Brake Light Blinker Does It with Three Fives

Sometimes you use a Raspberry Pi when you really could have gotten by with an Arudino. Sometimes you use an Arduino when maybe an ATtiny45 would have been better. And sometimes, like [Bill]’s motorcycle tail light project, you use exactly the right tool for the job: a 555 timer.

One of the keys of motorcycle safety is visibility. People are often looking for other cars and often “miss” seeing motorcyclists for this reason. Headlight and tail light modulators (circuits that flash your lights continuously) are popular for this reason. Bill decided to roll out his own rather than buy a pre-made tail light flasher so he grabbed a trusty 555 timer and started soldering. His circuit flashes the tail light a specific number of times and then leaves it on (as long as one of the brake levers is depressed) which will definitely help alert other drivers to his presence.

[Bill] mentions that he likes the 555 timer because it’s simple and bulletproof, which is exactly what you’d need on something that will be attached to a motorcycle a be responsible for alerting drivers before they slam into you from behind.

We’d tend to agree with this assessment of the 555; we’ve featured entire 555 circuit contests before. His project also has all of the tools you’ll need to build your own, including the files to have your own PCB made. If you’d like inspiration for ways to improve motorcycle safety in other ways, though, we can suggest a pretty good starting point as well.

A Terahertz Modulator

We’re all used to the changes in the properties of radio frequency systems as the frequency increases and the wavelength becomes shorter. The difference between the way an FM radio and a WiFi adapter behave with respect to their environments, for instance. But these are relatively low frequencies in the scheme of electromagnetic radiation, as you will be aware with ever shorter wavelengths those properties change further until eventually we are not dealing with something we’d describe as radio, but infrared light.

Terahertz waves are the electromagnetic radiation that lies in that area between radio frequencies and infra-red light. You might expect that since science has delivered so many breakthroughs in both radio and IR, we’d have mastered them, but so far very few devices capable of working at these wavelengths have been developed.

A Nature paper from a group at Tufts University holds the promise of harnessing terahertz waves for applications such as data transfer, for they have developed the first terahertz modulator. It takes the form of a section of slot waveguide between two conductors on a substrate, interrupted by what they describe as a two-dimensional electron gas. This is a very thin layer of electron concentration in an InGaAs region of a semiconductor sandwich that can be created or dissipated by electrical stimulus. This creation and removal of the electron layer has the effect of interrupting the flow of terahertz waves in the waveguide, making a functional modulator.

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Modulator box connects iPod to Tesla coil

tesla-coil-modulator

This pass through audio modulator lets you playback stereo audio on two Tesla coils. But don’t fret, you can just use mono files if you only have one coil on hand. On one side there are inputs that connect to the audio source. The other side drives the Tesla coil, switching it on and off based on the relationship between a reference voltage and the audio signal. As you can hear in the video after the break this sounds great as long as you have the right kind of source audio.

The song played in that clip is the Duke Nukem 3D theme. [Daniel] started with a MIDI file and removed the chimes and drums to make the playback a little cleaner. The demo uses just one coil because the other was destroyed during testing when feedback between the two became a problem.

For some reason this reminds us of that singing Tesla coil hat. If you’re already on our mailing list (sign up in the sidebar) you know we’re getting pretty close to unveiling our own awesome Tesla coil project. It doesn’t sing… yet.

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1953 Radio includes tubes, AM, FM, and MP3

This vintage radio can play AM, FM, and MP3, all with a classic sound. Inside you’ll find a new AM radio tube-amp, providing the functionality you’d expect from the device. The rest of it comes from a conglomeration of parts; an FM receiver board from another radio and an MP3 player with remote control and USB connector. The classic sound we mentioned above comes from an AM modulator. That’s right, the auxiliary audio boards aren’t connected directly, but are broadcast on the AM band so that your latest MC Lars album has the same sound quality as the traffic report.

Check out this similar project from last year that adds RDS to a vintage radio.

ThingamaKIT: Make your own Thingamagoop


Bleep Labs’ Thingamagoop is a small synthesizer packed with wacky controls for generating unique sounds; you can now build an expanded version yourself with the ThingamaKit. Made “because there are not nearly enough beeping, zapping, bixxerfouping, anthropomorphic synthesizer monsters in the world,” it generates sounds of different pitches depending on the type and intensity of light hitting a photocell on the front panel. It’s most unique feature, is its LEDacle, which is something like a tentacle with an LED on the end. This can be pointed towards the photocell to modulate the sound. Output is through a 1/4″ audio jack.

Bleep Labs sells fully assembled Thingamagoops for $100, but the new DIY kit is available for half price. The kit version of the Thingamagoop has more controls, two photosensors, and two LEDacles. You can buy it with or without the case, and it doesn’t require any complex wiring. Look after the break for video of some Thingamagoops in action.

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