[Ben Krasnow] Builds a One-Component Interferometer

When we think of physics experiments, we tend to envision cavernous rooms filled with things like optical benches, huge coils in vacuum chambers, and rack after rack of amplifiers and data acquisition hardware. But it doesn’t have to be that way – you can actually perform laser interferometry with a single component and measure sub-micron displacements and more.

The astute viewer of [Ben Krasnow]’s video below will note that in order to use the one component, a laser diode, as an interferometer, he needed a whole bunch of support gear, like power supplies, a signal generator, and a really, really nice mixed-signal oscilloscope. But the principle of the experiment is the important bit, which uses a laser diode with a built-in monitoring photodiode. Brought out to a third lead, older laser diodes often used these photodiodes to control the light emitted by the laser junction. But they also respond to light reflected back into the laser diode, and thanks to constructive and destructive interference, can actually generate a signal that corresponds to very slight displacements of a reflector. [Ben] used it to measure the vibrations of a small speaker, the rotation of a motor shaft, and with a slight change in setup, to measure the range to a fixed target with sub-micron precision. It’s fascinating stuff, and the fact you can extract so much information from a single component is pretty cool.

We really like [Ben]’s style of presentation, and the interesting little nooks and crannies of physics that he finds a way to explore. He recently looked at how helium can kill a MEMS sensor, an equally fascinating topic.

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Designing Space-Rated PCBs

We’ve reduced printed circuit board design to practice so much that we hardly give a thought to the details anymore. It’s so easy to bang out a design, send it to a fab house, and have ten boards in your hands in no time at all. All the design complexities are largely hidden from us, abstracted down to a few checkboxes on the vendor’s website.

There’s no doubt that making professional PCB design tools available to the hobbyist has been a net benefit, but there a downside. Not every PCB design can be boiled down to the “one from column A, one from column B” approach. There are plenty of applications where stock materials and manufacturing techniques just won’t cut it. PCBs designed to operate in space is one such application, and while few of us will ever be lucky enough to have a widget blasted to infinity and beyond, learning what’s behind space-rated PCBs is pretty interesting.

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Vibrosight Hears When You are Sleeping. It Knows When You’re Awake.

No matter how excited you are to dive headfirst into the “Internet of Things”, you’ve got to admit that the effort and expense of going full-on Jetsons is a bit off-putting. To smarten up your home you’ve generally got to buy all new products (and hope they’re all compatible) or stick janky after-market sensors on the gear you’ve already got (and still hope they’re all compatible). But what if there was a cheap and easy way to keep tabs on all your existing stuff? The answer may lie in Cold War era surveillance technology.

As if the IoT wasn’t already Orwellian enough, Vibrosight is a project that leverages a classic KGB spy trick to keep tabs on what’s going on inside your home. Developed by [Yang Zhang], [Gierad Laput] and [Chris Harrison], the project uses retro-reflective stickers and a scanning laser to detect vibrations over a wide area. With this optical “stethoscope”, the system can glean all kinds of information; from how long you’ve been cooking something in the microwave to whether or not you washed your hands.

The project takes its inspiration from the optical eavesdropping system developed by Léon Theremin in the late 1940’s. By bouncing a beam of light off of a window, Theremin’s gadget was able to detect what people inside the room were saying from a distance. The same idea is applied here, except now it uses an automated laser scanner and machine learning to turn detected vibrations into useful information that can be plugged into a home automation system.

For Vibrosight to “listen” to objects, the user needs to place retro-reflective tags on whatever they want to include in the system. The laser will periodically scan around the room looking for these tags. Once the laser finds a new tag, will add it to a running list of targets to keeps an eye on. From there Vibrosight is able to take careful vibration measurements which can provide all sorts of information. In the video after the break, Vibrosight is shown differentiating between walking, jogging, and running on a treadmill and determining what kind of hand tools are being used on a workbench. The team even envisions a future where Vibrosight-ready devices would “hum” their IP address or other identifying information to make device setup easier.

If all this talk of remote espionage at a distance has caught your interest, we’ve covered Theremin’s unique surveillance creations in the past, and even a way to jam them if you’re trying to stay under the radar.

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Fighting Machine Tool Chatter with a 555 Timer

Vibration is a fact of life in almost every machining operation. Whether you’re milling, drilling, turning, or grinding, vibration can result in chatter that can ruin a part. Fighting chatter has generally been a matter of adding more mass to the machine, but if you’re clever about things, chatter reduction can be accomplished electronically, too. (YouTube, embedded below.)

When you know a little something about resonance, machine vibration and chatter start to make sense. [AvE] spends quite a bit of time explaining and demonstrating resonance in the video — fair warning about his usual salty shop language. His goal with the demo is to show that chatter comes from continued excitation of a flexible beam, which in this case is a piece of stock in the lathe chuck with no tailstock support. The idea is that by rapidly varying the speed of the lathe slightly, the system never spends very long at the resonant frequency. His method relies on a variable-frequency drive (VFD) with programmable IO pins. A simple 555 timer board drives a relay to toggle the IO pins on and off, cycling the VFD up and down by a couple of hertz. The resulting 100 RPM change in spindle speed as the timer cycles reduces the amount of time spent at the resonant frequency. The results don’t look too bad — not perfect, but a definite improvement.

It’s an interesting technique to keep in mind, and a big step up from the usual technique of more mass.

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A Fix for the Lightweight Machine Tool Shakes

No matter what material you work with, the general rule is that with machine tools, the heavier, the better. Some people can’t afford or don’t want big tools, though, even with their natural tendency to reduce vibrations. That doesn’t mean something can’t be done to help the little tools, like reducing vibration in a contractor-grade table saw.

This one might seem a little outside the usual confines of the hackosphere, but nobody can doubt [Matthias Wandel]’s hacker chops and he really shows off his problem-solving skills with this one. His well-worn contractor-style table saw has had more than a few special modifications over the years, some of which left it with a shimmy sufficient to vibrate workpieces right off the table. He fashioned a friction damper for the saw’s motor from wood, complete with ball and socket joints to allow full movement of the blade height and angle. That didn’t quite do the trick, but his incremental approach finally found the right combination of factors, and the video below shows a saw now stable enough to balance a nickel.

If the name seems familiar but you just can’t place the hacks, check out [Matthias]’s recent wooden domino extruder, his shortcuts to tapping wood, or of course his classic wood gears layout software.

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Bulking up a Lightweight Lathe with a Concrete Cart

When it comes to machine tools, a good rule of thumb is that heavier is better. A big South Bend lathe or Bridgeport mill might tip the scales at ludicrous weight, but all that mass goes to damping vibration and improving performance. So you’d figure a lathe made of soda cans could use all the help it could get; this cast concrete machine cart ought to fit the bill nicely

Perhaps you’ve caught our recent coverage of [Makercise]’s long and detailed vlog of his Gingery lathe build. If not, you might want to watch the 5-minute condensed video of the build, which shows the entire process from melting down scrap aluminum for castings to first chips. We love the build and the videos, but the lightweight lathe on that wooden bench never really worked for us, or for [Makercise], who notes that he was never able to crank the lathe up to full speed because of the vibrations. The cart attempts to fix that problem the old fashioned way – more mass.

There are a few “measure twice, cut once” moments in the video below, as well as a high pucker-factor slab lift that could have turned into a real disaster. We might have opted for a countertop-grade concrete mix that could be dyed and polished, but that would be just for looks. When all is said and done, the cart does exactly what it was built to do, and there’s even room on it for the shaper that’s next on the build list. We’re looking forward to that.

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Keep the Peace in the Bedroom with a Snore Stopping Sleep Mask

Despite what my wife says, I have absolutely no evidence that I snore. After all, I’ve never actually heard me snoring. But I’ll take her word for it that I do, and that it bothers her, so perhaps I should be a sport and build this snore-detecting vibrating sleep mask so she can get a few winks more.

Part wearable tech and part life hack, [mopluschen]’s project requires a little of the threadworker’s skill. The textile part of the project is actually pretty simple, and although [mopluschen] went with a custom mask made from fabric and foam shoulder pads, it should be possible to round up a ready-made mask that could be easily modified. The electronics are equally simple – an Arduino with a sound sensor module and a couple of Lilypad Vibe boards. The mic rides just above the snore resonating chamber and the vibrators are right over the eyes. When your snore volume exceeds a preset threshold, the motors wake you up.

Whether this fixes the underlying problem or just evens the score with your sleep partner is debatable, but either way there’s some potential here. And not just for snore-correction – a similar system could detect a smoke alarm and help rouse the hearing impaired. But if the sewing part of this project puts you off, you should probably check out [Jenny List]’s persuasive argument that sewing is not just for cosplayers anymore.