LoRa (Long Range) is a low-power wide-area network wireless communications protocol that is fairly new, but is rapidly gaining popularity in the maker community. That’s because it can extend over a long distance (10km or more from a transmitter), is relatively inexpensive to implement, and can be utilized by individuals. It’s particularly useful for distributed IoT applications, but 5Volt-Junkie has used it as the basis of their LoRaNicator device for receiving alphanumeric messages.
The device itself is small and pocket-friendly, and operates a lot like a pager. For our younger readers, pagers were devices that were common before cell phones. The were really only capable of doing one thing, and that was receiving short messages. The idea was that if someone wanted to get in touch with you, they could page you and then you’d find a phone and call them back. LoRaNicator works in a similar way, and its only job is to receive messages sent over the LoRa network.
To create it, 5Volt-Junkie designed a custom PCB and had it fabricated. Then they used a reflow oven to solder all of the SMD (Surface-Mount Device) components. Those include a SAM D21 Cortex-M0 microcontroller, an RFM96 LoRa module, a LiPo charging IC, a small 128×64 pixel monochrome LCD, and a couple of buttons and a three-way switch for control.
The finished LoRaNicator looks fantastic, seems to work well, and is completely open source so you can build your own!