Saturday, August 17, 2019

Using a "bot" for full-auto FT8

Yesterday I downloaded and have been using two versions of Tom SQ9FVE's fork of WSJT-X software. Something Tom calls WSJT-Z.

Among other things, WSJT-Z is a "bot". An automatic CQ-caller/responder for FT4 and FT8. But it's much more than that...

I was curious how well such a process might work and believe that there is room in our hobby for an automated 2-way mode in the same way - and for the same reasons - that we have a 1-way automated mode (WSPR).

Before I get to the "bot" part of WSJT-Z I should mention the other aspects of this program that make it superior to WSJT-X.

First, is the larger receive window.

Second - and it's a major plus - is the filtering:

New Only
With this on, your Band Activity list on the left will only show stations that you haven't worked before (on any band)

Min dB filter
This will let you filter out weak stations from your Band Activity list on the left. If I'm operating QRP, I don't necessarily want to see stations that are -20 to -24 for example. I know that I am more likely to be able to work stronger stations so I can set the filter to only show decodes of -12 or stronger.



Continents
Self-explanatory, only selected continents are displayed.



Ignore prefixes
This allows you to exclude certain stations from appearing in the Band Activity list, and is a band-specific list. It's useful if you don't want to see the local stations on your Band Activity list.


And the robot features:

Auto CQ
With this feature on, WSJT-Z will call CQ, automatically log a QSO and return to calling CQ.
In this mode TX Watchdog only applies to QSO, not to CQ. Please keep TX Watchdog timer low to make sure you don't keep calling the same station for long if they fail to respond. The watchdog timer is located in the File> Settings> General tab.



The logging works well with JTAlert and ACLog as well, automatically logging stations to my logging program, not just to WSJT's built-in adif log.

Auto Call
With this feature on, WSJT-X will automatically call the last decoded station that called CQ, automatically log QSO once done, and go back to calling new stations.

This doesn't work so well. After working a station who called CQ, I - or my computer/software - called that same station again when he called CQ after our QSO. Obviously I intervened and terminated that almost-QSO.

Conclusion:

I like the filtering and wish that such features would be incorporated into WSJT-X. It's great for DXing and propagation study - I can point my Yagi away from Asia, select only Asian stations to appear in the decode window on bands and times I suspect long-path propagation to that area. Or, late evenings on 20m with the Yagi pointed at EU but with only Oceania stations selected to appear.


Does this represent the end of ham radio as we know it. Yes, it does - and by that I mean "yes" in the same way that SSB was the end of ham radio. Or that DX spotting networks marked the end of DXing. Or that CW (as opposed to spark gap) marked the end of the hobby. So, in other words, no.

To those who say that the human element is gone with FT8, and especially with full-auto FT8, my response is that we are hams, not CBers. We don't only use RF for communication but for experimentation. Do the hams who rail against FT8 also have the same animosity toward that portion of the 6m band reserved for radio control? If not, they are hypocrites.

Here's some food for thought: my auto-generated QSOs contained the same content as my regular FT8 QSO's. No additional personalization was present or lacking. A callsign, signal report, grid square and 73 were in all the exchanges, auto-generated or not.

Despite what many think, there is room in the hobby for an attended auto-digital mode. It should be on frequencies other than the standard FT8 frequencies, and if awards are sought, they should be separately categorized as well.

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UPDATE: Tom has released a new version with several glitches fixed and full-auto enabled. The filtering mentioned above is still in place and I've been using this version for about an hour now as both an auto-CQ'er and an auto-responder. Working well on all counts. Downloadable here.



If you decide to give either version a test run, install it to some other than the default directory, otherwise you'll write over your normal WSJT-X program.
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7 comments:

  1. The ARRL board just elected to exclude auto-contacts from ARRL contests, and DXCC (and some other awards, like WAS, etc). This is a reaction to what is likely perceived a backlash from the membership over auto-contact usage on the bands. I'm not certain that it is the right direction, as you state, why not create an 'auto' category for competition, like 'assisted' is now?

    I can't help but feel a bit squeamish about letting a station go what is essentially full-auto on modes/bands/frequencies where the FCC has not authorized fully automatic stations. I know that WSPR has run for quite a while now with a sly wink that those stations are attended, but what operator has not let their WSPR station run while they go to work or sleep, etc? Come on, be honest (or not, I frankly don't really care, but the FCC might).

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    1. When I operated in auto-mode, I'm right there at the rig. All I don't do is double-click a callsign that responds to my CQ. I watched the entire process and the latest version of "WSJT-Z" works great. I made notes (for a future posting) as the contacts were being made. After three or four 40-minute sessions I've come to regard FT4/FT8 as modes that should be automatic but attended.

      To work stations manually in those modes strikes me as being a factory worker on an assembly line. And, other than DXpeditions, there's really no need to go auto unless your point is to fill your logbook - which is exactly the point for DXpeditions.

      Even if you're not in favor of operating this way, I hope some readers will give SQ9FVE's version a try. The filtering is impressive as are new features I'll describe soon.

      73 - John

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  2. First let me say that any award is only of value to the person that earned it.
    They know if they did the work or took the shortcuts.

    JT65 and FT8 like other "automated" programs take us a step closer to fully automated stations.
    I agree that awards should have a separate category for automated and even digital modes.
    A WAS award in SSB would have more value than a WAS from a digital station.
    Even CW is getting automated with computers so it is time to reclassify awards so they will hold their value.

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    1. I agree with everything you wrote. My point in all this experimentation with bots is that the ONLY difference between auto- and nonauto-FT8 is the double-clicking of a mouse on a displayed callsign. From that point on, everything else is automatic for the remainder of the "qso".

      If you work DXCC with FT8, what skill has been applied to your accomplishment? You have devoted time to the pursuit, but no real skill is required.

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    2. And what skill is there picking up a mic? any CBer can do that...

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  3. Hi John,
    Just a note on the auto-call feature.
    It will essentially try to call every CQ that it can 'see' in the Band Activity window.
    To make sure that it only sees new stations, please make sure to tick at least 'New Call' on the filtering tab. Otherwise it will pick up the same stations' CQ message over and over.
    Glad you enjoy the software.
    73!

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  4. Dear SQ9FVE
    ref:Auto Call
    Auto CQ works well without problems,however I have the same problem of John (i.e. After working a atation who called CQ,called same station again who he/she called CQ after our QSO.) though I have set to tick Filtering - New on Band - Call. My version is wsjtz-2.1.0-mod-0.20-win32.exe. Please advise to solve this if any !!
    My best regards &73 from JA

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