Self-Driving Cars Get Tiny

There’s a car race going on right now, but it’s not on any sort of race track. There’s a number of companies vying to get their prototype on the road first. [Anurag] has already completed the task, however, except his car and road are functional models.

While his car isn’t quite as involved as the Google self driving car, and it doesn’t have to deal with pedestrians and other active obstacles, it does use a computer and various sensors to make decisions about how to drive. A Raspberry Pi 2 takes the wheel in this build, taking input from a Pi camera and an ultrasonic distance sensor. The Pi communicates to another computer over WiFi, where a neural network operates to make decisions about how to drive the car. It also makes decisions based on a database of pictures of the track, so it has a point of reference to go by.

The video of the car in action is worth a look. It’s not perfect, but it’s quite an accomplishment for this type of project. The possibility that self-driving car models could drive around model sets like model railroad hobbyists create is intriguing. Of course, this isn’t [Anurag]’s first lap around the block. He’s already been featured for building a car that can drive based on hand gestures. We’re looking forward to when he can collide with model busses.

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An Affordable Ultrasonic Soldering Iron

One of the most interesting facets of our community of hackers and makers comes from its never-ending capacity to experiment and to deliver new technologies and techniques. Ample demonstration of this came this morning, in the form of [Hunter Scott]’s project to create an ultrasonic soldering iron. This is a soldering technique in which the iron is subjected to ultrasonic vibrations which cavitate the surface of the materials to be soldered and remove any oxides which would impede the adhesion of the solder. In this way normally unsolderable materials such as stainless steel, aluminium, ceramic, or glass can be soldered without the need for flux or other specialist chemicals. Ultrasonic soldering has been an expensive business, and [Hunter]’s project aims to change that.

This iron takes the element and tip from a conventional mains-powered soldering iron and mounts it on the transducer from an ultrasonic cleaner. The transducer must be given an appropriate load which in the case of the cleaner is furnished by a water bath, or it will overheat and burn out. [Hunter]’s load is just a soldering iron element, so to prevent transducer meltdown he keeps the element powered continuously but the transducer on a momentary-action switch to ensure it only runs for the short time he’s soldering. The project is not quite finished so he’s yet to prove whether this approach will save his transducer, but we feel it’s an interesting enough idea to make it definitely worth following.

This is the first ultrasonic soldering project we’ve featured here at Hackaday. We have however had an ultrasonic plastic welder before, and an ultrasonic vapour polisher for 3D prints. It would be good to think this project could spark a raft of others that improve and refine DIY ultrasonic soldering designs.

Hackaday Dictionary: Ultrasonic Communications

Say you’ve got a neat gadget you are building. You need to send data to it, but you want to keep it simple. You could add a WiFi interface, but that sucks up power. Bluetooth Low Energy uses less power, but it can get complicated, and it’s overkill if you are just looking to send a small amount of data. If your device has a microphone, there is another way that you might not have considered: ultrasonic communications. Continue reading “Hackaday Dictionary: Ultrasonic Communications”

Augmented Reality Ultrasound

Think of Virtual Reality and it’s mostly fun and games that come to mind. But there’s a lot of useful, real world applications that will soon open up exciting possibilities in areas such as medicine, for example. [Victor] from the Shackspace hacker space in Stuttgart built an Augmented Reality Ultrasound scanning application to demonstrate such possibilities.

But first off, we cannot get over how it’s possible to go dumpster diving and return with a functional ultrasound machine! That’s what member [Alf] turned up with one day. After some initial excitement at its novelty, it was relegated to a corner gathering dust. When [Victor] spotted it, he asked to borrow it for a project. Shackspace were happy to donate it to him and free up some space. Some time later, [Victor] showed off what he did with the ultrasound machine.

As soon as the ultrasound scanner registers with the VR app, possibly using the image taped to the scan sensor, the scanner data is projected virtually under the echo sensor. There isn’t much detail of how he did it, but it was done using Vuforia SDK which helps build applications for mobile devices and digital eye wear in conjunction with the Unity 5 cross-platform game engine. Check out the video to see it in action.

Thanks to [hadez] for sending in this link.

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Hacklet 91: Ultrasonic Projects

Ultrasound refers to any audio signal above the range of human hearing. Generally that’s accepted as 20 kHz and up. Unlike electromagnetic signals, ultrasonics are still operating in a medium – generally the air around us. Plenty of animals take advantage of ultrasonics every day. So do hackers, makers, and engineers who have built thousands of projects based upon these high frequency signals. This weeks Hacklet is all about the best ultrasonic projects on!

spambakeWe start with [spambake] and World’s Smallest Bat Detector. [Spambake] is interested in bats. These amazing creatures have poor eyesight, but that doesn’t slow them down. Bats use echolocation to determine their surroundings. Ultrasonic chirps bounce off obstacles. The bat listens to the echos and changes its flight path accordingly. While we can’t hear most of the sounds bats make, electronics can. [Spambake] cooked this circuit up starting with a MEMs microphone. These microphones pick up human sounds, but unlike our ears, they can hear plenty above the 20 kHz range. The audio signal is passed through an amplifier which boosts the it up around 10,000 times. The signal is filtered and then used to trigger LEDs that indicate a bat is present. The final circuit works quite well! Check out [spambake’s] video to see the bat detector in action!

movvaNext up is [Neil Movva] with Pathfinder – Haptic Navigation. Pathfinder uses ultrasonic transducers to perform echolocation similar to bats. The received data is then passed on to a human wearer. [Neil’s] idea is to use Pathfinder to help the visually disabled and blind navigate the world around them. Pathfinder was a 2015 Hackaday Prize finalist. The ultrasonic portion of Pathfinder uses the ubiquitous HC-SR04 distance sensor, which can be found for as little as $2 USD on eBay and Alibaba. These sensors send out a 60 kHz signal and listen for the echos. A microcontroller can then measure the time delay and determine the distance from the sensor to an obstacle. Finally the data is passed on to the user by a vibrating pager motor. [Neal] was kind enough to give a talk about Pathfinder at the 2015 Hackaday SuperCon.

levitate[HoboMunching] likes his ultrasonic devices ultra powerful, and that’s just what he’s got with Ultrasonic Levitation Rig. Inspired by a similar project from Mike, [HoboMunching] had to build his own levitation setup. Ultrasonic levitation used to be a phenomenon studied only in the laboratory. Cheap transducers designed for the industrial world have made this experiment practical for the home hackers. [HoboMunching] was able to use his rig to levitate up to 8 tiny balls on the nulls between the 28.5 kHz sound waves produced by his transducer. The speed of sound can be verified by measuring the distance between the balls. Purists will be happy to hear that [HoboMunching]’s circuit was all based upon the classic 555 timer.

speaker-arrayFinally we have [Alan Green] with Ultrasonic Directional Speaker V1. Most audio signals are not very directional, due to wavelength and practical limitations on speaker size. Ultrasonics don’t have this limitation. Couple this with the fact that ultrasonic signals can be made to demodulate in air, and you have the basis for a highly directional speaker setup. “Sound lasers” based on this system have been around for years, used in everything from targeted advertising to defensive weapons. [Alan] is just getting started on this project. Much of his research is based upon [Joe Pompei’s] work at the MIT media lab. [Alan] plans to use an array of ultrasonic transducers to produce a directional signal which will then demodulate and be heard by a human. This project has a hard deadline though:  [Alan] plans to help his son [Mitchell] with a musical performance that is scheduled for May, 2016. The pair hope to have a prototype in place by March.

If you want to see more ultrasonic projects, check out our new ultrasonic projects list! If I missed your project, don’t be shy! Just drop me a message on That’s it for this week’s Hacklet. As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of!

Ultrasonic Power Transfer: uBeam’s Curious Engineering

The future is wireless power, or so say a thousand press releases in my spam folder, and with very few exceptions every single system of wireless power delivery has fallen flat on its face. Except for a few niche cases – RFID tags, Wacom tablets and the S Pen, and the Qi inductive power mats for cell phones – the future of wireless power hardly looks bright, and in some cases seems downright dangerous. No one seems to grasp that wireless power transfer is much more inefficient than using a wire, and the inverse square law only makes everything worse.

Now there’s a new wireless power technology that’s a strange mix of running in stealth mode and sending press releases to every tech outlet on the planet. It’s called uBeam. This company says it will deliver wireless power to the world, but it’s not doing it with giant Tesla-inspired towers of power, radios beamed directly at devices, induction, magnetic resonance, or even light. uBeam transmits power via sound, specifically high intensity ultrasound. uBeam has never demonstrated a prototype, has never released any technical specs, and even some high-profile investors that include [Mark Cuban] have not seen the uBeam working. Despite running in a ‘stealth mode’, it has garnered a lot of press, and has been featured on TechCrunch dozens of times. This may just be a consequence of CrunchFunds’s investment in uBeam, but there’s still more Google News results for a technology that hasn’t even been demonstrated than a reasonable person would expect.

In what is perhaps the greatest breakdown ever posted on the EEVForums, [georgesmith] goes over what uBeam is, how the technology doesn’t make sense, and how far you can take a business before engineers start to say, ‘put up or shut up.’ [georgesmith]’s research goes over just some of what makes uBeam impractical, but digging even further reveals how insane uBeam actually is.

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HC-SR04 Isn’t the Same as Parallax PING))) But It Can Pretend to Be!

“It’s only software!” A sentence that strikes terror in the heart of an embedded systems software developer. That sentence is often uttered when the software person finds a bug in the hardware and others assume it’s going to be easier for fix in software rather than spin a new hardware revision. No wonder software is always late.

[Clint Stevenson] is his own hardware and software guy, as are most of us. He wanted to use the less expensive HC-SR04 ultrasonic rangefinder in a prototype. Longer term he wanted to have the choice of either a Parallax PING or MaxBotix ultrasonic sensor for their better performance outdoors. His hardware hack of the SR04 made this a software problem which he also managed to solve!

[Clint] was working with the Arduino library, based on the Parallax PING, which uses a single pin for trigger and echo. The HC-SR04 uses separate pins. Originally he modified the Arduino library to accept the two pin approach. But with his long term goal in mind, he also modified the HC-SR04 sensor by removing the on-board pull-up resistor and adding a new one on the connector side to combine the signals. That gave him an SR04 that worked with the single-pin based library.

We’ve seen Parallax PING projects for sensing water depth and to generate music. These could be hacked to use the HC-SR04 using [Clint’s] techniques.

[Arduino and HC-SR04 photo from Blax Lab]