Ultrasonic Array Gets Range Data Fast and Cheap

How’s your parallel parking? It’s a scenario that many drivers dread to the point of avoidance. But this 360° ultrasonic sensor will put even the most skilled driver to shame, at least those who pilot tiny remote-controlled cars.

Watch the video below a few times and you’ll see that within the limits of the test system, [Dimitris Platis]’ “SonicDisc” sensor does a pretty good job of nailing the parallel parking problem, a driving skill so rare that car companies have spent millions developing vehicles that do it for you. The essential task is good spatial relations, and that’s where SonicDisc comes in. A circular array of eight HC-SR04 ultrasonic sensors hitched to an ATmega328P, the SonicDisc takes advantage of interrupts to make reading the eight sensors as fast as possible. The array can take a complete set of readings every 10 milliseconds, which is fast enough to allow for averaging successive readings to filter out some of the noise that gets returned. Talking to the car’s microcontroller over I2C, the sensor provides a wealth of ranging data that lets the car quickly complete a parallel parking maneuver. And as a bonus, SonicDisc is both open source and cheap to build — about $10 a copy.

Rather use light to get your range data? There are some pretty cheap LIDAR units on the market these days.

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Quick Hack Cleans Data from Sump Pump

Nobody likes to monitor things as much as a hacker, even mundane things like sump pumps. And hackers love clean data too, so when [Felix]’s sump pump water level data was made useless by a new pump controller, he just knew he had to hack the controller to clean up his data.

Monitoring a sump pump might seem extreme, but as a system that often protects against catastrophic damage, the responsible homeowner strives to take care of it. [Felix] goes a bit further than the average homeowner, though, with an ultrasonic sensor to continually measure the water level in the sump and alert him to pending catastrophes. Being a belt and suspenders kind of guy, he also added a float switch to control the pump, but found that the rapid cycle time made his measurements useless. Luckily the unit used a 555 timer to control the pump’s run time after triggering, so a simple calculation of the right RC values and a little solder job let him increase the on time of the pump. The result: a dry basement and clean data.

We recently discussed the evolution of home automation if you want to know more about the systems that sensors and actuators like these can be part of. Or for a more nuts and bolts guide to networking things together, our primer on MQTT might help.

Octosonar is 8X Better than Monosonar

The HC-SR04 sonar modules are available for a mere pittance and, with some coaxing, can do a pretty decent job of helping your robot measure the distance to the nearest wall. But when sellers on eBay are shipping these things in ten-packs, why would you stop at mounting just one or two on your ‘bot? Octosonar is a hardware and Arduino software library that’ll get you up and running with up to eight sonar sensors in short order.

Octosonar uses an I2C multiplexer to send the “start” trigger pulses, and an eight-way OR gate to return the “echo” signal back to the host microcontroller. The software library then sends the I2C command to select and trigger a sonar module, and a couple of interrupt routines watch the “echo” line to figure out the time of flight, and thus the distance.

Having two sonars on each side of a rectangular robot allows it move parallel to a wall in a straightforward fashion: steer toward or away from the wall until they match. Watch the video below for a demo of this very simple setup. (But also note where the robot’s 45-degree blind spot is: bump-bump-bump!)

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This Bike Sonar is Off the Chain

On paper, bicycling is an excellent form of transportation. Not only are there some obvious health benefits, the impact on the environment is much less than anything not directly powered by a human. But let’s face it: riding a bike can be quite scary in practice, especially along the same roads as cars and trucks. It’s hard to analyze the possible threats looming behind you without a pair of eyes in the back of your head.

radar-sweep-display[Claire Chen] and [Mark Zhao] have come up with the next best thing—bike sonar. It’s a two-part system that takes information from an ultrasonic rangefinder and uses it to create sound-localized pings in a rider’s ears. The rangefinder is attached to a servo mounted on the seat post. It sweeps back and forth to detect objects within 4 meters, and this information is displayed radar-sweep-style graphic on a TFT screen via a PIC32.

Though the graphic display looks awesome, it’s slow feedback and a bit dangerous to have to look down all the time — the audio feedback is by far the most useful. The bike-side circuits sends angle and distance data over 2.4GHz to another PIC mounted on a helmet. This PIC uses sound localization to create a ping noise that matches the distance and location of whatever is on your tail. The ping volume is relative to the distance of the object, and you just plug headphones into the audio jack to hear them. Bunny-hop your way past the break to check it out.

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Litter Basket Automation

Sometimes the technology part of a project isn’t the hard part. It is having an idea for something both useful and doable. Sure, a robot butler that would do your cleaning and laundry would be useful, but might be out of reach for most of us. On the other hand, there’s only so many use cases for another blinking LED.

[Martinhui] knows how to use an ultrasonic sensor with an Arduino. Driving a motor isn’t that hard, either. The question is: what do you do with that? [Martin’s] answer: Automate a trash can. You can see a video of the result, below.

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Ball Balancing Arduino-Style

If you have a good sense of balance, you can ride a unicycle or get on TV doing tricks with ladders. We don’t know if [Hanna Yatco] has a good sense of balance or not, but we do know her Arduino does. Her build uses the ubiquitous HC-SR04 SONAR sensor and a servo.

This is a great use for a servo since a standard servo motor without modifications only moves through part of a circle, and that’s all that’s needed for this project. A PID algorithm measures the distance to the ball and raises or lowers a beam to try to get the ball to the center.

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ARM-Based Gesture Remote Control

When we wave our hands at the TV, it doesn’t do anything. You can change that, though, with an ARM processor and a handful of sensors. You can see a video of the project in action below. [Samuele Jackson], [Tue Tran], and [Carden Bagwell] used a gesture sensor, a SONAR sensor, an IR LED, and an IR receiver along with an mBed-enabled ARM processor to do the job.

The receiver allows the device to load IR commands from an existing remote so that the gesture remote will work with most setups. The mBed libraries handle communication with the sensors and the universal remote function. It also provides a simple real-time operating system. That leaves just some simple logic in main.cpp, which is under 250 lines of source code.

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