If you’ve been making up for lost years of travel in 2023, you might have seen a fellow traveler in the airport terminal or train station walking with their luggage happily careening behind them. [Jesse R] and [Brian Lindahl] wanted more of that. They wanted an open-source, low-cost system that could be put in anything.
The basic principle is that they will have a transmitter that sends both a radio signal and an ultrasonic pulse. The receiver receives the radio signal and uses it as a reference for the two ultrasonic sensors. The time since the radio signal is compared between the two, and a distance and direction are established.
In practice, the radio is an ESP32-S3 using ESP-NOW (which we’ve seen relatively recently on another project), a protocol from Espressif that offers low latency 250 bytes payloads. The ultrasonic transceiver is based on Sparkfun’s HC-SR04. For prototyping purposes on the receiver, they just removed the transmitter to avoid populating the airwaves, as to listen, you had to transmit. The prototype was an electric wheelbarrow that would happily follow you around the yard wherever you go.
With the concept validated, they moved to a custom ultrasonic setup with a custom buffer amp and damp transistor, all centered around 20kHz. The simulations suggested they should have been better than the HC-SR04 from Sparkfun, but the 30-foot (9 meters) range went to 10 feet (3 meters). They ultimately returned to using Sparkfun’s circuit rather than the custom amp.
We’re looking forward to seeing the project continue. There are various challenges, such as variability in the speed of sound, echos and reflections, and ultrasonic line of sight. We love the peak behind the curtain that allows us to see what decisions get made and the data that informs those decisions. All the code and PCB design files are available on GitHub under an MIT and Creative Common license, respectively. This project was submitted as part of the 2o23 Hackaday Prize.
The range of human hearing goes up to about 20 kilohertz, which is fine for our purposes, but is pretty poor compared to plenty of other animal species. Dogs famously can hear up to about 60 kHz, and dolphins are known to distinguish sounds up to 100 kHz. But for extremely high frequencies we’ll want to take a step into the world of bats. Some use echolocation to locate each other and their food sources, and bats like the pipistrelle can listen in to sounds up to 350 kHz. To listen to them you’ll need a device like the π*pistrelle. (Ed Note: a better explanation is available at the project’s website.)
The original implementation of the bat detector was based on a Raspberry Pi Pico, from which it gets its name. But there have been several improvements on it in the years since it was first developed. The latest can detect bats when it hears their 350 kHz sonar calls thanks to an ultrasonic microphone and op amp. The device then records the bat sounds and then either heterodynes the sound down or time-expands it to human-audible range so the calls can actually be heard. There’s an LED display on the board as well as three input buttons, but an iOS companion app is available to interact with the device as well.
This fun build uses a common off-the-shelf USB “missile launcher” that fires foam darts. To supply targeting data for the launcher, an Arduino Uno uses an ultrasonic sensor pair mounted atop a servo. As the servo rotates, the returns from the ultrasonic sensor are plotted on a screen run by a Raspberry Pi. If an object is detected in the 180-degree field of view of the sweeping sensor, a missile is fired using the dart launcher.
It’s a relatively simple build, but nonetheless would serve as a useful classroom demonstration of radar-like targeting techniques to a young audience. Real military hardware remains altogether more sophisticated. Video after the break.
While ultrasonic cleaning might sound a bit like the “sonic shower” from Star Trek, this is actually one case where the futuristic-sounding technology predates its use in Sci-Fi. Ultrasonic cleaners have been around since the 50s and are used to clean all sorts of oddly-shaped or specialty objects by creating cavitation within a liquid that allows the surface of the object to be scoured. With the right equipment, these cleaning devices are fairly straightforward to build as well.
This ultrasonic cleaner by [Branchus Creations] started off as a standard stainless steel laundry sink, but with the addition of a few transducers it really turns up the volume. They are attached to the underside of the sink with a combination of a bolt and hard epoxy so that the sound is efficiently transmitted to the sink, but they’re not much use without driver boards to power them. These drivers take AC power and convert it to the DC required to generate the ultrasonic frequencies, and this build uses a driver for each of the transducers all wired up to a common control board for ease-of-use.
The results speak for themselves; a test is performed on a sheet of aluminum foil which quickly turns takes on a Swiss cheese appearance after just a couple minutes in the cleaner. It’s also shown cleaning rusty nails and a few other things as well. For other nontraditional cleaning methods, be sure to check out this wet media blast cabinet built from a 55-gallon drum.
Created by [Nilay Roy Choudhury], the device is intended to be worn on the waist, and features two sets of ultrasonic sensors. One set is aimed straight ahead, while the other points upwards at an angle of 45 degrees. An infrared sensor then points downward at an angle of 45 degrees, aimed at the ground.
The distance readings from these sensors are then collated by a microcontroller, which uses trigonometry to determine the user’s actual distance to the object. When objects are closer than a given threshold, the device provides feedback to the user via a buzzer and a vibration motor. The combination of three sensors looking out at different angles helps capture a variety of obstacles, whether they be at head, chest, or knee height.
It’s unlikely that a complex electronic device would serve as a direct replacement for solutions like the tried-and-tested cane. However, that’s not to say there isn’t value in such tools, particularly when properly tested and designed to suit user’s needs.
For those that haven’t heard, ultrasonic levitation is a process by which two or more ultrasonic transducers are set opposite to each other and excited in such a way as to create a standing wave between them. The sound is, as the name implies, ultrasonic — so outside the range of human hearing — but strong enough so that the small, light objects can be positioned and held fixed in mid-air where there’s a pressure minimum in the standing wave. [Olimex] has created a small ultrasonic levitation kit that exemplifies this phenomena.
The kit itself is made using through-hole components, with an ATTiny85 as the core microcontroller to drive two TCT40-16T ultrasonic speakers, and a MAX232 to provide a USB interface drives the transducers (thanks to the folks in the comments for the correction). Two slotted rectangular PCB pieces that solder connect to the main board, provide a base so that the device stands upright when assembled. The whole device is powered through the USB connection, and the ultrasonic speakers output in the 40KHz range providing enough power to levitate small Styrofoam balls.
The project is, by design, an exercise in minimalism, providing a kit that can be easily assembled, and providing code that can be easily flashed onto the device, examined and modified. All the design files, including the bill of materials, KiCAD schematics, and source code are provided under an open source hardware license to allow for anyone wanting to know how such a project works, or to extend it themselves, ample opportunity. [Olimex] also has the kit for sale for those not wanting to source boards and parts themselves.
The more people we have on this planet, the more food we need. Naturally, this extends to water, another precious resource that generally plays a part in farming and food production. And honestly, we’d probably all eat a little better if it were really easy to grow healthy things like spinach. Well, that excuse doesn’t work anymore, thanks to [J Gleyzes]’ Ultratower. It’s a simple-to-use hydroponic tower that uses recycled mist to water plants, ultimately saving water in the process.
The ‘ultra’ part is a function of the way mist is created. In this case, it’s done with three piezoelectric disks mounted under a tank in the top of the PVC tube. Stick up to twelve plants in the little cubbies, and their roots will grow down the inside, where they’ll receive a fine shower of water at your command. Water that runs off the roots collects in a small tank at the bottom, where a pump starts the process over again.
At first, [J Gleyzes] had trouble with the piezo disks — using 1.7MHz disks created too much heat, warming the water up to nearly 40°C (104°F). Since cooking the spinach prematurely would be bad, they experimented with other values, finally landing on 108KHz. Be sure to check out the video after the break.