72 Tranducers For Acoustic Levitation

Levitation has a way of arousing curiousity and wonder wherever it appears. There’s a multitude of ways to do it, each with their own strengths and weaknesses and ideal use cases. [Julius Kramer] tried his hand at acoustic levitation, and decided to share his build.

The build relies on an astounding number of ultrasonic transducers – 72, in fact. The device operates at 40 kHz to be well above the human range of hearing. 36 each are placed in the top and bottom shells of the device’s 3D printed chassis. Through careful construction, the transducers are placed an integer multiple of half the wavelength apart. This allows the device to create a standing wave, with several low-energy nodes in which small objects can be levitated. In this case, [Julius] uses small scraps of styrofoam, but notes that water droplets can also be used if one is careful to avoid spilling any on the electronics.

The transducers are energised with a square wave generated by an Arduino Nano. This allows the possibility of the frequency and phase of the wave to be altered, which can help tune the device and allow some movement in the vertical axis. Unfortunately, movement in the other axes isn’t possible as the transducers appear to be connected in parallel. However, this could be a good upgrade in a later revision.

This project shows that a device relying on incredibly precise measurement and control can now be constructed at home with a 3D printer and some off the shelf electronics.

Now that you’ve whet your whistle, perhaps you’d like to tackle laser levitation?

[Thanks to Baldpower for the tip!]


The Diaphragm is the Coil in These Flexible PCB Speakers

Speakers used to be largish electromechanical affairs, with magnets, moving coils, and paper cones all working together to move air around in a pleasing way. They’ve gotten much smaller, of course, small enough to screw directly into your ears or live inside the slimmest of smartphones and still delivery reasonable sound quality. The basic mechanism hasn’t changed much, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to make transduce electrical signals into acoustic waves.

Take these speakers made from flexible printed circuit boards, for instance. While working on his flexible PCB soft actuators, [Carl Bugeja] noticed that the PWM signals coursing through the coils on the thin PCB material while they were positioned over a magnet made an audible beeping. He decided to capitalize on that and try to make a decent speaker from the PCBs. An early prototype hooked to a simple amplifier showed promise, so he 3D-printed a ring to support the PCB like a diaphragm over a small neodymium magnet. The sound quality was decent, but the volume was low, so [Carl] experimented with a paper cone attached to the PCB to crank it up a bit. That didn’t help much, but common objects acting as resonators seemed to work fairly well. Check out the results in the video below.

This is very much a work in progress, but given [Carl]’s record with PCB creations from robotic fish to stepper motors built right into the PCB, we’d say he’ll make substantial improvements. Follow his and others’ progress in the Musical Instruments Challenge part of the 2018 Hackaday Prize.

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Fail of the Week: The Little Ultrasonic Knife That Couldn’t

We all know the feeling of an idea that sounded great when it was rattling around in our head, only to disappoint when we actually build the thing. It’s a natural consequence of trying new stuff, and when it happens, we salvage what we can and move on, hopefully in wisdom.

The thing that at least semi-defeated [This Old Tony] was an attempt to build an ultrasonic cutter, and it didn’t go well. Not that any blood was shed in the video below, although there seemed like there would be the way [Old Tony] was handling those X-Acto blades. His basic approach was to harvest the transducer and driver from a cheap ultrasonic cleaner and retask the lot into a tool to vibrate a knife rapidly enough to power it through tough materials with ease.

Spoiler alert: it didn’t work very well. We think the primary issue was using a transducer that was vastly underpowered compared to commercial (and expensive) ultrasonic cutters, but we suspect the horn he machined was probably not optimized either. To be fair, modeling the acoustic performance of something like that isn’t easy, so we can’t expect much. But still, it seems like the cutter could have worked better. Share your thoughts on how to make version 2.0 better in the comments.

The video is longish, but it’s as entertaining as any of [Old Tony]’s videos, and packed full of incidental gems, like the details of cavitation. We enjoyed it, even if the results were suboptimal. If you want to see a [This Old Tony] project that really delivers, check out his beautiful boring head build.

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Floating Ants and Drops of Liquid with an Acoustic Levitator

Amuse your friends, amaze your enemies, and perplex ants and other insects, insofar as they are capable of perplexment. Accomplish all this and more with this handy dandy homebrew acoustic levitator.

Before anyone gets to thinking about using this technique to build a hoverboard that actually hovers, it’s best that you scale your expectations way, way down. Still, being able to float drops of liquid and small life forms is no mean feat, and looks like a ton of fun to boot. [Asier Marzo]’s Instructable’s post fulfills a promise he made when he first published results for what the popular press then breathlessly dubbed a “tractor beam,” which we covered back in January. This levitator clearly has roots in the earlier work, what with 3D-printed hemispherical sections bristling with ultrasonic transducers all wired in phase. A second section was added to create standing acoustic waves in the middle of the space, and as the video below shows, just about anything light enough and as least as cooperative as an ant can be manipulated in the Z-axis.

There’s plenty of room to expand on [Asier]’s design, and probably more practical applications than annoying bugs. Surface-mount devices are pretty tiny — perhaps an acoustic pick and place is possible?

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Acoustic Levitation with a Twist

Don’t blame us for the click-baity titles in the source articles about this handheld “acoustic tractor beam”. You can see why the popular press tarted this one up a bit, even at the risk of drawing the ire of Star Trek fans everywhere. Even the journal article describing this build slipped the “tractor beam” moniker into their title. No space vessel in distress will be towed by [Asier Marzo]’s tractor beam, unless the aliens are fruit flies piloting nearly weightless expanded polystyrene beads around the galaxy.

That doesn’t detract from the coolness of the build, revealed in the video below. There’s no tutorial per se, but an Instructables post is promised. Still, a reasonably skilled hacker will be able to replicate the results with ease straight from the video. Using mostly off the shelf hardware, [Marzo] creates a bowl-shaped phased array of ultrasonic transducers driven by an Arduino through a DC-DC converter and dual H-bridge driver board to boost the 40 kHz square waves from 5 Vpp to 70 Vpp. By controlling the phasing of the signals, the tractor beam can not only levitate small targets but also move them axially. It looks like a lot of fun.

Acoustic levitation is nothing new here – we’ve covered 3D acoustic airbending, as well as an acoustic flip-dot display. Being able to control the power of sound waves in a handheld unit is a step beyond, though.

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Hacked Diamond Makes Two-Atom Radio

It used to be pretty keen to stuff a radio receiver into an Altoid’s tin, or to whip up a tiny crystal receiver from a razor blade and a pencil stub. But Harvard researchers have far surpassed those achievements in miniaturization with a nano-scale FM receiver built from a hacked diamond.

As with all such research, the experiments in [Marko Lončar]’s lab are nowhere near as simple as the press release makes things sound. While it’s true that a two-atom cell is the minimal BOM for a detector, the device heard belting out a seasonal favorite from [Andy Williams] in the video below uses billions of nitrogen-vacancy (N-V) centers. N-V centers replace carbon atoms in the diamond crystal with nitrogen atoms; this causes a “vacancy” in the crystal lattice and lends photoluminescent properties to the diamond that are sensitive to microwaves. When pumped by a green laser, incident FM radio waves in the 2.8 GHz range are transduced into AM fluorescent signals that can be detected with a photodiode and amplifier.

The full paper has all the details, shows that the radio can survive extreme pressure and temperature regimes, and describes potential applications for the system. It’s far from a home-gamer’s hack at this point, but it’s a neat trick and one to watch for future exploitation. In the meantime, here’s an accidental FM radio with a pretty small footprint.

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What’s a Piezo Optomechanical Circuit?

Ever hear of a piezo-optomechanical circuit? We hadn’t either. Let’s break it down. Piezo implies some transducer that converts motion to and from energy. Opto implies light. Mechanical implies…well, mechanics. The device, from National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST),  converts signals among optical, acoustic and radio waves. They claim a system based on this design could move and store information in future computers.

At the heart of this circuit is an optomechanical cavity, in the form of a suspended nanoscale beam. Within the beam are a series of holes that act as mirrors for very specific photons. The photons bounce back and forth thousands of times before escaping the cavity. Simultaneously, the nanoscale beam confines phonons, that is, mechanical vibrations. The photons and phonons exchange energy. Vibrations of the beam influence the buildup of photons and the photons influence the mechanical vibrations. The strength of this mutual interaction, or coupling, is one of the largest reported for an optomechanical system.

In addition to the cavities, the device includes acoustic waveguides. By channeling phonons into the optomechanical device, the device can manipulate the motion of the nanoscale beam directly and, thus, change the properties of the light trapped in the device.  An “interdigitated transducer” (IDT), which is a type of piezoelectric transducer like the ones used in surface wave devices, allows linking radio frequency electromagnetic waves, light, and acoustic waves.

The work appeared in Nature Photonics and was also the subject of a presentation at the March 2016 meeting of the American Physical Society. We’ve covered piezo transducers before, and while we’ve seen some unusual uses, we’ve never covered anything this exotic.