Pointless Beacon Idea

Warning: This post is several years old and the author has marked it as poor quality (compared to more recent posts). It has been left intact for historical reasons, but but its content (and code) may be inaccurate or poorly written.

I got an idea today for an odd but interesting project. The idea is still in the earliest stages of development, and I further research the idea (for example, I don’t even know if it’s legal) but it’s a cool idea and I want to try it. I know I’ll learn a lot from the project, and that’s what’s important, right? So, here’s the idea: I want to build an incredibly simple, low power radio transmitter that broadcasts data on a fixed frequency. Data is provided by a microcontroller. What data will it transmit? uh… err… um… okay it doesn’t really matter and I don’t even know, I just want to do this project! Maybe temperature and light intensity or something. Who cares – it’d be fun to make regardless of what it transmits. I could put it all into a drybox (pictured).

Once properly closed, this box will keep everything in pristine working condition by protecting against rain, heat, snow (not that we get much of that in Orlando), hurricanes, and perhaps even Florida panthers and bears (oh my). I’d like to make a glass (or plexiglas) window on the top so that light could get in, hitting solar panels, which trickle-charges the battery housed in the device as well.

My idea is to keep construction costs to a minimum because I’m throwing this away as soon as I make it. My goal is to make it work so I can toss it in some random location and see how long it will run. Days? Weeks? Months? Years? How cool would it be to go to dental school, come back ~5 years from now, and have that transmitter still transmitting data. I’ve been poking around and I found someone who did something similar. They built a 40mW 10m picaxe-powered beacon using a canned oscillator as the transmit element.

I understand the basics of radio, amplitude and frequency modulation (AM and FM), etc., but I’ve never actually built anything that transmits radio waves. I could build a SoftRock radio, but my educational grounding is in molecular biology. I know little about circuit-level electronics, electrical engineering, and radio theory… so my plan is to start small. This project is small enough to attack and understand, with a fun enough end result to motivate me throughout the process.