1024 “Pixel” Sound Camera Treats Eyes to Real-Time Audio

A few years ago, [Artem] learned about ways to focus sound in an issue of Popular Mechanics. If sound can be focused, he reasoned, it could be focused onto a plane of microphones. Get enough microphones, and you have a ‘sound camera’, with each microphone a single pixel.

Movies and TV shows about comic books are now the height of culture, so a device using an array of microphones to produce an image isn’t an interesting demonstration of FFT, signal processing, and high-speed electronic design. It’s a Daredevil camera, and it’s one of the greatest builds we’ve ever seen.

[Artem]’s build log isn’t a step-by-step process on how to make a sound camera. Instead, he went through the entire process of building this array of microphones, and like all amazing builds the first step never works. The first prototype was based on a flatbed scanner camera, simply a flatbed scanner in a lightproof box with a pinhole. The idea was, by scanning a microphone back and forth, using the pinhole as a ‘lens’, [Artem] could detect where a sound was coming from. He pulled out his scanner, a signal generator, and ran the experiment. It didn’t work. The box was not soundproof, the inner chamber should have been anechoic, and even if it worked, this camera would only be able to produce an image or two a minute.

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8×8 microphone array (mics on opposite side) connected to Altera FPGA at the center

The idea sat in the shelf of [Artem]’s mind for a while, and along the way he learned about FFT and how the gigantic Duga over the horizon radar actually worked. Math was the answer, and by using FFT to transform a microphones signals from up-and-down to buckets of frequency and intensity, he could build this camera.

That was the theory, anyway. Practicality has a way of getting in the way, and to build this gigantic sound camera he would need dozens of microphones, dozens of amplifiers, and a controller with enough analog pins, DACs, and processing power to make sense of all of this.

This complexity collapsed when [Artem] realized there was an off-the-shelf part that was a perfect microphone camera pixel. MEMS microphones, like the kind found in smartphones, take analog sound and turn it into a digital signal. Feed this into a fast enough microcontroller, and you can perform FFT on the signal and repeat the same process on the next pixel. This was the answer, and the only thing left to do was to build a board with an array of microphones.

4x4[Artem]’s camera microphone is constructed out of several modules, each of them consisting of an 8×8 array of MEMS microphones, controlled via FPGA. These individual modules can be chained together, and the ‘big build’ is a 32×32 array. After a few problems with manufacturing, the board actually worked. He was recording 64 channels of audio from a single panel. Turning on the FFT visualization and pointing it at a speaker revealed that yes, he had indeed made a sound camera.
The result is a terribly crude movie with blobs of color, but that’s the reality of a camera that only has 32×32 resolution. Right now the sound camera works, the images are crude, and [Artem] has a few ideas of where to go next. A cheap PC is fast enough to record and process all the data, but now it’s an issue of bandwidth; 30 sounds per second is a total of 64 Mbps of data. That’s doable, but it would need another FPGA implementation.

Is this sonic vision? Yes, technically the board works. No, in that the project is stalled, and it’s expensive by any electronic hobbyist standards. Still, it’s one of the best to grace our front page.

[Thanks zakqwy for the tip!]

The EM Drive Might Not Work, but We Get Helicarriers If It Does

There is a device under test out there that promises to take humans to another star in a single lifetime. It means vacations on the moon, retiring at Saturn, and hovercars. If it turns out to be real, it’s the greatest invention of the 21st century. If not, it will be relegated to the history of terrible science right underneath the cold fusion fiasco. It is the EM drive, the electromagnetic drive, a reactionless thruster that operates only on RF energy. It supposedly violates the laws of conservation of momentum, but multiple independent lab tests have shown that it produces thrust. What’s the real story? That’s a little more complicated.

The EM Drive is a device that turns RF energy — radio waves — directly into thrust. This has obvious applications for spacecraft, enabling vacations on Mars, manned explorations of Saturn, and serious consideration of human colonization of other solar systems. The EM drive, if proven successful, would be one of the greatest inventions of all time. Despite the amazing amount of innovation the EM drive would enable, it’s actually a fairly simple device, and something that can be built out of a few copper sheets.

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Lego Avengers Assemble to the Helicarrier!

The massive engineering-defying Helicarrier from the Avengers is a brilliant work of CGI. Too bad it’d never actually fly… Like… Never.

Luckily, that didn’t stop our favorite RC hackers over at FliteTest from making a scale model of it — that actually works! If you’re not familiar, the Helicarrier is a fictional ship, the pride of S.H.I.E.L.D’s air force, or is it their navy.

It’s a massive aircraft carrier with four huge repulsor engines built into it, borrowing tech from Stark Industries. The shear size of it is what makes it completely ridiculous, but at the same time, it’s also unbelievably awesome.

Unfortunately, repulsor technology doesn’t seem to exist yet, so the FliteTest crew had to settle with a set of 8 brushless outrunner motors, with two per “engine”. The whole thing is almost 6′ long.

It doesn’t handle that well (not surprising!) but they were able to launch another RC  plane off of it, mid-flight! Landing however… well you’ll have to watch the video. Continue reading “Lego Avengers Assemble to the Helicarrier!”

Prop Replica Tesseract Case Has Some Serious Tech Inside

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[Dustin Evans] is a big fan of the recent Avengers movies — heck, we are too! So he decided to make this awesome Tesseract Case prop replica!

Tesser-what? A tesseract, or cubic prism is a geometric shape that is technically a four-dimensional hypercube — in the Avenger’s movie, it is an incredibly powerful and unstable alien energy source.

To make the replica, [Dustin] picked up a cheap aluminum tool case from the hardware store, took some measurements and began designing the inside of it using SketchUp. He’s crammed in an Arduino with a spectrum shield, a BlueSmirf Bluetooth modem, a Raspberry Pi, a 7″ LCD, speakers and an amp, a WiFi card for the Pi, and a few strips of Neopixels. It is running Raspbian with a stand-alone version of XBMC, which means using AllCast he can wirelessly control the box from a phone or tablet — now all he’s missing is a mini-generator that can put out a few million watts!

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