If you stand outside on a clear night, can you see the Milky Way? If you live too close to a conurbation the chances are all you’ll see are a few of the brighter stars, the full picture is only seen by those who live in isolated places. The problem is light pollution, scattered light from street lighting and other sources hiding the stars.
The view of the Milky Way is a good analogy for the state of the radio spectrum. If you turn on a radio receiver and tune to a spot between stations, you’ll find a huge amount more noise in areas of human habitation than you will if you do the same thing in the middle of the countryside. The RF noise emitted by a significant amount of cheaper modern electronics is blanketing the airwaves and is in danger of rendering some frequencies unusable.
If you have ever designed a piece of electronics to comply with regulations for sale you might now point out that the requirements for RF interference imposed by codes from the FCC, CE mark etc. are very stringent, and therefore this should not be a significant problem. The unfortunate truth is though that a huge amount of equipment is finding its way into the hands of consumers which may bear an FCC logo or a CE mark but which has plainly had its bill-of-materials cost cut to the point at which its compliance with those rules is only notional. Next to the computer on which this is being written for example is a digital TV box from a well-known online retailer which has all the appropriate marks, but blankets tens of megahertz of spectrum with RF when it is in operation. It’s not faulty but badly designed, and if you pause to imagine hundreds or thousands of such devices across your city you may begin to see the scale of the problem.
We hope that quantifying the scale of the RF noise problem will result in some action to reduce its ill-effects. It is also to be hoped though that the response will not be an ever-tighter set of regulations but greater enforcement of those that already exist. It has become too easy to make, import, or sell equipment made with scant regard to RF emissions, and simply making the requirements tougher for those designers who make the effort to comply will not change anything.
This is the first time we’ve raised the problem of the ever-rising radio noise floor here at Hackaday. We have covered a possible solution though, if stray RF is really getting to you perhaps you’d like to move to the National Radio Quiet Zone.
No surprise there, but rather than give up, he decided to see what he could do about the noise. So, he took the projector apart. After some excavation, he realized that the main source of noise was the input fan, which was small and partly covered. That’s a recipe for noise, so he cut out the plastic grille over it and mounted a larger, quieter fan on the outside. He also designed and 3D printed an external hood for this larger fan. The result, he says, is much quieter than the original, and still keeps the LED light source fairly cool. It’s a neat hack that shows how a few hours and a bit of ingenuity can sometimes make a cheap device better.
CNC machines can be very noisy, and we’re not talking about the kind of noise problem that you can solve with earplugs. With all those stepper motors and drivers, potentially running at high-speed, electrical noise can often get to the point where it interferes with your control signals. This is especially true if your controller is separated from the machine by long cable runs.
But electrical noise won’t interfere with light beams! [Musti] and his fellow hackers at IRNAS decided to use commodity TOSLINK cables and transmitter / receiver gear to make a cheap and hackable fiber-optic setup. The basic idea is just to bridge between the controller board and the motor drivers with optical fiber. To make this happen, a couple of signals need to be transmitted: pulse and direction. They’ve set the system up so that it can be chained as well. Serializing the data, Manchester encoding it for transmission, and decoding it on reception is handled by CPLDs for speed and reliability.
The team has been working on this project for a while now. If you’d like some more background you can check out their original design ideas. Design files from this released version are up on GitHub. A proposed improvement is to incorporate bi-directional communications. Bi-directional comms would allow data like limit-switch status to be communicated back from the machine to the controller over fiber.
Logic Noise is all about using logic circuits to make sounds. Preferably sound that will be enjoyable to hear and useful for making music. This week, we’ll be scratching the surface of one of my favorite chips to use and abuse for, well, nearly anything: the 4051 8-way analog switch. As the name suggests, you can hook up eight inputs and select one from among them to be connected up to the output. (Alternatively, you can send a single input to one of eight destinations, but we won’t be doing that here.)
Why is this cool? Well, imagine that you wanted to make our oscillator play eight notes. If you worked through our first installment, you built an abrasive-sounding but versatile oscillator. I had you tapping manually on eight different resistors or turning a potentiometer to eight different positions. This week, we’ll be letting the 4051 take over some of the controls, leaving us to do the more advanced knob twiddling.
Sometimes the best way to learn about a technology is to just build something yourself. That’s what [Dan] did with his DIY optoisolator. The purpose of an optoisolator is to allow two electrical systems to communicate with each other without being electrically connected. Many times this is done to prevent noise from one circuit from bleeding over into another.
[Dan] built his incredibly simple optoisolator using just a toilet paper tube, some aluminum foil, an LED, and a photo cell. The electrical components are mounted inside of the tube and the ends of the tube are sealed with foil. That’s all there is to it. To test the circuit, he configured an Arduino to send PWM signals to the LED inside the tube at various pulse widths. He then measured the resistance on the other side and graphed the resulting data. The result is a curve that shows the LED affects the sensor pretty drastically at first, but then gets less and less effective as the frequency of the signal increases.
[Dan] then had some more fun with his project by testing it on a simple temperature controller circuit. An Arduino reads a temperature sensor and if the temperature rises above a certain value, it turns on a fan to cool the sensor off again. [Dan] first graphed the sensor data with no fan hooked up. He only used ambient air to cool things down. The resulting graph is a pretty smooth curve. Next he hooked the fan up and tried again. This time the graph went all kinds of crazy. Every time the fan turned on, it created a bunch of electrical noise that prevented the Arduino from getting an accurate analog reading of the temperature sensor.
The third test was to remove the motor circuit and move it to its own bread board. The only thing connecting the Arduino circuit to the fan was a wire for the PWM signal and also a common ground. This smoothed out the graph but it was still a bit… lumpy. The final test was to isolate the fan circuit from the temperature sensor and see if it helped the situation. [Dan] hooked up his optoisolator and tried again. This time the graph was nice and smooth, just like the original graph.
While this technology is certainly not new or exciting, it’s always great to see someone learning by doing. What’s more is [Dan] has made all of his schematics and code readily available so others can try the same experiment and learn it for themselves.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a garage and a workshop, you probably also have neighbors. The truly blessed must work within the confines of an HOA that restricts noise, porch couches, and most types of fun. [Mike] is among the truly blessed, and when he decided to design a cabinet for his CNC equipment, he took noise dampening into consideration.
[Mike]’s design isn’t a blanket noise dampener; it’s specifically designed for the high-pitch symphony of his router, compressor, and vacuum. He also sought to avoid vibrating the cabinet. To achieve this, the sound-dampening panels are hung on eye hooks with a 1/2″ gap between them and the frame. The backer boards are cut from 3/4″ plywood. [Mike] considered using cement board, but thought it might be overkill since he plants to shell the cabinet in a layer of 3/4″ plywood.
The deadening material is paper pulp made from various shredded papers. After soaking the shreds in water and blending the mixture to an oatmeal consistency, he drained most of the water through a cloth bag. Then he added just enough wood glue to hold the pulpy goo together. The tropical punch Kool-Aid powder isn’t just for looks; it provides visual confirmation of even glue distribution.
[Mike] made some tape walls around the edge of his backer boards to hold the mixture in place and painted on some wood glue to hold the pulp. He spread the tropical concoction to 1/2″ thickness with a tiling trowel to avoid compressing it. The peaks and valleys help scatter any sound that isn’t absorbed. Pudding awaits you after the jump.
[Udo] decided to build a clock using the DCF77 radio module seen above. This of course has been done before: the hardware draws a clock signal from the atomic clock in Braunschweig, Germany. So he grabbed a library for Arduino and got to work. But he was getting rather poor results and upon further investigation realized that the library had been written for 20 Hz modules and his operates at 300 Hz. This means better accuracy but the drawback is that the hardware is more susceptible to noise.