Hackaday Podcast 026: Tamper-Proof Electronics, Selfie Drones, Rocket Fuel, Wire Benders, And Wizard-Level Soldering

Hackaday Editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams are back after last week’s holiday break to track down all of the hacks you missed. There are some doozies; a selfie-drone controlled by your body position, a Theremin that sings better than you can, how about a BGA hand-soldering project whose creator can’t even believe he pulled it off. Kristina wrote a spectacular article on the life and career of Mary Sherman Morgan, and Tom tears down a payment terminal he picked up in an abandoned Toys R Us, plus much more!

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

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The Theremin Gets A Voice

Every once in a while, we come across a project that adds a ridiculously good twist on an existing design. This is exactly what [Xiao Xiao] and the team at LAM research group at the Institut d’Alembert in Paris have done. Their project T-VOKS is a singing and Speaking Theremin that is sure to drive everyone in the office crazy. (YouTube link, embedded below for your viewing pleasure.)

For the uninitiated, the Theremin is an electronic music instrument that does not require physical contact. Instead, it uses two antennas to sense the distance of the operators hands and uses that to modulate the pitch and volume of the output audio. From music concerts to movie background music to even scaring the neighbours, this instrument can do it all.

T-VOKS is a different take on the instrument, and it interfaces with a voice synthesizer to sing. There is an additional sensor that is used for the syllable sequencing, and the video below shows the gadget in operation. The icing on the cake is the instrument playing, or should that be singing in an actual concert. There is also a research paper detailing the operation on Dropbox[PDF] if you need the nitty-gritty.

We wonder how a TTS engine would work with this idea and hope to see some more projects like it in the future. Fore those looking to get started, have a look at the build guide for a DIY theremin.

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A Tube Theremin, Just Like Grandpa Leon Used To Make

Next year we’re arguably coming up on the centennial of electronic music, depending on whether you count the invention or the patent for the theremin its creation. Either way, this observation is early, so start arguing about it now. If you want to celebrate the century of the theremin, how about you do it just like grandpa Leon and build one out of tubes? That’s what this crowdfunding campaign is all about. It’s a theremin, and it’s made out of tubes.

Theremins are a dime a dozen around these parts, and yes, if you walk into a Guitar Center you can walk out the door with one. They’re pretty common. But being almost a hundred years old, the first theremin wasn’t made made with only silicon, this one had some dioxide thrown in. The first theremin was a tube device, which we all know has a warmer sound when connected to oxygen free cables in an oxygen free room. In any event, messing around with tubes is fun, so here’s a tube theremin.

The circuit for this theremin is constructed around two EF95 tubes and two ECF80 tubes with a heater voltage of 12 V, with 40 V used as the the rest of the circuitry. Unlike virtually every other crowdfunding campaign we’ve ever seen, there are pages of documentation, written down in text, with actual words, and no ominous clapping ukulele glockenspiel hipster music. It’s in German (Google Translatrix with the save) but we’ll take what we can get. It’s really great to see the development of this theremin, and now we’re wondering where we too can get a breadboard that’s just a piece of copper being used as a ground plane.

My Oscilloscope Uses Fire

If you want to visualize sound waves, you reach for your oscilloscope, right? That wasn’t an option in 1905 so physicist [Heinrich Rubens] came up with another way involving flames. [Luke Guigliano] and [Will Peterson] built one of these tubes — known as a Rubens’ tube — and will show you how you can, too. You can see a video of their results, below. Just in case a flame oscilloscope isn’t enough to attract your interest, they are driving the thing with a theremin for extra nerd points.

The guys show a short flame run and one with tall flames. The results are surprising, especially with the short flames. Of course, the time base is the length of the tube, so that limits your measurements. The tube has many gas jets along the length and with a sound source, the height of the flames correspond to the air pressure from the sound inside the tube.

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A $4 Ultrasonic Theremin Looks Cheesy On Purpose

We don’t think [bleepbit] will take offense when we say the “poor man’s theremin” looks cheesy — after all, it was built in a cheese container. Actually, it isn’t a bad case for a simple device, as you can see in the picture and the video below. Unlike a traditional theremin, the device uses ultrasonics to detect how far away your hand is and modifies the sound based on that.

There are also two buttons — one to turn the sound off and another to cycle through some effects. We liked how it looked like a retro cassette, though. The device uses a cheap Arduino clone, but even with a real Arduino, the price wouldn’t be too bad. However, the price tag quoted doesn’t include a few connectors or the speaker that appears in the schematic. There’s a note that the model built uses a jack instead of a speaker, but it would be nice to include both and use the kind of jack that disconnects the speaker when you plug speakers or headphones in.

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The Portable, Digital, Visual Theremin

The theremin is, for some reason, what people think of first when they think of electronic musical instruments. Maybe that’s because it was arguably the first purely electronic musical instrument, or because there’s no mechanical analog to something that makes sound simply by waving your hand over it. This project takes that idea and cranks it up to eleven. It’s a portable synthesizer that’s controlled by IR reflectors. Just wave your hand in front of it, and that’s what pitch is going to sound.

The audio hardware for this synth is, like so many winners in the Musical Instrument Challenge in this year’s Hackaday Prize, based on the Teensy and its incredible Audio library. The code consists of two oscillators and a pink noise generator. Pressing down button one activates the oscillators, and the frequency is determined by the IR sensor. Button two cycles through various waveforms, while the third and fourth buttons shift the octaves up and down. The output is I2S, and from there everything is out to an amplifier and speaker.

Of course, it’s really not a musical instrument unless it looks cool, and that’s where this project is really great. It’s a fully 3D printed enclosure that actually looks good. There’s an 8×8 LED array to display the current waveform, and this is something that could actually be a product instead of a project. It’s a great synth, and we’re happy to have it in the running for the Hackaday Prize.

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NES Controller Slider-Based Light Theremin

Having never use a 555 before, [lonesoulsurfer] decided that his first foray into the world’s most popular and versatile IC would be to use a 555 to make beautiful chiptunes. For that, we commend him. He found [Dean Segovis]’ Slidersynth light-based Theremin and got to work building his own version it and stuffing it into a (knockoff!) NES controller.

For the uninitiated, a Theremin is a touch-less synthesizer that uses human capacitance and a pair of antennae to control oscillation and amplitude. In a light-based Theremin such as this one, the oscillation is controlled by the intensity of photons from a white LED and their interaction with a light-dependent resistor, also known as a photocell or ‘squiggly resistor’.

The oscillations themselves are created by wiring up the 555 as an astable oscillator, and the pitch is controlled with a potentiometer mounted on the back. It has a small built-in speaker, but [lonesoulsurfer] replaced the B button with a 3.5 mm audio jack so he can plug it into a powered speaker and really rock out. We’ve got his demo tape queued up after the break.

We love pocket instruments around here. If you prefer brass and woodwinds, this pocket woodwind MIDI controller just might draw your lips into an O.

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