
This image shows the path of U4B-9, launched on 16-May-2020. Note that the "Duration" at the top of the image should have a "1 month" in front of the "25d"! You can see details of all the U4B, U3B and earlier experimental flights at http://qrp-labs.com/flights
Social media: QRP Labs has the following presence on social media. If you use these social media then please join or follow QRP Labs! Announcements such as new products, balloon launches, etc., will be made first in these media!
1) QRP Labs groups.io discussion group https://groups.io/g/QRPLabs for discussion and support on all QRP Labs products
2) QRP Labs Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/QRPlabs/
3) QRP Labs is @qrplabs on Twitter https://twitter.com/qrplabs
4) QRP Labs on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/c/QRPLabs
Feedback: As always, please do write with any comments, ideas, criticism, feedback of any kind!