Acoustic Camera Uses Many, Many Microphones

If you’re a human or other animal with two ears, you’ll probably find great utility in your ability to identify the direction of sounds in the world around you.  Of course, this is really just a minimal starting point for such abilities. When [John Duffy] set out to build his acoustic camera, he chose to use ninety-six microphones to get the job done.

The acoustic camera works by having an array of microphones laid out in a prescribed grid. By measuring the timing and phase differences of signals appearing at each microphone, it’s possible to determine the location of sound sources in front of the array. The more microphones, the better the data.

[John] goes into detail as to how the project was achieved on the project blog. Outlining such struggles as assembly issues, he also shares information about how to effectively debug the array, and just how to effectively work with so many microphones at once. Particularly impressive is the video of [John] using the device to track a sound to its source. This technology has potential applications in industry for determining the location of compressed air leaks, for example.

Overall, it’s a university research project done right, with a great writeup of the final results. [John]’s project would serve well as a jumping off point for anyone trying to build something similar. Phased array techniques work in RF, too, as this MIT project demonstrates. Video after the break.

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Fear Of Potato Chips: Samy Kamkar’s Side-Channel Attack Roundup

What do potato chips and lost car keys have in common? On the surface, it would seem not much, unless you somehow managed to lose your keys in a bag of chips, which would be embarrassing enough that you’d likely never speak of it. But there is a surprising link between the two, and Samy Kamkar makes the association in his newly published 2019 Superconference talk, which he called “FPGA Glitching and Side-Channel Attacks.

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Wearable Cone Of Silence Protects You From Prying Ears

Careful,  the walls have ears. Or more specifically, the smart speaker on the table has ears, as does the phone in your pocket, the fitness band on your wrist, possibly the TV, the fridge, the toaster, and maybe even the toilet. Oh, and your car is listening to you too. Probably.

How does one fight this profusion of listening devices? Perhaps this wearable smart device audio jammer will do the trick. The idea is that the MEMS microphones that surround us are all vulnerable to jamming by ultrasonic waves, due to the fact that they have a non-linear response to ultrasonic signals. The upshot of that is when a MEMS hears ultrasound, it creates a broadband signal in the audible part of the spectrum. That creates a staticky noise that effectively drowns out any other sounds the microphone might be picking up.

By why a wearable? Granted, [Yuxin Chin] and colleagues from the University of Chicago have perhaps stretched the definition of that term a tad with their prototype, but it turns out that moving the jammer around does a better job of blocking sounds than a static jammer does. The bracelet jammer is studded with ultrasonic transducers that emit overlapping fields and result in zones of constructive and destructive interference; the wearer’s movements vary the location of the dead spots that result, improving jamming efficacy. Their paper (PDF link) goes into deeper detail, and a GitHub repository has everything you need to roll your own.

We saw something a bit like this before, but that build used white noise for masking, and was affixed to the smart speaker. We’re intrigued by a wearable, especially since they’ve shown it to be effective under clothing. And the effect of ultrasound on MEMS microphones is really interesting.

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74-Series Clock Gets A MEMS Heart

[Erik van Zijst] has had a long career as a programmer, but lacked an understanding of what was happening at a bare metal level. After building a few logic gates out of transistors to get a feel for electronics, he set out to build a working clock using 74-series logic. Naturally, it was quite the adventure. 

The project starts out as many do on the breadboard. The requisite BCD counters and 7-segment displays were sourced, and everything was connected up with a cavalcade of colorful hookup wires. A 32.768 KHz crystal was pressed into service to generate the clock signal, divided down to get a 1Hz output to drive the seconds counter that would then run the entire clock. [Erik] then had to learn some more practical electronics skills, to deal with debouncing buttons for the time setting circuit.

With the clock now functional, [Erik] decided to take things further, aiming to build something more robust and usable. An automatic brightness control was created using a 555 to run a crude PWM dimmer for the LEDs. Additionally, a PCB was designed to replace the temporary breadboard setup. This led to problems with the oscillator that [Erik] couldn’t quite figure out. Rather than continue on the same path, he changed tack, instead replacing the quartz crystal with a modern MEMS oscillator that solved the problem.

It’s a great look at how to construct a working clock from bare logic, and one that serves to remind us just how complex even a seemingly simple device can be. We’ve seen other from-scratch builds before too, like this 777-transistor clock, or this attractive stacked design. Video after the break.

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How Safe Is That Ultrasonic Bath For Flux Removal?

How do you clean the residual flux off your boards? There are plenty of ways to go about the job, ranging from “why bother?” to the careful application of isopropyl alcohol to every joint with a cotton swab. It seems like more and more people are turning to ultrasonic cleaners to get the job done, though, and for good reason: just dunk your board and walk away while cavitation does the work for you.

But just how safe is it to sonically blast the flux off your boards? [SDG Electronics] wanted to know, so he ran some cleaning tests to get to the bottom of things. On the face of it, dunking a PCB in an aqueous cleaning solution seems ill-advised; after all, water and electricity famously don’t mix. But assuming all the nooks and crannies of a board can be dried out before power is applied, the cleaning solution itself should be of little concern. The main beef with ultrasonic cleaning seems to be with the acoustic energy coupling with mechanical systems on boards, such as crystal oscillators or micro-electrical-mechanical systems (MEMS) components, such as accelerometers or microphones. Such components could resonate with the ultrasonic waves and be blasted to bits internally.

To test this, [SDG Electronics] built a board with various potentially vulnerable components, including the popular 32.768-kHz crystal, cut for a frequency quite close to the cleaner’s fundamental. The video below goes into some detail on the before-and-after tests, but the short story is that nothing untoward happened to any of the test circuits. Granted, no components with openings as you might find on some MEMS microphones were tested, so be careful. After all, we know that ultrasound can deal damage, and if it can levitate tiny styrofoam balls, it might just do your circuit in.

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Balance Box Game Requires A Steady Hand

In the distant past, engineers used exotic devices to measure orientation, such as large mechanical gyros and mercury tilt switches. These are all still useful methods, but for many applications MEMS motions devices have become the gold standard. When [g199] set out to build their Balance Box game, it was no exception.

The game consists of a plastic box, upon which a spirit level is fitted, along with a series of LEDs. The aim of the game is to keep the box level while carrying it to a set goal. Inside, an Arduino Uno monitors the output of a MPU 6050, a combined accelerometer and gyroscope chip. If the Arduino detects the box is tilting, it warns the user with the LEDs. Tilt it too far, and a life is lost. When all three lives are gone, the game is over.

It’s a cheap and simple build that would have been inordinately more expensive only 10 to 20 years ago. It goes to show the applications enabled by ubiquitous cheap electronics like MEMS sensors. The technology has other fun applications, too – for example the Stecchino game, or this giant balance board joystick. We’re certainly lucky to have such powerful technology at our fingertips!

A Petite Pico Projector For Portable Pi

A few years ago, new, innovative pico projectors, influenced by one of the TI development kits, started appearing in Kickstarter projects and other various DIY endeavours. Those projects fizzled out, most likely due to the cost of the projectors, but we got a few laughs out of it: that wearable smartphone that projected a screen onto your wrist used the same technology.

But there’s a need for a small projector, a pico projector, or in this case a femto projector. It’s the Nebra Anybeam, and it’s a small projector that uses lasers, and it comes in the form of a Raspberry Pi hat. We would like to congratulate the team for shipping the ideal use case of their product first.

The key features of this pico projector address the shortcomings of existing projectors that can fit in your pocket. This uses a laser, and there’s no bulb, and the power consumption can be as low as 3 Watts. Power is provided over a micro USB cable. The resolution of this projector is 720p, which is sufficient for a quick setup for watching a movie, but the brightness is listed as equivalent to 150 ANSI lumens, about the same as small projectors from a few years ago.

But of course the big selling point isn’t the brightness or resolution, it’s all about the smallness of the projector itself. There is a developer’s kit, a Pi Hat, a fit-in-your-pocket version with an enclosure, and a ‘monster ball’ version of the Anybeam.