Self-balancing Arduino does it without an IMU

The miniscule size of this self-balancing robot makes it a cool project. It actually uses the motor and wheels from a small toy car. But when you look into how the balancing act is performed it gets way more interesting. The larger versions of this trick pretty much all use Inertial Measurement Units (IMUs) which are usually made up of an accelerometer and a gyroscopic sensor. This has neither.

The black PCB seen to the right of the robot is an IR reflectance sensor. It shines an IR led at the floor and picks up what reflects back. [Sean] added this hack because the gyro sensor he ordered hasn’t arrived yet. The board has a trimpot which is used to adjust the sensitivity. You have to tweak it until it stands on its own. See for yourself after the break.

Self balancing robot builds are a great way to teach yourself about Proportional-Integral-Derivate (PID) algorithms used in a lot of these projects.

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Paper ROM


This low-resolution memory device packs in just a few bytes of data. But it’s enough to spell out [Michael Kohn’s] name. He’s been experimenting with using paper discs for data storage.

His technique becomes immediately clear when you view the demo video below. The disc spins multiple times with the sensor arm reading one track. This gives the system the chance to measure the black band in order to get the data timing figured out. Once the outer track has been read the servo controlling the read head swings it to the next until all of the data is captured.

An Arduino is monitoring the QTR-1RC reflectance sensor which makes up the reading head. It uses the black band width in order to establish the size of an individual byte. Interestingly enough, the white parts of the disc do not contain data. Digital 0 is a black area 1/4 the width of the large black strip, and digital 1 is half as wide.

[Michael’s] set up the generator which makes the discs so that he can easily increase the resolution. The limiting factor is what the reading hardware is able to detect.

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A longboard speed and distance computer


Why should cyclists have all of the fancy toys? Bicycle computers are very common these days but you won’t find similar hardware for skateboards and longboards. [KobraX22] isn’t taking it lying down. He built this speed and distance computer for his longboard. It doesn’t use very many components and should be easy to install.

The device monitors the rotation of one of the wheels by mounting a reflectance sensor on one of the trucks. It points toward the inside of a wheel which has a piece of black tape on it. Every time the tape passes it prevents the IR led from reflecting back at its paired receiver. This lets the Arduino count the revolutions, which are then paired with the wheel diameter to calculate speed as well as distance traveled. Of course the wheels wear down over time to so frequent riders will have to take new measurements at regular intervals.

[KobraX22] went with a QRB1114 sensor. It costs less than $2 and doesn’t require him to embed a magnet in the wheel like a hall effect sensor setup would have. It also shouldn’t interfere with any other fancy wheel hacks you’ve done, like adding a POV display.

[via Reddit]

Counting bees

This is the bee counter which [Hydronics] designed. It’s made to attach to the opening for a hive, and will count the number of bees entering and exiting. We’re not experienced bee keepers ourselves (in fact we’re more of the mind of getting rid of stinging beasties) but we understand their important role in agriculture and ecosystem so we’re glad someone’s making a nice home for them.

Most of the apparatus is a circuit board lined with reflective sensors. There is a double-row of pin sockets on the top of the board which accepts the Teensy+ which monitors those sensors. The bees must pass below this PCB every time they enter or leave the hive, thereby tripping a sensor. In the video after the break [Hydronics] shows off the system with a netbook used to monitor the output. But it sounds like he has plans for an integrated display system in future versions of the bee counter.

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Update: many improvements to optical-sensor-based piano

[Sebastian] wrote in to update us about the optical sensor project he started a couple of years ago. You’ll find his most recent update here, but there are four different post links after the break that document various parts of his progress.

You may not recall the original project, but he was looking to add resolution and sensitivity to the keystroke of an electric keyboard. With the sensors built, he started experimenting with using the force data to affect other parts of the sound. His post back in January shows this bending the pitch as the keys receive more force from the player.

In March he installed the sensor array in an old piano. The video he posted where he plays the piano, but we hear the sound generated from the sensor inputs. We’ve embedded it after the break.

Last week he published two posts. They cover a redesign of the sensor boards, and the panelization work he’s done to help bring down manufacturing costs. The base unit was redesigned to use an AT90USB microcontroller which consolidates the separate chips used in the previous version.

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Creating a multimedia elevator ride

[Ben Peoples] works in theatrical electronics. Sounds like fun, and here’s an example of the kind of stuff he does. We’re not sure what event this installation was used for, but if the elevator ride needed something flashy just think of what the party room must have looked like. These HDTV screens on the ceiling of the elevator play different clips when the elevator is moving up or down. The challenge for [Ben] was to find a way to make it work without tapping into the elevator electronics or requiring any button presses.

The first attempt at sensing the elevator’s travel was done with an accelerometer. The problem with this approach is that an accelerometer only senses change in acceleration and this method proved to be fairly error prone. [Ben] switched over to a reflective sensor which performed quite well. Since most of these sensors will only work within about an eighth of an inch he ended up building his own with a LDR and a couple of amber LEDs.

[via Reddit]

Simple proximity sensor

[Dustin Andrews] built this add-on board which works as a proximity sensor. He wanted a standalone sensor for his Arduino projects which would use a single pin as a trigger. This lets him alert the Arduino when an object approaches the sensor without the need for polling or extra code on the Arduino side of things.

As you can see, a single chip on the board takes care of all the work. That’s an ATtiny13, they’re inexpensive and sometimes you can even salvage them from consumer electronics like this color changing light bulb. The microcontroller monitors the phototransistor which is wrapped in electrical tape to isolate it from the IR LED emitters on either side. This setup creates a reflective sensor. When an object nears the board, the infrared light from the emitters reflects off of it and onto the phototransistor. And since the Arduino works as an AVR programmer you don’t need special hardware to program the device.