You Speak, Your Scope Obeys

We’ve been scratching our heads about the various voice-recognition solutions out there. What would you really want to use one for? Turning off the lights in your bedroom without getting up? Sure, it has some 2001: A Space Odyssey flare flair, but frankly we’ve already got a remote control for that. The best justification for voice control, in our mind, is controlling something while your hands or eyes are already busy.

[Patrick Sébastien Coulombe] clearly has both of his hands on his oscilloscope probes. That’s why he developed Speech2SCPI, a quick mash-up of voice recognition and an oscilloscope control protocol. It combines the Julius open-source speech recognizer project with the Standard Commands for Programmable Instruments (SCPI) syntax to make his scope obey his every command. You’ve got to watch the video below the break to believe how well it works. It even handles his French accent.

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Remote Sensing Bombs Could Stem Terrorism

If you understand technology, there were a lot of things hard to explain on Star Trek. Transporters, doors that were smart enough to open unless you hit them during a fight, and the universal translator all defy easy explanation. But one of the hardest things to explain were Mr. Spock’s sensors. From the ship or with a tricorder, Spock could sense at a distance just about anything from chemical compositions, to energy, and even the presence of life (which, today, at least, is difficult to determine even what that means).

Remote sensing would have a very distinct use in today’s world: finding terrorist bombs earlier. A recent article published on New Scientist by [Debora MacKenzie] points out that stopping attacks like the recent one in Brussels is difficult without increasing congestion. For example, putting checkpoints at doors instead of inside transit stations is common in Asia, but causes lines and delays.

detecThe United States has used ion mobility spectrometry (IMS) to detect explosive traces on swabs (using machines like the one on the left). However in the early 2000’s they experimented with a version of the device that used puffs of air to determine if people had explosives while they passed by the machine. By 2010, officials decided the machines broke down too often and stopped using them.

Remote Sensing in Practice

According to an expert at Rand Corporation, remote sensing is likely to employ imaging or sniffers. However, imaging solutions are easy to fool since a bomb can take the shape of an ordinary object. Sniffers, including biological sniffers (known as dogs), are harder to fool. The problem is that deploying thousands of dogs to cover the world’s airports is difficult.

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Spark Gap and Coherer Meet Beagle Bone

Getting back to basics is a great way to teach yourself about a technology. We see it all the time with computers built from NAND gates or even discrete transistors. It’s the same for radio – stripping it back to the 19th century can really let you own the technology. But if an old-school wireless setup still needs a 21st-century twist to light your fire, try this spark gap transmitter and coherer receiver with a Beagle Bone Morse decoder.

At its heart, a spark gap transmitter is just a broadband RF noise generator, and as such is pretty illegal to operate these days. [Ashish Derhgawen]’s version, which lacks an LC tuning circuit, would be especially obnoxious if it had an antenna. But even without one, the 100% electromechanical transmitter is good for a couple of feet – more than enough for experimentation without incurring the wrath of local hams.

The receiver is based on a coherer, a device that conducts electricity only when a passing radio wave disturbs it. [Ashish]’s coherer is a slug of iron filings between two bolts in a plastic tube. To reset the coherer, [Ashish] added a decoherer built from an electromagnetic doorbell ringer to tap the tube and jostle the filings back into the nonconductive state. He also added an optoisolator to condition the receiver’s output for an IO pin on the Beagle, and a Python script to decode the incoming Morse. You can see it in action in the video below.

If this build looks familiar, it’s because we’ve covered [Ashish]’s efforts before. But this project keeps evolving, and it’s nice to see where he’s taken it and what he’s learned – like that MOSFETs don’t like inductive kickback much.

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Dirt-Cheap USB Arduino Hack From the Past

Mass production is a wonderful thing. Prices fall, and hobby hackers get cheap gear. The mind then wanders towards what can be done with it. So it’s little wonder that someone like [Aaron Christophel] would try to repurpose those sub-$3 AVR programmers that are all over eBay (translated poorly out of German here, but demonstrated in the video embedded below).

[Aaron] didn’t have to do much, really. The only trick is that you’ll first need to re-flash the existing ISP firmware with one that lets you upload code to the device itself over USB. If you don’t have an Arduino on hand to re-flash, buy at least two of the cheap programmers — one to program the other ones. Once you’ve done that, you have essentially an Arduino with limited pinout and two onboard LEDs, but in a nice small form-factor and with built-in USB. [Aaron] even provides an Arduino boards.txt file to make it all work smoothly within the IDE.

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