Octosonar is 8X Better than Monosonar

The HC-SR04 sonar modules are available for a mere pittance and, with some coaxing, can do a pretty decent job of helping your robot measure the distance to the nearest wall. But when sellers on eBay are shipping these things in ten-packs, why would you stop at mounting just one or two on your ‘bot? Octosonar is a hardware and Arduino software library that’ll get you up and running with up to eight sonar sensors in short order.

Octosonar uses an I2C multiplexer to send the “start” trigger pulses, and an eight-way OR gate to return the “echo” signal back to the host microcontroller. The software library then sends the I2C command to select and trigger a sonar module, and a couple of interrupt routines watch the “echo” line to figure out the time of flight, and thus the distance.

Having two sonars on each side of a rectangular robot allows it move parallel to a wall in a straightforward fashion: steer toward or away from the wall until they match. Watch the video below for a demo of this very simple setup. (But also note where the robot’s 45-degree blind spot is: bump-bump-bump!)

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Litter Basket Automation

Sometimes the technology part of a project isn’t the hard part. It is having an idea for something both useful and doable. Sure, a robot butler that would do your cleaning and laundry would be useful, but might be out of reach for most of us. On the other hand, there’s only so many use cases for another blinking LED.

[Martinhui] knows how to use an ultrasonic sensor with an Arduino. Driving a motor isn’t that hard, either. The question is: what do you do with that? [Martin’s] answer: Automate a trash can. You can see a video of the result, below.

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YAGDO – Yet Another Garage Door Opener

It seems like every few months we cover another garage door opener, and the concept is quickly becoming the “Hello World” of DIY home automation. In this installment, reader [ray] made his own garage door opener and chose the ESP8266 as the wireless interface of choice, but spiced the application up with an ultrasonic sensor that detects whether the car is in the garage and a web app that shows history, plus integration with Blynk for remote access. For posterity, he made the project open source as well.

The video is well produced with lots of details and instructions, and the circuit board and assembly are refined and clean. It may be a “Hello World”, but it’s done right.

Some of the other garage door hacks we’ve covered in the last year include the fingerprint scanner opener, the IM-ME opener, the motion-based security opener, the cat-enabled opener, the OpenCV Pi opener, and a Bluetooth Low Energy opener.

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Presenting the Internet of Trash Cans !

This was gonna happen – sooner or later. [matthewhallberg] built a “Smart” trash can that is connected to the Internet and can be controlled by its own Android App. We’re not sure if the world needs it, but he wanted one and so built it. He started it out on a serious note, but quickly realized the fun part of this build – check out his funny Infomercial style video after the break.

trash_can_02The build itself is uncomplicated and can be replicated with ease. A servo motor helps flip the lid open and close. This is triggered by an ultrasonic ping sensor, which responds when someone waves a hand in front of the trash can. A second ping sensor helps inform the user when it is full and needs to be emptied. A Leonardo with the Idunio Yun shield helps connect the trash can to the internet. An mp3 shield connected to a set of powered computer speakers adds voice capability to the trash can, allowing it to play back pre-recorded sound clips. Finally, a Bluetooth module lets him connect it to an Android phone and the companion app controls the trash can remotely.

For the IoT side of things, [matthewhallberg] uses a Temboo account to send an email to the user when the trash can is full. The Arduino sketch, a header file to configure the Temboo account, and the Android application can all be downloaded from his blog. If this project inspires you, try building this awesome Robotic trash can which catches anything that you throw near it  or read the barcodes off the trash being thrown out and update the grocery list.

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Ball Balancing Arduino-Style

If you have a good sense of balance, you can ride a unicycle or get on TV doing tricks with ladders. We don’t know if [Hanna Yatco] has a good sense of balance or not, but we do know her Arduino does. Her build uses the ubiquitous HC-SR04 SONAR sensor and a servo.

This is a great use for a servo since a standard servo motor without modifications only moves through part of a circle, and that’s all that’s needed for this project. A PID algorithm measures the distance to the ball and raises or lowers a beam to try to get the ball to the center.

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El Cheapo Phased-Array Sonar

Sonar is a great sensor to add to any small-scale robot project. And for a couple bucks, the ubiquitous HC-SR04 modules make it easy to do. If you’ve ever used these simple sonar units, though, you’ve doubtless noticed that you get back one piece of information only — the range to the closest object that the speaker is pointing at. It doesn’t have to be that way. [Graham Chow] built a simple phased-array using two SR04 modules, and it looks like he’s getting decent results.

PB211200The hack starts out by pulling off the microcontroller and driving the board directly, a hack inspired by [Emil]’s work on reverse engineering the SR04s. Once [Graham] can control the sonar pings and read the results back, the fun begins.

[Graham] uses TI’s Cortex M4F LaunchPad eval kit to generate a ping and receive the reflections. With normal sonar, the time between the ping being sent and its reception is determined by the range to the target. In a phased array, in this case just the two modules, the difference in the times it takes for the ping to return to each module is used to determine the angle to the target.


If you’re DSP-savvy, [Graham] is using a phase-shifted square wave signal so that the correlations of the sent and returned signals have better peaks. This also helps the peaks in correlation across the two SR04s in the array. We think it’s pretty awesome that [Graham] is resolving a couple of degrees in angular separation when he moved his wine bottle. With a couple more SR04 units, [Graham] could start to get height information back as well.

For not much scratch, [Graham] has himself an experimental setup that lets him play with some pretty heavy signal processing. We’re impressed, and can’t wait to see what’s next. Special thanks to [Graham] for posting up the code.

And thanks [João] for the tip!

HC-SR04 Isn’t the Same as Parallax PING))) But It Can Pretend to Be!

“It’s only software!” A sentence that strikes terror in the heart of an embedded systems software developer. That sentence is often uttered when the software person finds a bug in the hardware and others assume it’s going to be easier for fix in software rather than spin a new hardware revision. No wonder software is always late.

[Clint Stevenson] is his own hardware and software guy, as are most of us. He wanted to use the less expensive HC-SR04 ultrasonic rangefinder in a prototype. Longer term he wanted to have the choice of either a Parallax PING or MaxBotix ultrasonic sensor for their better performance outdoors. His hardware hack of the SR04 made this a software problem which he also managed to solve!

[Clint] was working with the Arduino library, based on the Parallax PING, which uses a single pin for trigger and echo. The HC-SR04 uses separate pins. Originally he modified the Arduino library to accept the two pin approach. But with his long term goal in mind, he also modified the HC-SR04 sensor by removing the on-board pull-up resistor and adding a new one on the connector side to combine the signals. That gave him an SR04 that worked with the single-pin based library.

We’ve seen Parallax PING projects for sensing water depth and to generate music. These could be hacked to use the HC-SR04 using [Clint’s] techniques.

[Arduino and HC-SR04 photo from Blax Lab]