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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Turn Medical Imaging From 2D Into 3D With Just $10

One of the modern marvels in our medical toolkit is ultrasound imaging. One of its drawbacks, however, is that it displays 2D images. How expensive do you think it would be to retrofit an ultrasound machine to produce 3D images? Try a $10 chip and pennies worth of plastic.

While — of all things — playing the Wii with his son, [Joshua Broder, M.D], an emergency physician and associate professor of surgery at [Duke Health], realized he could port the Wii’s gyroscopic sensor to ultrasound technology. He did just that with the help of [Matt Morgan, Carl Herickhoff and Jeremy Dahl] from [Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering] and [Stanford University]. The team mounted the sensor onto the side of the probe with a 3D printed collar. This relays the orientation data to the computer running software that sutures the images together into a complete 3D image in near real-time, turning a $50,000 ultrasound machine into its $250,000 equivalent.

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Best Product Entry: A HSDK for Ultrasound Imaging

As an entry into this year’s Best Product portion of the Hackaday Prize, [kelu124] is developing a hardware and software development kit for ultrasound imaging.

Ultrasound is one of the primary tools used in modern diagnostic medicine. Head to the doctor with abdominal pain, and you can bet you’ll be seeing the business end of an ultrasound system. While Ultrasound systems have gotten cheaper, they aren’t something everyone has in the home yet.  [kelu124] is working to change that by building a hardware and software development kit which can be used to explore ultrasound systems. This isn’t [kleu124’s] first rodeo. HSDK builds upon and simplifies Murgen, his first open source ultrasound, and an entry in the 2016 Hackaday prize. [kelu124’s] goal is to “simplify everything, making it more robust and more user-friendly”.

The system is driven by a Raspberry Pi Zero W. A custom carrier board connects the Pi to the pulser block, which sends out the ultrasonic pings, and the analog front end, which receives the reflected signals. The receiver is called Goblin, and is a custom PCB designed [kelu124] designed himself. It uses a variable gain amplifier to bring reflected ultrasound signals up out of the noise.

A system like this would be a boon both to hackers and medical professionals working in the field. Ultrasonics can do more than just imaging. You can decrease healing time with ultrasonics, or even levitate things!

Hackaday Prize Entry : DEER — An Electronic Repellent

Ultrasonic repellent devices used to keep away insects, rodents, birds, and even large animals have been around for quite a while, but their effectiveness depends on who you ask.  Some critters just don’t seem affected, while some others definitely will avoid being around such a device. Deploying a few of these devices to scare off animals seems to be working quite well for [Ondřej Petrlík]. Around where he lives, the fields of tall grass need to be mowed down during the spring. Unfortunately, the tall grass is ideal for young, newborn animals to stay hidden and safe. The mowing machines would often cripple and hurt such animals, and [Ondřej] desperately wanted to solve the problem and prevent these mishaps.

He built an electronic repeller to keep away wild animals and their young from his farm/ranch/range back in the Czech Republic. He used an Arduino Mini to drive a large piezo transducer to scare away the wild animals from the vicinity of the device. He likely used a high enough frequency beyond human range, but we’ll know more when he publishes his code and details. There are also a few large 10mm LED’s – either to visually locate the device or help drive the animals away in conjunction with the ultrasound, with an LDR that activates the LEDs at night. Using the Arduino helps to turn on the transducer at random intervals, and hopefully, he is using a range of different frequencies so the animals don’t become immune to the device.

His first prototype was cobbled together using vanilla, off the shelf parts. An Arduino, a step up converter, an LDR, a couple of LEDs, a reed switch for powering it on via a magnet, and a large ultrasonic transducer, all powered by three alkaline AA batteries. He stuffed it all inside a weatherproof molded enclosure, holding it all together with a lot of hot glue. This didn’t make it very rugged for the long-term, outdoor field use. While the prototype worked well, he needed several of the devices to be placed all around his farm. To make assembly easy and make it more reliable, he designed a custom PCB to fit in the weather proof enclosure. This allowed him to easily mount all the required parts for a more reliable result. His project is still a work in progress, so if you have worked with these types of ultrasonic repellent devices to keep away animals, and have any insights that may help him, do chime in with your comments. [Ondřej] seems pretty satisfied with the results so far.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Heart Failure Detection Device

Early and low-cost detection of a Heart Failure is the proposal of [Jean Pierre Le Rouzic] for his entry for the 2017 Hackaday Prize. His device is based on a low-cost Doppler device, like those fetal Doppler devices used to listen an unborn baby heart, feeding a machine learning algorithm that could differentiate between a healthy and an unhealthy heart.

The theory behind it is that a regular, healthy heart tissue has a different acoustic impedance than degenerated tissue. Based on the acoustic impedance, the device would classify the tissue as: normal, degenerated, granulated or fibrous. Each category indicates specific problems mostly in connective tissues.

There are several advantages to have a working device like the one [Rouzic] is working on. To start, it would be possible to use it at home, without the intervention of a doctor or medical staff. It seems to us that would be as easy as using a blood pressure device or a fetal Doppler. It’s also relatively cheap (estimated under 150$) and it needs no gel to work. We covered similar projects that measure different heart signals, like Open Source electrocardiography, but ECG has the downfall that it requires attaching electrodes to the body.

One interesting proposed feature is that what is learn from a single case, is sent to every devices at their next update, so the devices get ‘smarter’ as they are used. Of course, there are a lot of ways for this to go wrong, but it’s a good idea to begin with.

Reverse Engineering An Ultrasonic Car Parking Sensor

It has become a common sight, a must-have feature on modern cars, a row of ultrasonic sensors embedded in the rear bumper. They are part of a parking sensor, an aid to drivers for whom depth perception is something of a lottery.

[Haris Andrianakis] replaced the sensor system on hs car, and was intrigued enough by the one he removed to reverse engineer it and probe its workings. He found a surprisingly straightforward set of components, an Atmel processor with a selection of CMOS logic chips and an op-amp. The piezoelectric sensors double as both speaker and microphone, with a CMOS analogue switch alternating between passing a burst of ultrasound and then receiving a response. There is a watchdog circuit that is sent a tone by the processor, and triggers a reset in the event that the processor crashes and the tone stops. Unfortunately he doesn’t delve into the receiver front-end circuitry, but we can see from the pictures that it involves an LC filter with a set of variable inductors.

If you have ever been intrigued by these systems, this write-up makes for an interesting read. If you’d like more ultrasonic radar goodness, have a look at this sweeping display project, or this ultrasonic virtual touch screen.

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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