Making a Cheap Radar Unit Awesome

[JBeale] squeezed every last drop of performance from a $5 Doppler radar module, and the secrets of that success are half hardware, half firmware, and all hack.

On the hardware side, the first prototype radar horn was made out of cardboard with aluminum foil taped around it. With the concept proven, [JBeale] made a second horn out of thin copper-clad sheets, but reports that the performance is just about the same. The other hardware hack was simply to tack a wire on the radar module’s analog output and add a simple op-amp gain stage, which extended the sensing range well beyond the ten feet or so that these things are usually used for.

With all that signal coming in, [JBeale] separates out the noise by taking an FFT of the Doppler frequency-shift signal. Figuring that people walk around 2.2 miles per hour, [JBeale] focuses on the corresponding 70 Hz frequency bin and finds that the radar will detect people out to 80 feet. Wow!

This trick of taking an el-cheapo radar unit and amplifying the signal to do something useful isn’t new to Hackaday. [Mathieu] did it with the very same HB-100 unit way back in 2013, and then again with a more modern CDM324 model. But [JBeale]’s hacked horn and clever backend processing push out the limits of what you can expect to do with these cheap units. Kudos.

[via PJRC]

The Sensors Automating Your Commute

In a bout of frustration I recently realized that the roads have all updated — most people have no idea how — and this sometimes hurts the flow of traffic. This realization happened when an unfortunate person stopped in a left turn lane well before the stop line. The vehicle didn’t trigger the sensor, so cycle after cycle went by and the traffic system never gave the left turn lane a green light, thinking the lane was unoccupied. Had the driver known about this the world would have been a better place. The first step in intelligent automation is sensing, and there are a variety of methods used to sense traffic’s flow.

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RADAR Controlled Speakers

[Scott] had a simple problem – he was tired of leaning over his work bench to change the volume on his speakers. He desired a system that would readily allow him to switch the speakers on and off from a more comfortable distance. Not one to settle for the more conventional solutions available, [Scott] whipped up a RADAR-activated switch for his speaker system.

The build relies on a surprisingly cost-effective RADAR module available off the shelf, running in the 5.8GHz spectrum. At under $10, it’s no big deal to throw one of these into a project that requires some basic distance sensing. [Scott] decided to keep things simple – instead of going with a full-fat microcontroller to control the speakers, a 74HC590 IC was used to create a latch. Each time the RADAR module senses an object in close proximity, it toggles the state of the latch. The latch then controls a transistor that switches the power for the speakers.

Overall it’s a build that combines a modern integrated RADAR module with some very simple control logic to create a functional build. Of course, there’s so much more you can do with some 74-series logic. Video after the break.

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Automotive Radar and the Doppler Effect

With more and more cars driving themselves, there is an increasing demand for precise environment aware sensors. From collision avoidance to smooth driving, environmental awareness is a must have for any self-driving cars. Enter automotive radar: cool, precise and relatively cheap. Thanks to a donated automotive radar module, [Shahriar] gifts us with a “tutorial, experiment and teardown.”

Before digging into the PCB, [Shahriar] explains the theory. With just enough math for the mathmagically inclined and not too much for the math adverse, [Shahriar] goes into the details of how automotive radar is different from normal stationary radar.

Only after a brief overview of the Doppler effect, [Shahriar] digs into the PCB which reveals three die-on-PCB ASICs responsible for generating and receiving 77GHz FMCW signals coupled to a 2D array of antennas. Moreover, [Shahriar] points out the several microwave components such as “rat-race couplers” and “branchline couplers.” Additionally, [Shahriar] shows off his cool PCB rulers from SV1AFN Design Lab that he uses as a reference for these microwave components. Finally, a physical embodiment of the Doppler effect radar is demonstrated with a pair of Vivaldi horn antennas and a copper sheet.

We really like how [Shahriar] structures his video: theory, followed by a teardown and then a physical experiment to drive his lesson home. If he didn’t already have a job, we’d say he might want to consider teaching. If the video after the break isn’t enough radar for the day, we’ve got you covered.

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Radar Sensors Put to the Test

[Andreas Spiess] picked up a few inexpensive radar sensors. He decided to compare the devices and test them and–lucky for us–he collected his results in a video you can see below.

The questions he wanted to answer were:

  • Are they 3.3 V-compatible?
  • How much current do they draw?
  • How long to they show a detection?
  • How far away can they detect the motion of a typical adult?
  • What is the angle of detection?
  • Can they see through certain materials?
  • Can the devices coexist with other devices in the same area? What about WiFi networks?

Good list of questions, and if you want to know the answers, you should watch the video.

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The Right Circuit Turns Doppler Module into a Sensor

Can you buy a working radar module for $12? As it turns out, you can. But can you make it output useful information? According to [Mathieu], the answer is also yes, but only if you ignore the datasheet circuit and build this amplification circuit for your dirt cheap Doppler module.

The module in question is a CDM324 24-GHz board that’s currently listing for $12 on Amazon. It’s the K-band cousin of the X-band HB100 used by [Mathieu] in a project we covered a few years back, but thanks to the shorter wavelength the module is much smaller — just an inch square. [Mathieu] discovered that the new module suffered from the same misleading amplifier circuit in the datasheet. After making some adjustments, a two-stage amp was designed and executed on a board that piggybacks on the module with a 3D-printed bracket.

Frequency output is proportional to the velocity of the detected object; the maximum speed for the sensor is only 14.5 mph (22.7 km/h), so don’t expect to be tracking anything too fast. Nevertheless, this could be a handy sensor, and it’s definitely a solid lesson in design. Still, if your tastes run more toward using this module on the 1.25-cm ham band, have a look at this HB100-based 3-cm band radio.

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Acoustic Mirrors: How to Find Planes without RADAR

A lot of science museums and parks feature something called an acoustic mirror. The one at Houston’s Discovery Green park is called the listening vessels. [Doug Hollis] created two acoustic mirrors 70 feet apart, pointing at each other. If you stand or sit near one of the vessels, you can hear a whisper from someone near the other vessel. The limestone installations (see right) are concave and focus sound like a parabolic mirror will focus light.

mirrorJust a science curiosity, right? Maybe today, but not always. The story of these devices runs through World War II and is an object lesson in how new technology requires new ways of thinking about things.

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