Digital Prepping - Is the Cyberdeck a Necessary Tool for the Apocalypse?
Updated: May 27, 2021
Image Src: ConciousDoom/ThomasTyndan (See blog post by the builder for the full details HERE, to see this thing in action, check out his awesome YouTube Video.)
I'm a techno geek, and a prepper. My home is smart, my daytime career is in the technology sector, and I've worked in this vertical for almost 2 decades. Anytime I have a chance to merge the 2 worlds together, I do. Many of the topics mentioned below have been part of an omnibus of research that I've been doing for years. Before you answer the question posed in the title with a quick no, consider some of the options discussed below.
Also, the Cyberdecks featured in this post do not all correspond to the categories they are listed under. These are just some of the best builds that I've found, and they've been inspirational to me in the design I'm working on. I'm hoping at a minimum that something below will intrigue you enough that you decide to build one of your own. There's some really helpful links to other resources embed throughout the article.
So what is it?
Quite simply, a Cyberdeck is custom built computer most often running some variant of @raspberrypi or other Single Board Computer (SBC) with a custom firmware (usually Linux based). Cyberdecks first emerged after fans of William Gibson's 1984 novel Neuromancer started building their own from salvaged materials, 3d printed parts and vintage computers. As these became more widespread, the prepping community got wind of the idea and the designs began popping up on YouTube and tech sites like Hackaday packed into waterproof, impact resistant cases allowing for transportation during a bug out scenario. These can be built to be EMP resistant as well. The Ham guys have been building the smaller boxes with radio capabilities for years. The SBCs and SDR radios have greatly improved the capabilities over the last half decade.
At the core, an SBC like the Raspberry Pi can serve a multitude of purposes by itself. Commonly used for home automation & security, networking, video game emulation/media playback, robotics, control of sensors etc... The list can go on and on.
For the preparedness-minded or EmComm hobbyist/professional, there are tons of uses that can be incorporated into a Cyberdeck. Read on for just a few of those ideas or if f you'd prefer to run through a real life scenario and see how the Cyberdeck saved the day during a crisis, jump over to How Would a Cyberdeck Benefit You After SHTF and read the story. It may be a fictional scenario, but this describes in detail how these applications could be applied in real life situations.
Offline Website Backups
Kiwix is a really handy application that provides you with full backups of a wide variety of informational websites including images. These offline backups can be stored on micro SD cards making them accessible even when the internet is down. The most notable of these sites being Wikipedia. I'm not even going to get into all the reasons you might rely on this heavily if you found yourself surviving in adverse conditions - I think it's pretty obvious.
Video Src: element14 presents
Don't forget about your Kindle books! Reading is a proven stress reliever which could go a long way when you're holed up in a post apocalyptic survival camp, mentally battling the lack of social media, coffee and pizza delivery. But, I'm not just talking about your James Patterson novels, survival books, reference manuals, self-help/motivational books, how-to guides, first aid textbooks, cookbooks, you name it. I have over 3k kindle books on all things survival, preparedness, & sustainable living. The best part, they were ALL FREE! To see how I did this, check out this article about Building a Digital Contingency Kit.
Adding a USB GPS module is very easy and inexpensive. This could be for a standalone function or embedded into other applications. We've become far too reliant on computer aided navigation over the last 2 decades. And while this is by no means a replacement for paper copies of maps, digital navigation brings a whole host of additional capabilities; plotting waypoints, routes, AI navigation, photographic logging, team tracking, etc., are all possible. Knowing where you are and how to get to where you need to be is foundational to survival but so many have no clue how to conduct basic navigation skills using a map and compass. Don't get me wrong, it's pretty straight forward to read a street map or atlas. But, if you're travelling through forested area, for instance, there's a lot more skill required to effectively navigate, especially when elevation is a factor. While you might not need a map to travel your local area, maps can store locations of resources, routes, rally points, cache locations, danger zones, safe zones, you name it. Digital files make on the fly edits and searching much easier.
Something that can be particularly useful for a survival group, of you're not familiar with is ATAK. It stands for Android Tactical Awareness Kit and is used by various branches of Military, LEO, and First Responders, also now available to civilians as Civ-Tak. This platform is a mapping tool, as well as asset tracking/communication utility for more tactical applications. Recent widespread adoption of this in the paintball/milsim/airsoft worlds have exposed this tool to more developers which will undoubtedly lead to new plugins and further enhancements on the software. This application takes a bit of a technical know-how. Get a functional system up and running is on my to-do list for this year, I'll eventually translate that to a user guide for everyone. This really caught my attention a few months back and I'm learning slowly with much to go. I love the fact that everyone on my team could have an app running allowing us to see real time locations, communicate via voice/text, store photos of geographical locations, plot routes or locations of resources (or bad guys) should you be in that situation. This tool can be adapted for use outside the tactical applications if you get creative. More to come on this.
YouTube | T.Rex Arms | Move, Shoot, and Communicate with ATAK (and alternatives)
A device built for the purpose of enhancing survivability should absolutely contain a large library of documents that compliment the skills you already have and supplement those you don't. I have gigs of files, clearly titled and folder organized that can provide me with the missing pieces of the information should I ever need it. This library constantly grows with new research, as it should. I keep many backups to ensure I'll never lose the years of collected and filtered data.
Building a Digital Continuity Kit You'll need to scroll down to the resource section at the bottom, links to dozen of document repositories)
They've become commonplace in the #hamradio world. Tracking satellites in real-time, decoding the increasingly common digital modes, automatically translating Morse code, various data modes for email, texting, and sending things like GPS coordinates, weather telemetry and more.
With the addition of an SDR (software defined radio), you could be doing all sorts of cool things - like monitoring air traffic; downloading NOAA satellite images, listening to traffic on almost, if not all, of the Ham bands, scanning emergency bands, etc... In my area, most of the important emergency bands are now using a digital P25 system making it impossible to listen to on the typical analog or even digital scanners without trunking capabilities. I could drop $300-500 a scanner that will decode this. Or, for the price of a $25 USB SDR dongle and about the same for some added software, I can receive these frequencies an know what's going on around me.
YouTube | Frugal Radio | 2021 SDR Guide Episode 9 : $25 DSDPlus P25 LSM trunking walkthrough using 1 x $25 RTL-SDRv3
Image Src: Jay Doscher, Builder/The Verge - James Vincent (See blog post by the Verge for the full details HERE, or Jay's build breakdown HERE. If you prefer a video, check out Jay's YouTube Video)
Weather Monitoring Station
With a few sensors, you could be using this as a remote weather monitoring station to keep you in the loop with weather conditions. This could be helpful when planning scavenging/hunting missions, or traveling to the next town over (again assuming we're in a situation where you need to use your Cyberdeck for the real deal). The advanced warning of impeding bad weather could be a lifesaver.
Image Src: Evan Meany, Crash Recovery Device (check out the blog post on Evan's website HERE, for more on the build watch Evan's YouTube Video)
A Pirate Box is a device that creates a private wireless network, often with long range capabilities that allows users to connect, have secure chats, share files, etc... This could be useful during a bug out caravan if all of the vehicles in the column are able to connect to the same network. This is a great way to ensure data communications and sharing of maps or other intel when cellular networks are down.
Image Src: CaptNumbNutz, Builder/Hackaday - Tom Nardi (see blog post by Hackaday for an overview HERE, or checkout CaptNumbNutz worklog HERE)
Wi-Fi Camera Feeds
If we're keeping it real, let's assume that you've taken some preparations and have some off grid form of power available to you for when the power company is offline. Hopefully you've invested in some security cameras to setup around your property to help you monitor your perimeter. Something like the Wyze Cam is a perfect option for indoor monitoring if you're on a budget. With a long range Wi-Fi adapter, you could be monitoring your cameras from anywhere on your property which is great for those times you can't just be sitting in front of your computer. Not only that imagine being able to activate deterrent systems on your property via smart home gear and manual, or automatic triggers.
FPV/UAV Ground Station
This is crossing over into a bit of different territory, but I'm working an a post highlighting the uses of a drone for preparedness and my research has led me to come across many DIY Ground Control Station builds. This commercially sold option pictured below comes with a hefty price tag, but there's tons of home builds that replicated the design on a smaller scale with hardware that could easily be incorporated into a Cyberdeck.
Image Src: https://www.unmannedsystemstechnology.com/company/desert-rotor/
This is the X-Factor. An item as unique as a Cyberdeck generally serves a specific purpose for the individual that built it. The amount of free, open-source software available online and tutorial videos on YouTube or forums to support your project really allow you to build a multipurpose tool should you desire, with a Raspberry Pi, the entire functionality of the device can be switched simply by swapping the micro SD card. Leaving you limitless options.
Here, a Geiger Counter was added to allow capturing background radiation measurements...
Image Src: Paul Hoets Builder/Author -Electronics Deli - R.A.T.I.S. (Remote Assault and Tactical Intelligence System) (see blog post for full the full backstory HERE)
The nature of this project is perfect for a prepper. It's versatile and robust, portable and capable - that's the beauty of it. One box can handle most, if not all of your technology needs.
Many will discount this as a novelty project just because it originated in a sci-fi fiction novel from the 80s. History and novelty aside, we also have to consider that many preppers are not techno-savvy so this type of project will never make it on the to-do list. But knowledge is power and I'm really trying to convey the importance of having access to information when it's otherwise available. With the right design, the info and intel you could have at your disposal when other means don't exist puts this tool at the top of my "must-have's" list.
Imagine what the barter value of a Cyberdeck would be when the general public doesn't have access to the internet?
If you've watched any of the YouTube videos linked above, you might already be scared off by the fact that this DIY build is intense. If you have access to a 3D printer you've got it a lil easier than the rest of us, but you can absolutely do it without, just need to be crafty or resource a 3rd party vendor to handle the printing.
The projects I've chosen to showcase are clean, refined designs with some very practical purposes. They took the builders a lot of time and effort to bring to life. But you can do the same, there's plenty of info on the interwebs to help you, including plans, files for 3d printers, schematics for the wiring, complete walk throughs of the configuration steps of the various software Raspberry Pi. You name it, all the tools are right there. Sure some of this might require some basic computer skills or fabricating but there's no right or wrong here just headaches along the way. If you start down to Google rabbit hole, you'll find a lot that are built only with the intent of owning an iconic device, or a retro gaming console. (which is really cool for an entertainment factor)
Buy Why? Couldn't I just do this most of this o