Hackaday Prize 2022: Ultratower Is A Powerful Gardening Vertical

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.

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Hackaday Prize 2022: Drying Clothes With Ultrasound

Clothes dryers are great, and a key part of modern life, but they do use a lot of energy. [Mike Rigsby] decided to see if there was a more efficient method of drying clothes that could compete with resistive heating for efficiency. Thus, he started work on an ultrasonic clothes dryer.

In early testing, he found ultrasonic transducers could indeed blast droplets of moisture away from fabric, effectively drying it. However, unlike heat, the ultrasonic field doesn’t effectively permeate through a pile of clothes, nor can it readily be used with a spinning drum to dry many garments at once.

[Mike]’s current experiments are centered around using a basket-type system, with a bed of ultrasonic transducers at the bottom. The idea is that the basket will shake back and forth, agitating the load of clothing and allowing the different garments to effectively contact the transducers. It’s still a work in progress, but it’s an interesting approach to the problem. We’d love to see a comparison of the energy use of a full-scale build versus a regular dryer.

We’ve heard of the ultrasonic drying concept before, too, with the Department of Energy researching the matter. It could just be that we’ll all be using ultrasonic dryers in decades to come!

3D Printing With Sound, Directly

Canadian researchers at Concordia University want to change how you do 3D printing. Instead of using light or thermal mechanisms, they propose using ultrasound-activated sonochemical reactions. Sounds wild? You can see a video about it below, or read the paper in Nature.

The idea is that sound causes bubbles of cavitation. This requires a focused ultrasonic beam which means you can actually print through items that are transparent to ultrasonic energy. Wherever the cavitation bubbles form, liquid polymer turns solid.

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2022 Sci-Fi Contest: A Hand-Following Robot, Powered By Arduino

If there’s one thing audiences love in sci-fi, it’s a cute robot companion that follows the heroes around. If you want one of your own, starting with this build from [mircemk] could be just the ticket.

The build relies on the classic Arduino Uno microcontroller, which talks to a HC-SR04 ultrasonic sensor module and two infrared sensors in order to track a human target and follow it around. Drive is thanks to four DC gear motors, driven by a L293D motor driver, with a two-cell lithium battery providing power for everything onboard.

The robot works in a simple manner, following a hand placed in front of the robot’s sensors. First, the robot checks for the presence of an object in front using the ultrasonic sensor. If something is detected, the twin infrared sensors mounted left and right are used to guide the robot, following the hand.

It’s not a sophisticated algorithm, and it won’t really let your robot follow you down a crowded street. However, it’s a great project to learn on for beginners and could serve as a great entry into more advanced projects using face tracking or other techniques. Video after the break. Continue reading “2022 Sci-Fi Contest: A Hand-Following Robot, Powered By Arduino”

Bend It Like (Sonar) Beacon With A Phased Array

Ultrasonic transducers are incredible, with them you can detect distances, as well as levitate and peer through objects. They can emit and receive ultrasonic soundwaves (typically above 18khz) and just like all waves, they can be steered via a phased array. [Bitluni] was trying to accurately measure distances but found the large field of view of the sensor was just too imprecise, so he made a phased array of transducers.

The inspiration came from a Hackaday Supercon talk from 2019 about phased arrays. [Bitluni] walks through an excellent explanation of how the array works with a bucket of water and his finger, as well as a separate simulation. By changing the phase offset of the different array members, the beam can effectively be steered as interference muffs the undesired waves. Using a set of solenoids, he created a test bench to validate his idea in a medium he could see; water. The solenoids fire a single pulse into the water creating a wave. You can see the wave move in the correct direction in the water, which validates the concept. A simple PCB sent off to a fab house with a stencil offers a surface to solder the transducers and drivers onto. An ESP32 drives the 8 PWM signals that go to the transmitters and reads in the single receiver via a small amplifier. Still not content to let the idea be unproven, he sets up the receiver on his CNC gantry and plots the signal strength at different points, yielding beautiful “heat maps.”
bitluni's heatmap for his sonar array

It sweeps a 60-degree field in front of it at around 1-3 frames per second. As you might imagine, turning sound wave reflections into distance fields is a somewhat noisy affair. He projects the sonar display on top of what we can see in the camera and it is fun to see the blobs line up in the correct spot.

We noticed he built quite a few boards, perhaps in the future, he will scale it up like this 100 transducer array? Video after the break.

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Acoustic Switching Transistors: A New Kind Of Electronics?

Have you ever heard of topological insulators? These are exotic materials where electricity flows only on the surface with very little loss. Now, according to IEEE Spectrum, scientists at Harvard have used the same concept to create a transistor for sound waves and it may be a new branch of electronics. The actual paper is available if you want some light reading.

Apparently, topological insulators protect electrons moving along their surfaces and edges, something that won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics. Photons can also be protected topologically so they move with very little loss across the materials. Making electrons flow in this manner is an attractive proposition, but there are challenges, especially when creating a device that can switch the flow of electrons on and off as you might with a transistor in and out of saturation. Sound waves, however, are much easier to work with.

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Ultrasonic spirit writing

Ultrasonic Array Powers This Halloween Spirit Writer

The spooky season is upon us, and with it the race to come up with the geekiest way to scare the kids. Motion-activated jump-scare setups are always a crowd-pleaser, but kind of a cheap thrill in our opinion. So if you’re looking for something different for your Halloween scare-floor, you might consider “spirit writing” with ultrasound.

The idea that [Dan Beaven] has here is a variation on the ultrasonic levitation projects we’ve seen so many of over the last couple of years. While watching bits of styrofoam suspended in midair by the standing waves generated by carefully phased arrays of ultrasonic transducers is cool, [Dan] looks set to take the concept to the next level. Very much still a prototype, the setup has a 256-transducer matrix suspended above a dark surface. Baking powder is sprinkled over the writing surface to stand in for dust, which is easily disturbed by the sound waves reflecting off the hard surface. The array can be controlled to make it look like an unseen hand is tracing out a design in the dust, and the effect is pretty convincing. We’d have chosen “REDRUM” rather than a pentagram, but different strokes.

[Dan] obviously has a long way to go before this is ready for the big night, but the proof-of-concept is sound. While we wait for the finished product, we’ll just file this away as a technique that might have other applications. SMD components are pretty small and light, after all — perhaps an ultrasonic pick-and-place? In which case, sonic tweezers might be just the thing.

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