Laser Rangefinder Brought to Life With Arduino

Range finders are amazing tools for doing pretty much anything involving distance calculations. Want to blink some lights when people are nearby? There’s a rangefinder for that. Need to tell how far away the next peak of a mountain range is? There’s a rangefinder for that. But if you’re new to range finders and want one that’s hackable and configurable, look no further than the SF02/F rangefinder with the Arduino shield, and [Laser Developer]’s dive into what this pair can do.

Once the rangefinder and shield have been paired is when the magic really starts to happen. Using USB, the Arduino can instantly report a huge amount of raw data coming from the rangefinder. From there, [Laser Developer] shows us how to put the device into a “settings” mode which expands the capabilities of the rangefinder even more. The data can be dumped into a graph, for example, which can show trends between distance, laser strength, and many other data sets. [Laser Developer] goes one step further and demonstrates how to use this to calculate the speed of light, but from there pretty much anything else is possible as well.

And while you can just buy a rangefinder off the shelf, they are fairly limiting in their features and can cost exponentially more. This is a great start into using a tool like this, especially if you need specific data or have a unique application. But, if laser range finding isn’t for you or if this project is too expensive, maybe this $5 ultrasonic rangefinder will work better for your application.

THP Entry: A Repurposed Luminiferous Aether Detector

laserIn the late 1800s, no one knew what light was. Everyone knew it behaved like a wave some of the time, but all waves need to travel through some propagation medium. This propagation medium was called the luminiferous aether and an attempt to detect and quantify this aether led to one of the coolest experimental setups of all time: the Michelson-Morely experiment. It was a huge interferometer mounted on a gigantic slab of marble floating in a pool of mercury. By rotating the interferometer, Michelson and Morely expected to see a small phase shift in the interferometer, both confirming the existence of a luminiferous aether and giving them how fast the Earth moved through this medium.

Of course, there was no phase shift, throwing physics into chaos for a few years. When [Beaglebreath] first learned about the Michelson-Morely interferometer he was amazed by the experimental setup. He’s built a few interferometers over the years, but for The Hackaday Prize, he’s making something useful out of one of these luminiferous aether detectors: a functional laser rangefinder capable of measuring distances of up to 60 inches with an error of 0.000005 inches.

The core of the system is an HP 5528A laser interferometer system. [Beaglebreath] has been collecting the individual components of this system off of eBay for several years now, and amazingly, he has all the parts. That’s dedication, right there. This laser interferometer system will be mounted to a simple camera slider, and with the interferometer measurements, humidity and temperature measurements, and some interesting code (running on one of these for hacker cred), [Beaglebreath] stands a good shot at measuring things very, very accurately.

The devil is in the details, and when you’re measuring things this precisely there are a lot of details. The original Michelson-Morely interferometer was affected by passing horse-drawn carriages and even distant lightning storms. While [Beaglebreath] isn’t using as long of a beam path as the OG interferometer, he’ll still have a lot of bugs to squash to bring this project to its full potential.

SpaceWrencherThe project featured in this post is an entry in The Hackaday Prize. Build something awesome and win a trip to space or hundreds of other prizes.

Bike alert tells drivers to back off

Bicycle commuters are often in a battle with drivers for space on the road. [Hammock Boy] does all of his commuting on two human-powered wheels, and is quite interested in not getting hit by a car. He decided to ply his hobby skills to build a device that helps keep him safe. It’s not just a tail light, it’s a sensor that shines brighter the closer a car is to the back of the bike.

The sensor portion is the ultrasonic range finder seen in the center of the protoboard. Surrounding it is a set of LEDs. Each is individually addressable with the whole package controlled by an Arduino. The sketch measures the distance between the back of the bike and whatever’s behind it. If there’s nothing, one Red led is illuminated. If there is an object, the lights shine brighter, and in different patterns as the distance decreases.

Certainly the next iteration could use a standalone chip without the need for the whole Arduino. This could even work with two battery cells and no voltage regulator. We also think the use of any other color than Red LEDs is suspect but we do love the concept.

Arduino hits the battlefield — for real

We’re not sure if this is the first time, but here’s some pretty solid proof that Arduino has found its way into the weapons of war. The creators, [Derek Wales], [John Eischer], and [George Hopkins] are all Electronics Engineering majors at West Point. They came up with this idea after seeing video footage of a firefight in Afghanistan where combat soldiers were calling in artillery strikes using a compasses and GPS devices. It’s an all-in-one unit that can provide the same information quickly and accurately. The prototype above, which they call the DemonEye, contains a laser range finder, digital compass, and a GPS module. The article also states that it contains a mini-computer but we recognize that as an Arduino Mega (thanks to Miguel over at Areopago 21 for noticing this first and sending in the tip about it).

The prototype apparently comes in at $1000. Okay, it seems a bit high but not out of the ballpark. What we can’t understand is how the second generation of devices was billed out at $100,000 for five more units. What’s the going rate for laying out military-grade PCBs?

RF range finder doesn’t need to see to calculate distance


Instructables user [Jones Electric] has been quite busy lately, building a radio-frequency range finder. Built as part of a German youth science competition, he and his partner built a pair of transmitter/receiver modules that can be used to measure distances of up to a mile (~1.5km). Their argument for radio-based rangefinders is that laser rangefinders are obviously limited to line of sight, whereas their range finders are not.

To determine the distance between the two stations, the base station is triggered, which starts a counter and sends a 433 MHz signal to the second station. When the second station receives the signal, it in turn broadcasts an 868 MHz signal, which is received by the base station. The total distance between the points is then calculated based upon the round trip time of the two radio signals.

[Jones Electric] claims that the range finder is relatively accurate, with a deviation of up to 5 meters per measurement, and that the accuracy could be increased by adding a higher frequency crystal to the timing circuit.

We are pretty sure using these two frequencies in the US without a license is not allowed, though we are unsure of the usage laws in Germany, where this was constructed.

The wandering Arduinobot

You almost have to love this Arduino based robot just because of the wheels and third leg support. Look closely, do you recognize them? Yep, they’re Capsela parts! That’s a blast from the past and we wonder why we don’t see the strange building toys of yore used in more hacks?

But we digress, this little bugger guy uses continuous rotation servos for locomotion. Perched atop the body is a third servo which scans an IR range finder back and forth to look out for obstacles in its path. The body itself is a Black and Decker rechargeable battery pack called Pocket Power which includes a USB port for a regulated 5V supply. One thing’s for sure, this little guy is fantastic at avoiding pizza and beer… you’ll just have to see for yourself after the break.

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WiFi controlled Arduino-bot

This little robot was built very quickly thanks to the rapid prototyping capabilities of the Arduino. It uses a WiShield 1.0 from AsyncLabs to connect to a wireless network for control via a TCP connection. The body and wheels are wood, with a servo for each motor and a third used to scan a range finder from side to side. We’ve embedded a triad of demo videos after the break that take you through the various feature development of this platform. You’ll see control via a hacked Zipit, as well as joystick control. There’s also a couple of stages of autonomous movement where the distance information comes into play.

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