Ultrasonic Sonar Detects Hidden Objects

While early scientists and inventors famously underestimated the value of radar, through the lens of history we can see how useful it became. Even though radar uses electromagnetic waves to detect objects, the same principle has been used with other propagating waves, most often sound waves. While a well-known use of this is sonar, ultrasonic sensors can also be put to use to make a radar-like system.

This ultrasonic radar project is from [mircemk] who uses a small ultrasonic distance sensor attached to a rotating platform. A motor rotates it around a 180-degree field-of-view and an Arduino takes and records measurements during its trip. It interfaces with an application running on a computer which shows the data in real-time and maps out the location of all of the objects around the sensor. With some upgrades to the code, [mircemk] is also able to extrapolate objects hidden behind other objects as well.

While the ultrasonic sensor used in this project has a range of about a meter, there’s no reason that this principle couldn’t be used for other range-finding devices to extend its working distance. The project is similar to others we’ve seen occasionally before, but the upgrade to the software to allow it to “see” around solid objects is an equally solid upgrade.

Measuring The Time Is A Breeze With This Air Flow Clock

If you’ve ever had surgery, and you’re over a certain age, chances are good you’re familiar with the dreaded incentive spirometer. It’s a little plastic device with one or more columns, each of which has a plastic ball in it. The idea is to blow into the thing to float the balls, to endure that your lungs stay in good shape and reduce the chance of pneumonia. This unique air-powered clock reminds us a little of that device, without all the pain.

Like a spirometer, [Nir Tasher]’s clock has three calibrated tubes, each big enough to hold a foam ball loosely. At the bottom of each tube is a blower whose motor is under PWM control. A laser rangefinder sits below each ball and measures its height; the measurement is used by a PID loop to control the speed of each fan and thus the height of each ball. The video below shows that the balls are actually pretty steady, making the clock easy to read. It doesn’t, however, reveal what the clock sounds like; we’re going to go out on a limb here and guess that it’s pretty noisy. Still, we think it’s a fantastic way to keep time, and unique in the extreme.

[Nir]’s Air Flow clock is an early entry in the 2020 Hackaday Prize, the greatest hardware design contest on Earth. Everyone should enter something, or at least check out the cool things people are coming up with. It’s still early in the process, but there are so many neat projects already. What are you waiting for?

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LIDAR System Isn’t Just A Rangefinder Anymore

For any project there’s typically a trade-off between quality and cost,as higher quality parts, more features, or any number of aspects of a project can drive its price up. It seems as though [iliasam] has managed to avoid this paradigm entirely with his project. His new LIDAR system knocks it out of the park on accuracy, sampling, and quality, and somehow manages to only cost around $114 in parts.

A LIDAR system works by sending out many pulses of light in different directions, measuring the reflections of that light as it returns. LIDAR systems therefore improve with higher frequency pulses and faster control electronics for both the laser output and the receiving data. This system manages to be accurate to within a few centimeters and works up to 25 meters all while operating at 15 scans per second. The key was a high-powered laser module which can output up to 75 watts for extremely short times. More details can be found at this page (Google Translate from Russian).

Another bonus from this project is that [iliasam] has made everything available from his GitHub page including hardware specifications, so as long as you have a 3D printer this won’t take long to produce either. There’s even detailed breakdowns of how the laser driving circuitry works, and how there are safety features built in to keep anyone’s vision from accidentally getting damaged. Needless to say, this isn’t just a laser rangefinder module but if you want to see how you can repurpose those, [iliasam] can show you that as well.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Rangefinder + Camera = SmartZoom

The interesting thing about submissions for The Hackaday Prize is seeing unusual projects and concepts that might not otherwise pop up. [ken conrad] has a curious but thoughtfully designed idea for Raspberry Pi-based SmartZoom Imaging that uses a Pi Zero and camera plus some laser emitters to create a device with a very specific capability: a camera that constantly and dynamically resizes the image make the subject appear consistently framed and sized, regardless of its distance from the lens. The idea brings together two separate functions: rangefinding and automated zooming and re-sampling of the camera image.

The Raspberry Pi uses the camera board plus some forward-pointing laser dots as a rangefinder; as long as at least two laser dots are visible on the subject, the distance between the device and the subject can be calculated. The Pi then uses the knowledge of how near or far the subject is to present a final image whose zoom level has been adjusted to match (and offset) the range of the subject from the camera, in effect canceling out the way an object appears larger or smaller based on distance.

We’ve seen visible laser dots as the basis of rangefinding before, but never tied into a zoom function. Doubtlessly, [ken conrad] will update his project with some example applications, but in the meantime we’re left wondering: is there a concrete, practical use case for this unusual device? We have no idea, but we’d certainly have fun trying to find one.

Amazing 3D-Scanner Teardown And Rebuild

0_10ea1b_776cdc71_origPour yourself a nice hot cup of tea, because [iliasam]’s latest work on a laser rangefinder (in Russian, translated here) is a long and interesting read. The shorter version is that he got his hands on a broken laser security scanner, nearly completely reverse-engineered it, got it working again, put it on a Roomba that was able to map out his apartment, and then re-designed it to become a tripod-mounted, full-room 3D scanner. Wow.

The scanner in question has a spinning mirror and a laser time-of-flight ranger, and is designed to shut down machinery when people enter a “no-go” region. As built, it returns ranges along a horizontal plane — it’s a 2D scanner. The conversion to a 3D scanner meant adding another axis, and to do this with sufficient precision required flipping the rig on its side, salvaging the fantastic bearings from a VHS machine, and driving it all with the surprisingly common A4988 stepper driver and an Arduino. A program on a PC reads in the data, and the stepper moves another 0.36 degrees. The results speak for themselves.

This isn’t [iliasam]’s first laser-rangefinder project, naturally. We’ve previously featured his homemade parallax-based ranger for use on a mobile robot, which is equally impressive. What amazes us most about these builds is the near-professional quality of the results pulled off on a shoestring budget.

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Mouse Brains Plus Line Laser Equals Rangefinder

[Neumi] wrote in with a sweet robotics hack. It’s a 2D laser distance sensor (YouTube) made with a cheap line laser and an optical mouse’s flow-sensor chip used as a low-resolution camera. In one sense, it’s a standard laser-distance-sensor project. But it is clever for a whole bunch of reasons.

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For one, using a mouse sensor as a low-res camera is awesome. It’s designed to read from a standard red LED, so the sensitivity is in just the right ballpark for use with a line laser. It returns a 30×30 pixel greyscale image, which is just about the right amount of data for a low-end microcontroller to handle and keep up with the framerate without resorting to coding tricks.

It’s also no coincidence that these sensors are available with lenses built in, for relatively cheap, on eBay. Apparently the quadcopter gurus use them as if they were mice to visually track their quad’s motion. Hacker spillover!

Detecting the laser line as it reflects off of whatever objects are lying on [Neumi]’s floor could also possibly prove difficult, and might produce false readings in the presence of background illumination. So [Neumi] takes two readings with the camera — one with the laser on and one with it off — and differences them. Done fast enough, this should reduce any non-laser sources down to the sensor’s noise floor. Finally, there’s some thresholding and averaging going on behind the scenes that help make everything work out right. The code is up on GitHub.

Not a bad build for a 2D laser distance system on a budget. If you want to shell out a bit more money, and are into a seriously involved build, this is probably the slickest we’ve seen in a long time. And if you’re thinking that you’ve heard of [Neumi] before, you’re right: we featured this 405mm laser PCB exposer / burner CNC machine just a few months ago.

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THP Entry: A Repurposed Luminiferous Aether Detector

laserIn the late 1800s, no one knew what light was. Everyone knew it behaved like a wave some of the time, but all waves need to travel through some propagation medium. This propagation medium was called the luminiferous aether and an attempt to detect and quantify this aether led to one of the coolest experimental setups of all time: the Michelson-Morely experiment. It was a huge interferometer mounted on a gigantic slab of marble floating in a pool of mercury. By rotating the interferometer, Michelson and Morely expected to see a small phase shift in the interferometer, both confirming the existence of a luminiferous aether and giving them how fast the Earth moved through this medium.

Of course, there was no phase shift, throwing physics into chaos for a few years. When [Beaglebreath] first learned about the Michelson-Morely interferometer he was amazed by the experimental setup. He’s built a few interferometers over the years, but for The Hackaday Prize, he’s making something useful out of one of these luminiferous aether detectors: a functional laser rangefinder capable of measuring distances of up to 60 inches with an error of 0.000005 inches.

The core of the system is an HP 5528A laser interferometer system. [Beaglebreath] has been collecting the individual components of this system off of eBay for several years now, and amazingly, he has all the parts. That’s dedication, right there. This laser interferometer system will be mounted to a simple camera slider, and with the interferometer measurements, humidity and temperature measurements, and some interesting code (running on one of these for hacker cred), [Beaglebreath] stands a good shot at measuring things very, very accurately.

The devil is in the details, and when you’re measuring things this precisely there are a lot of details. The original Michelson-Morely interferometer was affected by passing horse-drawn carriages and even distant lightning storms. While [Beaglebreath] isn’t using as long of a beam path as the OG interferometer, he’ll still have a lot of bugs to squash to bring this project to its full potential.


SpaceWrencherThe project featured in this post is an entry in The Hackaday Prize. Build something awesome and win a trip to space or hundreds of other prizes.