Vibrating Distance Torch Illuminates the Dark without Light

If you’ve ever had to move around in a dark room before, you know how frustrating it can be. This is especially true if you are in an unfamiliar place. [Brian] has attempted to help solve this problem by building a vibrating distance sensor that is intuitive to use.

The main circuit is rather simple. An Arduino is hooked up to both an ultrasonic distance sensor and a vibrating motor. The distance sensor uses sound to determine the distance of an object by calculating how long it takes for an emitted sound to return to the sensor. The sensor uses sounds that are above the range of human hearing, so no one in the vicinity will hear it. The Arduino then vibrates a motor quickly if the object is very close, or slowly if it is far away. The whole circuit is powered by a 9V battery.

The real trick to this project is that the entire thing is housed inside of an old flashlight. [Brian] used OpenSCAD to design a custom plastic mount. This mount replaces the flashlight lens and allows the ultrasonic sensor to be secured to the front of the flashlight. The flashlight housing makes the device very intuitive to use. You simply point the flashlight in front of you and press the button. Instead of shining a bright light, the flashlight vibrates to let you know if the way ahead is clear. This way the user can more easily navigate around in the dark without the risk of being seen or waking up people in the area.

This reminds us of project Tacit, which used two of these ultrasonic sensors mounted on a fingerless glove.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Telling Dad The Stove Is Off

A month ago, Hackaday landed at the NYC TechCrunch Disrupt, a bastion of people up all night on MacBooks and immense amounts of caffeine and vitamin B12. For 20 hours, everyone was typing away trying to build the next great service that would be bought by Google or Amazon or Facebook. Tucked away in one small corner of the room was the Hackaday crew, giving out dev boards, components, and advice to the few dozen hardware hackers at Disrupt. [David], one of these Hackaday enthusiasts won the Twilio Sponsorship Prize at Disrupt, and now it’s a Hackaday Prize entry.

[David]’s dad has a little bit of paranoia of accidentally leaving the stove on. This usually manifests itself a few minutes after leaving the house, which means turning the car around just to make sure the stove was off. At the TechCrunch hackathon, [David] built a small IoT device to automatically read the temperature of the stove, send that off to the Internet, and finally as an SMS via Twilio.

The hardware [David] is using is extremely minimal – a thermopile, a gas sensor, a WiFi module, and a microcontroller. There’s a lot of iterations in this project, with [David] looking at everything from TI MSP430s to Teensys to Arduinos to ESP8266 modules. Still, rough prototype thrown together in 20 hours is all you need to win the Twilio prize at Disrupt, and that’s more than enough for a very good Hackaday Prize entry.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Earth Day: Environmental Sensors

Before you attempt to solve a problem, you must first study the problem. If there’s a problem with the environment, you must therefore study the environment at a scale never seen before. For this year’s Hackaday Prize, there are a lot of projects that aim to do just that. Here are a few of them:

[Pure Engineering]’s C12666 Micro Spectrometer has applications ranging from detecting if fruit is ripe, telling you to put sunscreen on, to detecting oil spills. Like the title says, it’s based on the Hamamatsu C12666MA spectrometer, a very tiny MEMS spectrometer that can sort light by wavelength from 340 to 780nm.

The project is to build a proper breakout board for this spectrometer. The best technologies are enabling technologies, and we can’t wait to see all the cool stuff that’s made with this sensor.

[radu.motisan]’s portable environmental monitor isn’t just one sensor, but an entire suite of them. The design of the project includes toxic and flammable gas sensors, radiation detectors, dust sensors, and radiation detectors packaged together in a neat, convenient package.

[radu] has already seen some success with environmental sensors and The Hackaday Prize; last year, his entry, the uRADMonitor placed in the top fifty for creating a global network of radiation sensors.


New Part Day: Time Of Flight Sensors

Every robotics project out there, it seems, needs a way to detect if it’s smashing into a wall repeatedly, acting like the brainless automaton it actually is. The Roomba has wall sensors, just about every robot kit has some way of detecting obstacles its running into, and for ‘wall-following robots’, detecting objects is all they do.

While the earliest of these robots used a piece of wire and a metal contact to act like a switch for these object detectors, ultrasonic sensors – the kind you can buy on eBay for a few bucks – have replaced this clever wire spring switch. Now there’s a new sensor for the same job – the VL6180 – and it measures the speed of light.

The sensors that are used for object and collision detection now use either ultrasonic or infrared light. They’re susceptible to noise, and if you’re doing anything automated, you really don’t want rogue measurements. A time of flight sensor clocks out photons and records how long it takes them to return at 299,792,458 meters per second. It’s less sensitive to noise, and if you can believe this SparkFun demo of this sensor, extremely accurate

This is not the first Time of Flight distance sensor on the market; earlier this week we saw a project use a sensor called the TeraRanger One. This sensor costs €150.00. The VL6180 sensor costs about $6 in quantity one from the usual suspects, and breakout boards with the proper level converters and regulators can be found for about $25. More expensive sensors have a greater range, naturally; the VL6180 is limited to somewhere between 10cm (on paper) and 25cm (in practice). But this is cheap, and it measures the time of flight of pulses of light. That’s just cool.

Wireless Water Level Sensor from PVC Pipe

[Bob] was having trouble keeping up with his water troughs. He had to constantly check them to make sure they weren’t empty, and he always found that the water level was lower than he thought. He decided it was time to build his own solution to this problem. What he ended up with was a water level sensor made from PVC pipe and a few other components.

The physical assembly is pretty simple. The whole structure is made from 1/2″ PVC pipe and fittings and is broken into four nearly identical sensor modules. The sensors have an electrode on either side. The electrodes are made from PVC end caps, sanded down flat at the tip. A hole is then drilled through the cap to accommodate a small machine screw. The screw threads are coated in joint compound before the screw is driven into the hole, creating its own threads. These caps are placed onto small sections of PVC pipe, which in turn connect to a four-way PVC cross connector. 

On the inside of the electrode cap, two washers are placed onto the screw. A stranded wire is placed between the washers and then clamped in place with a nut. All of the modules are connected together with a few inches of pipe. [Bob] measured this out so it would fit appropriately into his trough, but the measurements can easily be altered to fit just about any size container. The wires all route up through the pipe. The PVC pipe is cemented together to keep the water out. The joint compound prevents any leaks at the electrodes.

A piece of CAT 5 cable connects the electrodes to the electronics inside of the waterproof controller box. The electronics are simple. It’s just a simple piece of perfboard with an XBee and a few transistors. The XBee can detect the water level by testing for a closed circuit between the two electrodes of any sensor module. The water acts as a sort of switch that closes the circuit. When the water gets too low, the circuit opens and [Bob] knows that the water level has lowered. The XBee is connected to a directional 2.4GHz antenna to ensure the signal reaches the laptop several acres away. Continue reading “Wireless Water Level Sensor from PVC Pipe”

Pandaphone is a DIY Baby Toy

[Tyler] was looking for a gift for his friend’s one year old son. Searching through the shelves in the toy store, [Tyler] realized that most toys for children this age are just boxes of plastic that flash lights and make sound. Something that he should be able to make himself with relative ease. After spending a bit of time in the shop, [Tyler] came up with the Pandaphone.

The enclosure is made from a piece of 2×4 lumber. He cut that piece into three thinner pieces of wood. The top piece has two holes cut out to allow for an ultrasonic sensor to poke out. The middle piece has a cavity carved out using a band saw. This would leave room to store the electronics. The bottom piece acts as a cover to hide the insides.

The circuit uses an ATtiny85. The program watches the ultrasonic PING sensor for a change in distance. It then plays an audio tone out of a small speaker, which changes pitch based on the distance detected. The result is a pitch that is lower when your hand is close to the sensor, but higher when your hand is farther away. The case was painted with the image of a panda on the front, hence the name, “Pandaphone”. Based on the video below, it looks like the recipient is enjoying it! Continue reading “Pandaphone is a DIY Baby Toy”

MIDI Keyboard with Frickin’ Laser Keys

MIDI instruments are cool, but they’re not laser cool. That is, unless you’ve added lasers to your MIDI instrument like [Lasse].

[Lasse] started out with an old MIDI keyboard. The plan was to recycle an older keyboard rather than have to purchase something new. In this case, the team used an ESi Keycontrol 49. They keyboard was torn apart to get to the creamy center circuit boards. [Lasse] says that most MIDI keyboards come withe a MIDI controller board and the actual key control board.

Once the key controller board was identified, [Lasse] needed to figure out how to actually trigger the keys without the physical keyboard in place. He did this by shorting out different pads while the keyboard was hooked up to the computer. If he hit the correct pads, a note would play. Simple, but effective.

The housing for the project is made out of wood. Holes were drilled in one piece to mount 12 laser diodes. That number is not arbitrary. Those familiar with music theory will know that there are 12 notes in an octave. The lasers were powered via the 5V source from USB. The lasers were then aimed at another piece of wood.

Holes were drilled in this second piece wherever the lasers hit. Simple photo resistors were mounted here. The only other components needed for each laser sensor were a resistor and a transistor. This simple discreet circuit is enough to simulate a key press when the laser beam is broken. No programming or microcontrollers required. Check out the demonstration video below to see how it works. Continue reading “MIDI Keyboard with Frickin’ Laser Keys”