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.
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.
What if you could effectively prevent someone from recording your voice? This is the focus of a study by Guo et al. (2022) at Michigan State University, in which they use a dynamically calculated audio signal that effectively cancels out one’s voice in a recording device. This relies on an interesting aspect of certain micro-electro-mechanical system (MEMS) microphones, which are commonly used in smartphones and other recording devices.
A specially crafted ultrasound signal sent to the same microphone which is recording one’s voice can result in the voice audio signal being gone on the final recording. The approach taken by the authors involves using a neural network that is trained on voice samples of the person (“Bob”) whose voice has to be cancelled. After recording Bob’s voice during a conversation, the creatively named Neurally Enhanced Cancellation (NEC) system determines the ultrasound signal to be sent to the target recording device. Meanwhile the person holding the recording device (“Alice”) will still perceive Bob’s voice normally.
As ultrasound is highly directional, the system can only jam a specific microphone and wouldn’t affect hidden microphones in a room. As noted by the authors, it is possible to do general microphone jamming using other systems, but this is legally problematic, which should not be an issue with their NEC system.
We’ve seen all kinds of interfaces come and go over the years, from keyboards and mice to lightpens and touchscreens. Now, a group of researchers at the University of Tokyo have built a device that enables haptic interaction with a balloon.
It takes quite a rig to achieve this feat. A vaguely-spherical frame is used, which mounts eleven airborne ultrasound phased arrays, or AUPA. Each phased array is made up of many ultrasonic transducers, with the machine having 2739 individual transducers in total. The phased arrays are controlled in such a way to create a sound field that moves the balloon around and holds it in various desired positions. Closed loop control is achieved with the use of stereo cameras, which track the balloon’s position at high speed.
The system allows the balloon to be moved around quickly in three dimensions. Plus, a user can touch and interact with the balloon directly as it floats in mid-air. They can even drag and redirect the balloon, which can be tracked by the stereo camera system.
The research team don’t highlight any particular applications for this technology at this stage. We’re not expecting the Touch Balloon on next year’s Surface Pro or the next MacBook, that’s for sure. However, it’s great fun to look at and likely has some creative applications that we can’t think of off the top of our heads. Share yours in the comments.
It may be blurry and blotchy, but it’s ours. The first images of the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy were revealed this week, and they caused quite a stir. You may recall the first images of the supermassive black hole at the center of the M87 galaxy from a couple of years ago: spectacular images that captured exactly what all the theories said a black hole should look like, or more precisely, what the accretion disk and event horizon should look like, since black holes themselves aren’t much to look at. That black hole, dubbed M87*, is over 55 million light-years away, but is so huge and so active that it was relatively easy to image. The black hole at the center of our own galaxy, Sagittarius A*, is comparatively tiny — its event horizon would fit inside the orbit of Mercury — a much closer at only 26,000 light-years or so. But, our black hole is much less active and obscured by dust, so imaging it was far more difficult. It’s a stunning technical achievement, and the images are certainly worth checking out.
Another one from the “Why didn’t I think of that?” files — contactless haptic feedback using the mouth is now a thing. This comes from the Future Interfaces Group at Carnegie-Mellon and is intended to provide an alternative to what ends up being about the only practical haptic device for VR and AR applications — vibrations from off-balance motors. Instead, this uses an array of ultrasonic transducers positioned on a VR visor and directed at the user’s mouth. By properly driving the array, pressure waves can be directed at the lips, teeth, and tongue of the wearer, providing feedback for in-world events. The mock game demonstrated in the video below is a little creepy — not sure how many people enjoyed the feeling of cobwebs brushing against the face or the splatter of spider guts in the mouth. Still, it’s a pretty cool idea, and we’d like to see how far it can go.
Ultrasonic levitation — the practice of creating a standing wave between two ultrasonic sources and positioning lightweight objects such that they can float in the pressure minimums between them — has been a source of fascination to more than one experimenter. [Peter Lin] demonstrated this in the video below the break, by creating an ultrasonic levitation system using only the trusted chip of all true experimenters, the NE555. (Video, embedded below.)
The circuit is simplicity itself, just an astable of the type that has made a billion beepers and flashing LEDs. It drives two ultrasonic transducers in parallel, and with them pointing towards each other and a bit of gap adjustment work it can successfully levitate pieces of polystyrene. There was some work in adjusting the frequency to the transducer resonance, but that’s not a huge challenge given the right instrumentation. We can see that it would make a great demonstration of standing waves, and also a fantastic desk toy for not a lot.
Ah, the humble neon lamp. The familiar warm orange glow has graced the decks of many a DIY timepiece, sometimes in a purely indicating duty, and sometimes forming a memory element in place of a more conventional semiconductor device. Capable of many other tricks such as the ability to protect RF circuits from HV transients, its negative resistance operating region after it illuminates gives us usable hysteresis which can used to form a switching element and the way the pair of electrodes are arranged give it the ability to indicate whether a voltage source is AC or DC. Now, due to some recent research by [Johan Carlsson] and the team at Princeton University, the humble NE-2 tube has a new trick up its sleeve: acoustic transduction.
The idea is not new at all, with some previous attempts at using electric discharge in a gas to detect audio, going back to the early part of last century, but those attempts either used atmospheric pressure air or other non-sealed devices that exhibited quite a lot of electrical noise as well as producing noxious gases. Not ideal.