Dead Simple Ultrasonic Data Communication

Some of the best hacks are the ones which seem perfectly obvious in hindsight; a solution to the problem that’s so elegant, you wonder how it never occurred to you before. Of course we also love the hacks that are so complex your eyes start to water, but it’s nice to have a balance. This one, sent in by [Eduardo Zola] is definitely in the former group.

In the video after the break, [Eduardo] demonstrates his extremely simple setup for using ultrasonic transducers for one-way data communication. Powered by a pair of Arduinos and using transducers salvaged from the extremely popular HC-SR04 module, there’s a good chance a lot of readers can recreate this one on their own bench with what they’ve got lying around. In this example he’s sending strings of text from one computer to another, but with a little imagination this can be used for all sorts of projects.

For the transmitter, the ultrasonic transducer is simply tied to one of the digital pins on the Arduino. The receiver is a bit more complex, requiring a LM386 amplifier and LM393 comparator to create a clean signal for the second Arduino to read.

But how does it work? Looking through the source code for the transmitter and receiver, we can see it’s about as basic as it gets. The transmitter Arduino breaks down a given string into individual characters, and then further converts the ASCII to eight binary bits. These bits are sent out as tones, and are picked up on the receiving end. Once the receiver has collected a decent chunk of tones, it works through them and turns the binary values back into ASCII characters which get dumped over serial. It’s slow, but it’s simple.

If you’re looking for something a bit more robust, check out this guide on using GNU Radio with ultrasonics.

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A Bar Graph for Beer Fridge Vitals

[ChrisN219] has an antique Coke machine that used to hold glass bottles. Now it holds around 30 tall boy cans of his favorite post-work suds. The only problem is that [Chris] has no idea how many cans are in it without opening up the door or keeping tally on a nearby slate board. Enter the Arduino.

He wanted to make something completely non-invasive to the machine (phew!) while using as many parts he already had as possible. The result is a simple circuit that uses an ultrasonic sensor mounted inside the machine to ping the depths, and a Nano in a nifty 3D printed box up top to do some math and display the number of cans remaining as a simple bar graph. The sensor reads one bay, and the code multiplies by two to get the total. It was touch and go there for a minute as he wasn’t sure that the HC-SR04s would get a good response from the cylindrical cans. Not only did they give a good reading, the first test was quite accurate.

[Chris] recently finished Mk. II, which replaces the momentary (and the Coke logo) with a second HC-SR04. The first version required the push of a button to do inventory, but now he simply walks up to the machine and knows at a glance if it’s time to make a beer run.

Okay, so maybe you don’t have cool old Coke machine problems. But surely you can find something that needs pinging, like an inconvenient rain barrel.

What to do with Your Brand New Ultrasonic Transducer

We wager you haven’t you heard the latest from ultrasonics. Sorry. [Lindsay Wilson] is a Hackaday reader who wants to share his knowledge of transducer tuning to make tools. The bare unit he uses to demonstrate might attach to the bottom of an ultrasonic cleaner tank, which have a different construction than the ones used for distance sensing. The first demonstration shows the technique for finding a transducer’s resonant frequency and this technique is used throughout the video. On the YouTube page, his demonstrations are indexed by title and time for convenience.

For us, the most exciting part is when a tuned transducer is squeezed by hand. As the pressure increases, the current drops and goes out of phase in proportion to the grip. We see a transducer used as a pressure sensor. He later shows how temperature can affect the current level and phase.

Sizing horns is a science, but it has some basic rules which are well covered. The basic premise is to make it half of a wavelength long and be mindful of any tools which will go in the end. Nodes and antinodes are explained and their effects demonstrated with feedback on the oscilloscope.

We have a recent feature for an ultrasonic knife which didn’t cut the mustard, but your homemade ultrasonic tools should be submitted to our tip line.

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The M1 NerfBot: When Prototypes Evolve

What do you get when you cross a self-taught maker with an enthusiasm for all things Nerf? A mobile nerf gun platform capable of 15 darts per second. Obviously.

The M1 NerfBot built by [GrimSkippy] — posting in the ‘Let’s Make Robots’ community — is meant to be a constantly updating prototype as he progresses in his education. That being the case, the progress is evident; featuring two cameras — a webcam on the turret’s barrel, and another facing forward on the chassis, a trio of ultrasonic sensors, controlled by an Xbox 360 controller, and streaming video to a webpage hosted on the M1 itself, this is no mere beginner project.

Perhaps most compelling is how the M1 tracks its targets. The cameras send their feeds to the aforementioned webpage and — with a little reorganization — [GrimSkippy] accesses the the streams on an FPV headset-mounted smartphone. As he looks about, gyroscopic data from the phone is sent back to the M1, translating head movement into both turret and chassis cam movement. Check it out!

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Hackaday Links: March 4, 2018

Guess what’s happening next weekend? The SoCal Linux Expo. SCALE is in its 16th year, and is the second greatest convention happening this year at the Pasadena Convention Center. The first, of course, is AlienCon this summer, with a special guest appearance by the guy with the hair on Ancient Aliens. What’s cool at SCALE? Tons of stuff! Tindie and Hackaday will have a booth, you’ll be able to check out the new stuff from System 76, and this is where I first picked up my most cherished possession, a Microsoft (heart) Linux sticker. NEED A TICKET? Cool, use the code ‘HACK’ to get 50% off!

[Muth] over on hackaday.io has been working on a very, very, very cool high voltage display. It’s a ИГГ1-64x64M, or a Gazotron, or something. What is it? It’s a two-color (green and red) 64×64 pixel VFD bitmap display. You want the king of all vacuum-based displays? Here you go. Progress on driving this display is slow, but it’s happening, and it will result in the coolest clock ever created.

Need a pick and place machine? Don’t want to shell out thousands for a Neoden? Here’s an Indiegogo campaign for the Open Placer, a machine that works with OpenPNP software. It’s got vision and a 295x195mm working area.

A few months ago, news came from Havana that the US embassy was under attack. Staffers at the US embassy in Cuba were feeling sick and apparently suffered neurological damage. Explanations ranged from poisoning to some sort of non-lethal weapon. Now, there might be a banal explanation. Researchers at the University of Michigan think it could simply be two ultrasonic sensors placed just the right distance apart. Acoustic interference happens, and that inaudible 35kHz signal becomes a maddening audible signal.

Last week, we had a great talk with OSH Park about PCBs. These Hack Chats are getting out of control, but at least we have a transcript. The biggest takeaway? They’re out of jellybeans, but OSH Park is working on new stickers.

Open Hardware Summit is the greatest con for all things Open Hardware. This year, it’s going to be in Boston. The Summit will be held on September 27th, 2018 at MIT Stratton Student Center. If you’d like to get there a week and a half early, the MIT ham flea market is the third Sunday of the month.

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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Automating your Door for $20

We love the doors on Star Trek’s Enterprise. We should have known they were human-operated though because they were too smart. They would wait for people, or fail to open when someone was thrown against them during a fight. [SieuweE] has a much more practical automatic door that he calls ArduDoor.

You might guess from the name it uses an Arduino. It also uses a windshield wiper motor which is perfect since it is high-torque and low speed. You might even be able to pick one up for little or nothing if you frequent the junkyards.

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