An acousto-optic tunable filter and laser

Acousto-Optic Filter Uses Sound To Bend Light

We all know that light and sound are wave phenomena, but of very different kinds. Light is electromechanical in nature, while sound is mechanical. Light can travel through a vacuum, while sound needs some sort of medium to transmit it. So it would seem that it might be difficult to use sound to modify light, but with the right equipment, it’s actually pretty easy.

Easy, perhaps, if you’re used to slinging lasers around and terms like “acousto-optic tunable filter” fall trippingly from your tongue, as is the case for [Les Wright]. An AOTF is a device that takes a radio frequency input and applies it to a piezoelectric transducer that’s bonded to a crystal of tellurium oxide. The RF signal excites the transducer, which vibrates the TeO2 crystal and sets up a standing wave within it. The alternating bands of compressed and expanded material within the crystal act like a diffraction grating. Change the excitation frequency, and the filter’s frequency changes too.

To explore the way sound can bend light, [Les] picked up a commercial AOTF from the surplus market. Sadly, it didn’t come with the RF driver, but no matter — a few quick eBay purchases put the needed RF generator and power amplifier on his bench. The modules went into an enclosure to make the driver more of an instrument and less of a one-off, with a nice multi-turn pot and vernier knob for precise filter adjustment. It’s really kind of cool to watch the output beam change colors at the twist of a knob, and cooler still to realize how it all works.

We’ve been seeing a lot of [Les]’ optics projects lately, from homemade TEA lasers to blasting the Bayer filter off a digital camera, each as impressive as the last! Continue reading “Acousto-Optic Filter Uses Sound To Bend Light”

Cable Modem Turned Spectrum Analyzer

Hopefully by now most of us know better than to rent a modem from an internet service provider. Buying your own and using it is almost always an easy way to save some money, but even then these pieces of equipment won’t last forever. If you’re sitting on an older cable modem and thinking about tossing it in the garbage, there might be a way to repurpose it before it goes to the great workbench in the sky. [kc9umr] has a way of turning these devices into capable spectrum analyzers.

The spectrum analyzer feature is a crucial component of cable modems to help take advantage of the wide piece of spectrum that is available to them on the cable lines. With some of them it’s possible to access this feature directly by pointing a browser at it, but apparently some of them have a patch from the cable companies to limit access. By finding one that hasn’t had this patch applied it’s possible to access the spectrum analyzer, and once [kc9umr] attached some adapters and an antenna to his cable modem he was able to demonstrate it to great effect.

While it’s somewhat down to luck as to whether or not any given modem will grant access to this feature, for the ones that do it seems like a powerful and cheap tool. It’s agnostic to platform, so any computer on the network can access it easily, and compared to an RTL-SDR it has a wider range. There are some limitations, but for the price it can’t be beat which will cost under $50 in parts unless you happen to need two inputs like this analyzer .

Thanks to [Ezra] for the tip!

New Video Series: Learning Antenna Basics With Karen Rucker

We don’t normally embrace the supernatural here at Hackaday, but when the topic turns to the radio frequency world, Arthur C. Clarke’s maxim about sufficiently advanced technology being akin to magic pretty much works for us. In the RF realm, the rules of electricity, at least the basic ones, don’t seem to apply, or if they do apply, it’s often with a, “Yeah, but…” caveat that’s sometimes hard to get one’s head around.

Perhaps nowhere does the RF world seem more magical than in antenna design. Sure, an antenna can be as simple as a straight piece or two of wire, but even in their simplest embodiments, antennas belie a complexity that can really be daunting to newbie and vet alike. That’s why we were happy to recently host Karen Rucker’s Introduction to Antenna Basics course as part of Hackaday U.

The class was held over a five-week period starting back in May, and we’ve just posted the edited videos for everyone to enjoy. The class is lead by Karen Rucker, an RF engineer specializing in antenna designs for spacecraft who clearly knows her business. I’ve watched the first video of the series and so far and really enjoy Karen’s style and the material she has chosen to highlight; just the bit about antenna polarization and why circular polarization makes sense for space communications was really useful. I’m keen to dig into the rest of the series playlist soon.

The 2021 session of Hackaday U may be wrapped up now, but fear not — there’s plenty of material available to look over and learn from. Head over to the course list on, pick something that strikes your fancy, and let the learning begin!

Continue reading “New Video Series: Learning Antenna Basics With Karen Rucker”

Garage Semiconductor Fab Gets Reactive-Ion Etching Upgrade

It’s a problem that few of us will likely ever face: once you’ve built your first homemade integrated circuit, what do you do next? If you’re [Sam Zeloof], the answer is clear: build better integrated circuits.

At least that’s [Sam]’s plan, which his new reactive-ion etching setup aims to make possible. While his Z1 dual differential amplifier chip was a huge success, the photolithography process he used to create the chip had its limitations. The chemical etching process he used is a bit fussy, and prone to undercutting of the mask if the etchant seeps underneath it. As its name implies, RIE uses a plasma of highly reactive ions to do the etching instead, resulting in finer details and opening the door to using more advanced materials.

[Sam]’s RIE rig looks like a plumber’s stainless steel nightmare, in the middle of which sits a vacuum chamber for the wafer to be etched. After evacuating the air, a small amount of fluorinated gas — either carbon tetrafluoride or the always entertaining sulfur hexafluoride — is added to the chamber. A high-voltage feedthrough provides the RF energy needed to create a plasma, which knocks fluorine ions out of the process gas. The negatively charged and extremely reactive fluorine ions are attracted to the wafer, where they attack and etch away the surfaces that aren’t protected by a photoresist layer.

It all sounds simple enough, but the video below reveals the complexity. There are a lot of details, like correctly measuring vacuum, avoiding electrocution, keeping the vacuum pump oil from exploding, and dealing with toxic waste products. Hats off to [Sam’s dad] for pitching in to safely pipe the exhaust gases through the garage door. This ties with [Huygens Optics]’s latest endeavor for the “coolest things to do with fluorine” award.

Continue reading “Garage Semiconductor Fab Gets Reactive-Ion Etching Upgrade”

Is That An EMP Generator In Your Pocket Or Is My Calculator Just Broken?

Ah, what fond memories we have of our misspent youth, walking around with a 9,000-volt electromagnetic pulse generator in our Levi’s 501s and zapping all the electronic devices nobody yet carried with them everywhere they went. Crazy days indeed.

We’re sure that’s not at all what [Rostislav Persion] had in mind when designing his portable EMP generator; given the different topologies and the careful measurement of results, we suspect his interest is strictly academic. There are three different designs presented, all centering around a battery-powered high-voltage power module, the Amazon listing of which optimistically lists as capable of a 400,000- to 700,000-volt output. Sadly, [Rostislav]’s unit was capable of a mere 9,000 volts, which luckily was enough to get some results.

Coupled to a spark gap, one of seven different coils — from one to 40 turns — and plus or minus some high-voltage capacitors in series or parallel, he tested each configuration’s ability to interfere with a simple pocket calculator. The best range for a reset and scramble of the calculator was only about 3″ (7.6 cm), although an LED hooked to a second coil could detect the EMP up to 16″ (41 cm) away. [Rostislav]’s finished EMP generators were housed in a number of different enclosures, one of which totally doesn’t resemble a pipe bomb and whose “RF Hazard” labels are sure not to arouse suspicions when brandished in public.

We suppose these experiments lay to rest the Hollywood hype about EMP generators, but then again, their range is pretty limited. You might want to rethink your bank heist plans if they center around one of these designs.

Continue reading “Is That An EMP Generator In Your Pocket Or Is My Calculator Just Broken?”

Hacking A Solar Inverter RF Interface

One of the main advantages of cheap wireless modules is that they get used in consumer electronics, so if you know what’s being used you can build your own compatible hardware. While investigating the RF interface used in a series of cheap “smart” solar inverters [Aaron Christophel], created an Arduino library to receive inverter telemetry using a $2 RF module. See the demonstration after the break.

[Aaron] bought the inverter and ~40 euro USB “Data Box” that allows the user to wirelessly monitor the status of the inverter. Upon opening the two units, he found that they used LC12S 2.4Ghz modules, which create a wireless UART link. With a bit of reverse engineering, he was able to figure out the settings for the RF modules and the serial commands required to request the status of the inverter. He doesn’t delve into the possible security implications, but there doesn’t appear to be any form of encryption in the link. It should be possible for anyone with a module to sniff the messages, extract the ID of the inverter, and hijack the link. Just knowing the status of the inverter shouldn’t be all that dangerous, but he doesn’t mention what other commands can be sent to the module. Any others could have more severe implications.

Sniffing the wireless signal flashing through the air around us is a regular topic here on Hackaday. From testing the security of WiFi networks with an ESP32 to monitoring SpaceX launches with an SDR, the possibilities are infinite.

Continue reading “Hacking A Solar Inverter RF Interface”

Teaching A Machine To Be Worse At A Video Game Than You Are

Is it really cheating if the aimbot you’ve built plays the game worse than you do?

We vote no, and while we take a dim view on cheating in general, there are still some interesting hacks in this AI-powered bot for Valorant. This is a first-person shooter, team-based game that has a lot of action and a Counter-Strike vibe. As [River] points out, most cheat-bots have direct access to the memory of the computer which is playing the game, which gives it an unfair advantage over human players, who have to visually process the game field and make their moves in meatspace. To make the Valorant-bot more of a challenge, he decided to feed video of the game from one computer to another over an HDMI-to-USB capture device.

The second machine has a YOLOv5 model which was trained against two hours of gameplay, enough to identify friend from foe — most of the time. Navigation around the map was done by analyzing the game’s on-screen minimap with OpenCV and doing some rudimentary path-finding. Actually controlling the player on the game machine was particularly hacky; rather than rely on an API to send keyboard sequences, [River] used a wireless mouse dongle on the game machine and a USB transmitter on the second machine.

The results are — iffy, to say the least. The system tends to get the player stuck in corners, and doesn’t recognize enemies that pop up at close range. The former is a function of the low-res minimap, while the latter has to do with the training data set — most human players engage enemies at distance, so there’s a dearth of “bad breath range” encounters to train to. Still, we’re impressed that it’s possible to train a machine to play a complex FPS game at all, let alone this well.