SRF01 Ultrasonic Sensor Teardown

The SRF01 is a popular ultrasonic sensor used primarily for range finding applications. [Jaanus] discovered that they had a few flaws, including not working after being dropped. The faulty ones began to pile up, so he decided sensor_01to tear one apart and put his engineering skills to use.

The SRF01 is unique in that it only uses a single transducer, unlike the SRF04, which uses two. Using only one transducer presents a problem when measuring very close distances. The transducer emits a pulse of sound and then must listen for the echo. The smaller the distance, the smaller the time interval between the pulse and when the echo returns. There is a fundamental limit to this time as the transducer has to recover from what is known as ringing. [Jaanus] discovered that the SRF01 solves the ringing problem with the use of a PIC24’s ADC and its 500 ksps (kilosamples per second) rate. This allows it to measure very close distances.

Be sure to check out the teardown for more details on how the SRF01 works.

ESP8266 BASIC WiFi Thermostat is Child’s Play

If you’ve read any of our posts in the last couple years, you’ll have noted that our community is stoked about bringing the Internet to their devices on the cheap with the ESP8266 modules. Why? This forum post that details making a WiFi thermostat really brings the point home: it’s so easy and cheap to build Internet-enabled devices that you almost can’t resist.

When the ESP8266 first came out, there very little documentation, much less code support. Since then Espressif’s SDK has improved, the NodeMCU project brought Lua support, and there’s even Arduino support. Most recently, BASIC has been added to the ESP stable, and that really lowers the barriers to creating a simple WiFi widget, like the thermostat example here that uses a Dallas DS18B20 temperature sensor and an LED as a stand-in for the heater element.

The hardware for this project, a re-build of this demo code from the ESP8266 BASIC docs, is nothing more than a few off-the-shelf parts soldered together. No schematic required.

What makes the project work behind the scenes is some clever code-reuse by [Rotohammer] on the ESP8266 forums. Essentially, he wrapped the Arduino’s one-wire library, giving it simple BASIC bindings. Then all that’s left for the BASIC coder is to read the value and print it out to a webpage.

There’s all sorts of details swept under the rug here, and those of you out there who are used to bare-metal programming will surely huff and puff. But there’s a time for building your own injection-molder to make DIY Lego bricks, and there’s a time to just put blocks together. This project, and the BASIC interpreter that made it possible, demonstrate how much joy someone can get from just putting the parts together.

Basic Toolkit for the Basement Biohacker

Laying hands on the supplies for most hacks we cover is getting easier by the day. A few pecks at the keyboard and half a dozen boards or chips are on an ePacket from China to your doorstep for next to nothing. But if hacking life is what you’re into, you’ll spend a lot of time and money gathering the necessary instrumentation. Unless you roll your own mini genetic engineering lab from scratch, that is.

arduino-based-biolab-data-logger-thumbTaking the form of an Arduino mega-shield that supports a pH meter, a spectrophotometer, and a PID-controlled hot plate, [M. Bindhammer]’s design has a nice cross-section of the instruments needed to start biohacking in your basement. Since the shield piggybacks on an Arduino, all the data can be logged, and decisions can be made based on the data as it is collected. One example is changing the temperature of the hot plate when a certain pH is reached. Not having to babysit your experiments could be a huge boon to the basement biohacker.

Biohacking is poised to be the next big thing in the hacking movement, and [M. Bindhammer]’s design is far from the only player in the space. From incubators to peristaltic pumps to complete labs in a box, the tools to tweak life are starting to reach critical mass. We can’t wait to see where these tools lead.

Streaming Video on an Apple IIc

Some of the projects we feature solve a problem. Others just demonstrate that they can be done. We’re guessing that it’s the latter that motivated [Joshua Bell] to write a VNC client for an Apple IIc. To fully appreciate how insane this is, have a look at the video below the break.

There’s more than one thing amazing about this hack. Somehow, [Joshua]’s VNC program runs entirely in the memory of an Apple IIc, as he demonstrates at the beginning of the video by downloading all of the code into the Apple over a serial cable. After the initial bootstrap, he runs the code and you see (in full four-color splendour!) a low-res Windows XP appear on the IIc.

2440964467_decb0daf10_oWhat’s more incredible, but is unfortunately not demonstrated in the video, is that he appears to have not just mirrored the PC’s screen on the Apple, but has actually managed to get a one-frame-per-second bi-directional VNC working at 115,200 baud. In this snapshot from his flickr gallery, he appears to be playing Karateka on the IIc and watching it on his laptop.

If you’ve got a IIc kicking around, and you want to show it yet more new tricks, don’t neglect this browser written for the Apple IIc. Or if you’ve only got an Apple IIc+ and you’re totally ticked off that the beep is different from that of the IIc, you can always go on an epic reverse-engineering quest to “repair” it.

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Transmitting Tee Vee From A Pi

Want to set up your own television station? This hack might help: [Jan Panteltje] has worked out how to turn a Raspberry Pi into a DVB-S transmitter. DVB-S is a TV transmission standard originally created for satellite broadcasts, but Hams also use it to send video on the amateur bands. What [Jan] did was to use software on the Pi to encode the video into the transport stream, which is then fed out to the home-made transmitter that modulates the data into a DVB-S signal. [Jan] has successfully tested the system with a direct connection, feeding the output of the transmitter into a DVB-S decoder card that could read the data and decode the video signal. To create a real broadcast signal, the next step would be to feed the output of the signal into an amplifier and larger transmitter that broadcast the signal.

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Physics You’ve Never Heard Of Provides Power From Waves

“In the future, we’ll be generating a significant fraction of our electricity from harnessing the waves!” People have been saying this for decades, and wave-generated electricity is not a significant fraction of an ant’s poop. It’d be fantastic if this could change.

If you believe the owners of Oscilla Power, the main failing of traditional wave-power generators is that they’ve got too many moving parts. Literally. Metal mechanical parts and their seals and so on are beaten down by sun and salt and surf over time, so it’s expensive to maintain most of the generator designs, and they’re just not worth it.

Oscilla’s generator, on the other hand, has basically no moving parts because it’s based on magnetostriction, or rather on inverse magnetostriction, the Villari effect. Which brings us to the physics.

Magnetostriction_by_ZureksMagnetostriction is the property that magnetic materials can shrink or expand just a little bit when put in a magnetic field. The Villari effect (which sounds much cooler than “inverse magnetostriction”) is the opposite: magnetic materials get more or less magnetic when they’re squeezed.

mpv-shot0001So to make a generator, you put two permanent magnets on either end, and wind coils around magnetostrictive metal bars that are inside the field of the permanent magnets. Squeeze and stretch the bars repeatedly and the net magnetic field inside the coils changes, and you’re generating electricity. Who knew?

Right now, according to The Economist Magazine’s writeup on Oscilla, the price per watt isn’t quite competitive with other renewable energy sources, but it’s looking close. With some more research, maybe we’ll be getting some of our renewable energy from squeezing ferrous bars.

And while we’re on the topic, check out this recent article on magnets, and how they work.

90,000 Lumen Flashlight Is Illuminating, Impractical and Blindingly Good

It may be better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness, but that was before [RCTestflight] came up with this: a 1000W LED flashlight that outputs about 90,000 lumens of light. That’s a lot: the best pocket LED flashlights output about 700 lumens.

[RCTestflight] built this monstrosity using ten 100-Watt LEDs, running off two RC car batteries. Each of the LEDs is connected to a sizable voltage converter and a very large heatsink that holds all of them in place. He says he gets about 8 minutes of light out of this thing, and that the heatsink gets warm after a minute or two of use. We’re not surprised: LEDs are more efficient than most other devices at converting electrical energy to light, but some always gets lost as heat.

Check out the video after the break. It’s very impressive, but this thing isn’t particularly practical as a handheld. It is big, heavy and is visible for miles. If you really want to light something up it does a great job (for a short period of time) due in part to the inclusion of a glass lens for each of the LEDs. This effectively focuses the beam on a properly distributed area. We wonder what would happen if all the beams were focused on one point? As long as you don’t cross the streams

We have covered a few more practical builds using similar LEDs, but this thing does have a certain outrageous charm, and could be useful for high-speed video, where the more light, the better.

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