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2017 April 4

Second Santa Cruz Mini Maker Faire

Filed under: freshman design seminar,Robotics — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 10:37
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The Santa Cruz Mini Maker Faire ( is 2017 April 29, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. at Gateway School (126 Eucalyptus Ave in Santa Cruz, near Lighthouse Field).  I have been accepted as an exhibitor again, and I’ll have with me some of the freshmen from my freshman design seminar course.  This year was the most successful run of that course, with all three groups being able to demonstrate their projects.

Two of the groups collaborated to do an EMG-controlled arm.  One group did the electromyograph amplifier, the other built a MeArm from a kit and programmed a Teensy board to read the EMG output and use it to control the arm.  On their public demo during exam week, they had two working channels, to control the shoulder and gripper of the MeArm.  With a little practice, the operator was able to pick up a light object with the arm.  These groups will be joining me at the Maker Faire.

The third group build their own gripper out of medium-density fiberboard, using the scroll saw and drill press in the fab lab.  They were able to demonstrate the gripper, but did not have time to build the wrist that they had also planned.  I don’t know whether this group will be joining me at Maker Faire or not.

I’ll have a number of demos from the applied electronics course also—I still need to figure out what I’ll display and how I’ll lay things out on the table.

2016 August 12

Playing with Nao humanoid robot

Filed under: Robotics — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 11:09
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Yesterday I had an opportunity to play with a Nao robot in a three-hour workshop at UCSC, run by Dr. Denise Szecsei of the University of Iowa. I found out about the workshops through an article in Santa Cruz Tech Beat, an on-line publication about local tech events. (Santa Cruz Tech Beat is worth reading, with a high signal-to-noise ratio and only about 30 articles a month.)

The basic idea that Denise was pushing is the use of the Nao robots in introductory programming courses—she created a course at the University of Iowa called Dancing Robots that supposedly been successful in recruiting women into programming courses there (she did not give us detailed information, as the focus of the workshop was on getting us to experience programming the robots, not on academic justification). She was also looking for collaborators on either educational projects or art projects, so was glad to have some grad students from the Digital Arts and New Media project at the workshop.

You can see an example of the results of the dancing robots courses on YouTube:

I’ve always thought that the Nao robots were cute, but at $9000 from the US distributor RobotsLab (and $890/year for warranty), they are too expensive for me to buy as a toy.  So I welcomed the chance to play with one for 3 hours.

What the workshop was intended to be was a brief tutorial on Choreographe, the drag-and-drop scripting environment for the robots. That environment looks ok to use, with simple message passing along wires to trigger pre-written boxes for actions like “say” or “timeline” animation.  Most of the dancing work is done by using the timeline like stop-frame animation (at 25 “frames” per second), with the software interpolating between target poses.  The target poses are created by physically manipulating the robot, making the whole process accessible to 6th graders (though the fragility and cost of the robots makes me think that you would need careful supervision even for high-school and college students).

I was not interested in the dance aspects of the robots, so I worked with one of the workshop staff (Denise’s son) on diving into the Python SDK (there are also C++, Java, and JavaScript interfaces, but the Python one is best integrated with Choreographe and the best for rapid prototyping, which is all I had time for). I spent a little time the night before the workshop looking at the programming interface (which I did not really understand from the quick glances at the documentation) and at the capabilities of the robot in terms of sensors and actuators.

What I wanted to do was to program one action—shifting the weight of the robot onto one leg, then picking up the other leg, so that the robot stood on one foot.  I planned to do the weight shifting by coordinated motion of the hip roll and ankle roll actuators.  Initially, I had thought to do it on just one leg, but I ended up doing it on both legs, since the starting position had the feet approximately the hip distance apart, so rotating both hip-roll actuators one way and both ankle-roll actuators the other way results in a parallelogram linkage, with the hips and torso staying level while moving sideways.

To detect the weight shift, I used the force resistors in the foot.  There are several ways to access them through getData() calls: the processed “leftFootTotalWeight” and “Device/SubDeviceList/LFoot/FSR/TotalWeight/Sensor/Value”  or the raw sensor values “Device/SubDeviceList/LFoot/FSR/FrontLeft/Sensor/Value”, … .  I ended up using “leftFootTotalWeight” or “rightFootTotalWeight”.  The basic idea was to start a thread running moving the hips far to the left, and set up an interrupt routine triggered by the event footContactChanged. When that event fired, I checked the weight on the right foot, and stopped the motion if the weight was low enough (I think I used 300g, since the unloaded force resistor with the foot in the air was reporting something like 200g).

I did not have time to add a further refinement to the weight shift, to adjust the weight to be centered over the supporting foot, using the center of pressure sensor. I had the robot speak the values of that sensor, but did not use it to tweak the hip and ankle angles of the supporting leg.

Once the weight had been shifted on the left leg, I had Nao pick up the right leg by adjusting the hip pitch, knee pitch, and ankle pitch of that leg.  The posing software in Choreographe made it fairly easy to figure out what the correct signs were for the angles and for picking target values. The robot lurched a little bit as the right foot was picked up, probably because the foot had not been fully unweighted, but possibly because of the foot not being lifted quite vertically.

If I’d had more time, I would have done the centering of the weight over the supporting leg before lifting the other foot. I would also have moved the motion of the supporting foot into a separate script, so that different gestures could be made from the one-legged stance. In doing that, I’d probably want to have any one-legged boxes run a balancing thread to keep the weight centered over the supporting foot, so that sticking out an arm or a leg doesn’t topple the robot. Either that, or have a one-legged balance box that is runs in parallel with any gesture actions.  It would probably take me a day or two of programming to create one-legged action boxes robust enough for someone else to use them, and probably a few weeks of use testing before they would be worth adding to Choreographe.

Working with the robots definitely needs two people, as one person needs to spot the robot any time it is moving (remember, fragile and expensive!).

It was very useful working with someone familiar with part of the programming interface, so that I did not have to waste much time figuring out how to create a new box or test it out. He was the one who suggested outputting a string to pass into a “say” box for reporting the foot sensor values for debugging, for example. I started out just reading the sensors and reporting the weight, then tried figuring out how to interrupt an ongoing motion by raising one arm very slowly, to be interrupted by any of the touch sensors. Once I had the basics of starting a parallel thread and stopping it on an interrupt, I programmed the weight shift. Once that was working I added lifting and lowering the non-supporting leg.

I fully expected that the spotter would be called on to catch the robot as it fell during my development of the program, but despite a little worrisome lurching as the unweighted foot was lifted, the robot never toppled.

I doubt that the Python SDK is fast enough to do a closed-loop feedback system for balance, but it was certainly good enough for a slow weight shift onto a single leg, and the feet are wide enough that no dynamic balancing was needed. It would be a fun programming environment for a Python course, as long as the students were into humanoid robotics.

The Choreographe environment provides a reasonable interface for fairly simple sequencing and synchronization, but I suspect one hits its limits pretty soon. Being able to create new blocks rapidly, by copying existing blocks and editing the Python in them, makes the system a lot more powerful, though I got the impression that the “Dancing Robots” courses rarely get that far.

The Nao robots were, as I expected, a lot of fun, but I couldn’t really recommend them for a beginning programming class. At $9000 for each pair of students, they are way too expensive and way too fragile.  For beginning programmers, you really want things that students don’t have to worry about breaking if they make a little mistake. One can get fun robot toys for students to program for $100 each, since wheeled robots are much cheaper and easier to make than humanoid ones. Not only is the financial risk lower with cheap robots, but they can be made much more robust (though educational robots needn’t be made to sturdiness required of combat bots).

To break into the consumer market or school market, I think that Nao would have to come down in price by about a factor of 10, which would be difficult to manage, given what the robots contain.  There are 24 actuators (2 head, 6 in each arm, 6 in each leg), plus cameras, ultrasonic range finder, touch sensors, foot pressure sensors (4 per foot), gyroscope, accelerometer, LEDs, … . The motors and 12-bit joint angle sensors (magnetic rotary encoders) alone probably cost close to $1000.


2016 April 16

Santa Cruz Mini Maker Faire went well

The first Santa Cruz Mini Maker Faire seemed to go well.  I did not get to see much of it, since I was busy at my booth most of the day, though I did get a break for lunch while my assistant Henry manned the booth, and I made a quick tour of the exhibits during that break, to see what was there, though with no time to chat with other exhibitors.

I understand that about 1800 people bought tickets to the Mini Maker Faire, which probably means there were over 2000 people on-site, including volunteers and makers.  I hope the food vendors did OK—I ate at the Ate3One truck, since I never have before, but my opinion afterwards was that CruzNGourmet and Zameen have better food (both of those trucks are frequently on campus, and I’ve eat at each several times).

My day went pretty well, though I had one annoying problem, having to do with my pulse monitor display. When I set up the booth Friday evening, the pulse monitor was not working, and I thought that the phototransistor had somehow been broken in the rough ride in the bike trailer, so I brought the pulse monitor home, replaced the phototransistor and tested in thoroughly.  Everything worked great, so I packed it more carefully for transport in the morning.

When I got everything set up Saturday morning, I found I had no electricity, though the electricity had worked fine the night before.  After I finally tracked down a staff member with the authority to do anything about it, he suggested unplugging the other stuff plugged in and switching outlets.  I turned out that the only problem was that the outlets were so old and worn out that they no longer gripped plugs properly—taping the extension cord to the outlet box so that the weight of the cord didn’t pull out the plug fixed the power problem.

Once I had power, I tested the pulse monitor, and it failed again!  I used the oscilloscope to debug the problem, and found that the first stage transimpedance amplifier was saturating—there was too much light in the room, and even shading the pulse monitor didn’t help. By then, my assistant for the day (and my group tutor for the class on campus), Henry, had arrived and gotten the parking permit on his car, so I raced home on my bike to get resistors, capacitors, op amp chips, multimeters, hookup wire,and clip leads to try to rebuild the pulse monitor from scratch on the bread board.

When I got back to Gateway School, I tried a simple fix before rebuilding everything—I added a pair of clip leads to the board so that I could add a smaller resistor in parallel with the feedback resistor in the transimpedance amplifier, reducing the gain by a factor of about 30.  This reduced gain kept the first stage from saturating, and the pulse monitor worked fine.  Rather than rebuild the amplifier, I just left the pair of clip leads and the resistor in place all day—they caused no problem despite many people trying out the pulse monitor.

I think that I want to redesign the pulse monitor with a logarithmic first stage, so that it will be insensitive to ambient light over several decades of light.  That should be an easy fix, but I’ll have to test it to make sure it works. I don’t think I’ll have time this weekend or next to do that, but I’ll add it to my to-do list.

I’ll need to think about whether to include having a logarithmic response in the textbook—that is certainly more advanced than what I currently include (just a transimpedance amplifier), which is already pushing students a bit.  A transimpedance amplifier is a pretty common component in bioelectronics, so I really want to leave one in the course.  I’m not sure a logarithmic amplifier is important enough or simple enough to include at this level (I don’t currently cover the non-linearity of diodes).


Here is the booth display with my assistant, Henry. I was permitted to use painter's tape to attach the banner to the whiteboard.

Here is the booth display with my assistant, Henry. I was permitted to use painter’s tape to attach the banner to the whiteboard.

The magenta laptop on right (which my family refers to as the “Barbie laptop”) was a used Windows laptop that I bought for testing out PteroDAQ installation on Windows. It was set up with PteroDAQ running all day, recording a voltage from a pressure sensor and a frequency from a hysteresis oscillator (as a capacitance touch center).

Just to the left of that was a fairly bright stroboscope, using 20 of my constant-current LED boards. To its left is my laptop, displaying the current draft of my book. Behind (and above) the laptop is my desk lamp, which uses the same electronic hardware as the stroboscope, though with only 6 LED boards, not 20.

In front of the laptop is the pulse monitor, which includes a TFT display in an improvised foamcore stand. I used just a half block for the pulse sensor, relying on ambient light (sunlight and the desk lamp) for illuminating the finger.

To the left of the pulse monitor was a stack of business cards for my book and sheets of paper with my email address and URLs for this blog and the book.  I should have included the PteroDAQ URL as well, but I had forgotten to do so. I did tell a lot of people how to find PteroDAQ from the navigation bar of my blog, but putting it on the handout would have been better. Ah well, something to fix next year (if Gateway is crazy enough to do another Mini Maker Faire, which I hope they are).

I also had all my bare PC boards that I had designed and not populated, plus my two Hexmotor H-bridge boards, behind the business cards. One of the amplifier prototyping boards was displaying in the Panavise that I use for soldering.

On the far left of the table is my Kikusui oscilloscope and two function generators, set up to generate Lissajous figures.  I let kids play with the frequencies of the function generators, take their pulse with the pulse monitor, and play with the pressure sensor and the capacitive touch sensor.

My booth was not the most popular of the Faire by any means (certainly the R2 Makers Club in the next booth was more popular), but I was kept busy all day and I talked with a lot of people who seemed genuinely interested in what I was doing, both with the UCSC course and as a hobbyist.

2014 March 5

Sixteenth day: Arduino demo

Filed under: freshman design seminar,Pressure gauge — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 20:57
Tags: , , , , , ,

Today’s class in the freshman design seminar went well. I started by returning the drafts of the design reports and giving some generic feedback. I realized on reading the reports that I had not given a good explanation of what I meant by describing the components of the system—two of the groups had given me long parts lists on the first page of their reports, something that would only really be appropriate in an appendix. I explained that what I wanted was what the main blocks in the block diagram were, and that they should use the block diagram to organize their report, writing a page for each block. I also suggested that they use the block diagram to partition the project among the group members, with each group member working on a different component, then getting back together to reconcile any discrepancies. Note that this is much more like real engineering group work than the usual K–12 group project, which is usually done most efficiently by turning the whole project over to the most competent member of the group.

After the feedback on design reports, I offered the students a chance to get a demo of building an Arduino program with sensing and motor control. This was a completely extemporaneous demo—I had gathered a number of possibly useful components, but had not tested anything ahead of time nor even figured out what order to do the demo in.  I asked the students if they wanted me to start with sensing or control—they asked for the motor control first.

I started by pulling a motor out of box of motors I had gotten when the elementary school my wife works at cleaned out their closets.  I told the students that I had no idea what the spec of the motor were, but since it came from an elementary school, it probably ran on 3v batteries.  I tested the motor by hooking it up first to the 3.3v, then to the 5v power on my Arduino Uno.  It spun just fine on 3.3v, but squealed a bit on 5v, so we decided to run it on 3.3v.

I then pulled out the Sainsmart 4-relay board that I had bought some time ago but never used.  I explained how a relay worked, what single-pole double-throw meant, and normally open (NO) and normally closed (NC) contacts. I used the board unpowered with the NC contacts to spin the motor, then moved the wire over to the NO contacts to turn the motor off.  I then hooked up power to the board and tried connecting input IN1 to power to activate the relay.  Nothing happened. I then tried connecting IN1 to ground, and the relay clicked and the motor spun.  The inputs to the Sainsmart board are active low, which I explained to the students (though I did not use the terminology “active low”—perhaps I should have).  I did make a point of establishing that the relay provides very good isolation between the control logic and the circuitry being controlled—you can hook up AC power from the walls to the relay contacts without interfering with the logic circuitry.

Having established that the relay worked, the next step was to get the class (as a group) to write an Arduino program to control the motor using the relay. With me taking notes on the whiteboard, they quickly came up with the pinMode command for the setup, the digitalWrite and delay for the loop, and with only a tiny bit of prompting with a second digitalWrite and delay to turn the motor back off.  They even realized the need to have different delays for the on and off, so we could tell whether we had the polarity right on the control.  Here is the program we came up with:

#define RELAY_PIN (3)

void setup()
{   pinMode(RELAY_PIN, OUTPUT);

void loop()
  digitalWrite(RELAY_PIN,LOW); // turn motor ON via relay (or off via transistor)
  delay(1000);  // on for 1 second
  digitalWrite(RELAY_PIN,HIGH); // turn motor OFF via relay (or on via transistor)
  delay(3000); // off for 3 seconds

I typed the code in and downloaded it to the Arduino Uno, and it worked as expected.  (It would be nice if the Arduino IDE would allow me to increase the font size, like almost every other program I use, so that students could have read the projection of what I was typing better.)

I then offered the students a choice of going on to sensing or looking at pulse-width modulation for proportional control.  They wanted PWM. I explained why PWM is not really doable with relays (the relays are too slow, and chattering them would wear them out after a while.  I did not have the specs on the relay handy, but I just looked up the specs for the SRD-05VDC-SL-C relays on the board: They have a mechanical life of 10,000,000 cycles, but an electrical life of only 100,000 cycles.  The relay takes about 7msec to make a contact and about 3msec to break a contact, so they can’t be operated much faster than about 60 times a second, which could wear them out in as little as half an hour.

So instead of a relay, I suggested an nFET (Field-Effect Transistor). I gave them a circuit with one side of the motor connected to 3.3V, the other to the drain of an nFET, with the source connected to ground.  I explained that the voltage between the gate and the source (VGS) controlled whether the transistor was on or off, and that putting 5v on the gate would turn it on fairly well. I then got out an AOI518 nFET and stuck it in my breadboard, explaining the orientation to allow using the other holes to connect to the source, gate, and drain.

I mentioned that different FETs have the order of the pins different, so one has to look up the pinout on data sheet. I pulled up the AOI518 data sheet, which has on the first page “RDS(ON) (at VGS = 4.5V) < 11.9mΩ”. I explained that if we were putting a whole amp through the FET (we’re not doing anywhere near that much current), the voltage drop would be 11.9mV, so the power dissipated in the transistor would be only 11.9mW, not enough to get it warm. I mentioned that more current would result in more power being dissipated (I2R), and that the FETs could get quite warm. I passed around my other breadboard which has six melted holes from FETs getting quite hot when I was trying to debug the class-D amplifier design. The students were surprised that the FETs still worked after getting that hot (I must admit that I was also).

I hooked up the AOI518 nFET using double-headed male header pins and female jumper cables, and the motor alternated on for 3 seconds, off for one second. We now had the transistor controlling the motor, so it was time to switch to PWM. I went to the Arduino reference page and looked around for PWM, finding it on analogWrite(). I clicked that link and we looked at the page, seeing that analog Write was like digitalWrite, except that we could put in a value from 0 to 255 that controlled what fraction of the time the pin was high.

I edited the code, changing the first digitalWrite() to analogWrite(nFET_GATE_PIN, 255), and commenting out the rest of the loop. We downloaded that, and it turned the motor on, as expected. I then tried writing 128, which still turned the motor on, but perhaps not as strongly (hard to tell with no load). Writing 50 resulted in the motor not starting. Writing 100 let the motor run if I started it by hand, but wouldn’t start the motor from a dead stop. I used this opportunity to point out that controlling the motor was not linear—1/5th didn’t run at 1/5th speed, but wouldn’t run the motor at all.

Next we switched over to doing sensors (with only 10 minutes left in the class). I got out the pressure sensor and instrumentation amp from the circuits course and hooked it up. The screwdriver I had packed in the box had too large a blade for the 0.1″ screw terminals, but luckily the tiny screwdriver on my Swiss Army knife (tucked away in the corkscrew) was small enough. After hooking up the pressure sensor to A0, I downloaded the Arduino Data Logger to the Uno, and started it from a terminal window. I set the triggering to every 100msec (which probably should be the default for the data logger), the input to A0, and convert to volts. I then demoed the pressure sensor by blowing into or sucking on the plastic tube hooked up to the sensor. With the low-gain output from the amplifier, the output swung about 0.5 v either way from the 2.5v center. Moving the A0 wire over to the high-gain output of the amplifier gave a more visible signal. I also turned off the “convert to volts” to show the students the values actually read by the Arduino (511 and 512, the middle of the range from 0 to 1023).

Because the class was over at that point, I offered to stay for another 10 minutes to show them how to use the pressure sensor to control the motor. One or two students had other classes to run to, but most stayed. I then wrote a program that would normally have the motor off, but would turn it full on if I got the pressure reading up to 512+255 and would turn it on partway (using PWM) between 512 and 512+255. I made several typos when entering the program (including messing up the braces and putting in an extraneous semicolon), but on the third compilation it downloaded successfully and controlled the motor as expected.

One student asked why the motor was off when I wasn’t blowing into the tube, so I explained about 512 being the pressure reading when nothing was happening (neither blowing into the tube nor sucking on it). I changed the zero point for the motor to a pressure reading of 300, so that the motor was normally most of the way on, but could be turned off by sucking on the tube. Here is the program we ended up with

#define nFET_GATE_PIN (3)

void setup()
{   pinMode(nFET_GATE_PIN, OUTPUT);
    pinMode(A0, INPUT);

void loop()
{ int pressure;
  if (pressure < 300)
  {    digitalWrite(nFET_GATE_PIN,LOW);  // turn motor off
  {   if (pressure>300+255)
      { digitalWrite(nFET_GATE_PIN,HIGH);  // turn motor on full
      {    analogWrite(nFET_GATE_PIN,pressure-300); // turn motor partway on

Note: this code is not an example of brilliant programming style. I can see several things that I would have done differently if I had had time to think about the code, but for this blog it is more useful to show the actual artifact that was developed in the demo, even if it makes me cringe a little.

Overall, I thought that the demo went well, despite being completely extemporaneous. Running over by 10 minutes might have been avoidable, but only by omitting something useful (like the feedback on the design reports). The demo itself lasted about 70 minutes, making the whole class run 80 minutes instead of 70. I think I compressed the demo about as much as was feasible for the level the students were at.

Based on how the students developed the first motor-control program quickly in class, I think that some of them are beginning to get some of the main ideas of programming: explicit instructions and sequential ordering. Because we were out of time by the point I got to using conditionals, I did not get a chance to probe their understanding there.

2013 July 2

Pressure sensor with air pump

I’ve been thinking of expanding the pressure sensor lab for the Applied Circuits Course to do something more than just measure breath pressure.  Perhaps something that conveys another physics or engineering concept.

One thing I thought of doing was measuring the back pressure and air flow on an aquarium air pump bubbling air into an aquarium. Looking at the tradeoff of flow-rate and back pressure would be a good characterization of an air pump (something I wish was clearly shown in advertisements for aquarium air pumps and air stones).  Measuring flow rate is a bit of a pain—about the best I could think of was to bubble air into an inverted soda bottle (or other known volume) and time it.

This would be a good physics experiment and might even make a decent middle-school product-science science fair project (using a cheap mechanical low-pressure gauge, rather than an electronic pressure sensor), but setting up tanks of water in an electronics lab is a logistic nightmare, and I don’t think I want to go there.

I can generate back pressure with just a simple clamp on the hose, though, and without a flow rate measurement we could do everything completely dry.

Setup for measuring the back pressure for an aquarium air pump (needs USB connection for data logger and power).

Setup for measuring the back pressure for an aquarium air pump (needs USB connection for data logger and power).

Using the Arduino data loggger my son wrote, I recorded the air pressure while adjusting the clamp (to get the y-axis scale correct, I had to use the estimated gain of the amplifier based on resistor sizes used in the amplifier).

The peak pressure, with the clamp sealing the hose shut, seems to be about 14.5 kPa (2.1psi).

The peak pressure, with the clamp sealing the hose shut, seems to be about 14.5 kPa (2.1psi).

I was interested in the fluctuation in the pressure, so I set the clamp to get about half the maximum back pressure, then recorded with the Arduino data logger set to its highest sampling frequency (1ms/sample).

The fluctuation in back pressure seems to have both a 60Hz and a 420Hz component.

The fluctuation in back pressure seems to have both a 60Hz and a 420Hz component with back pressure at about half maximum.

Because the Arduino data logger has trouble dealing with audio frequency signals, I decided to take another look at the signals using the Bitscope pocket analyzer.

The waveform for the pressure fluctuations from the AQT3001 air pump, with the backpressure about 7kPa (half the maximum).

The waveform for the pressure fluctuations from the AQT3001 air pump, with the back pressure about 7.5kPa (half the maximum).

One advantage of using the Bitscope is that it has FFT analysis:

Spectrum for the back pressure fluctuation.  One can see many of the multiples of 60Hz, with the particularly strong peak at 420Hz.

Spectrum for the back pressure fluctuation. One can see many of the multiples of 60Hz, with the particularly strong peak at 420Hz.

I was also interested in testing a Whisper40 air pump (a more powerful, but quieter, pump). When I clamped the hose shut for that air pump, the hi-gain output of the amplifier for the pressure sensor saturated, so I had to use the low gain output to determine the maximum pressure (24.8kPA, or about 3.6psi). The cheap Grafco clamp that I used is a bit hard to get complete shutoff with (I needed to adjust the position of the tubing and use pliers to turn the knob).  It is easy to get complete shutoff if the tube is folded over, but then modulation of less than complete shutoff is difficult.

The fluctuation in pressure shows a different waveform from the AQT3001:

The Whisper40 air pump, with the clamp set to get about half the maximum back pressure, produces a 60Hz sawtooth pressure waveform, without the strong 420Hz component seen from the AQT3001.

The Whisper40 air pump, with the clamp set to get a bit less than half the maximum back pressure, produces a 60Hz sawtooth pressure waveform, without the strong 420Hz component seen from the AQT3001. The peak-to-peak fluctuation in pressure seems to be largest around this back pressure. The 3kPa fluctuation is larger than for the AQT3001, but the pump seems quieter.

The main noise from the pump is not from the fluctuation in the pressure in the air hose, but radiation from the case of the pump. That noise seems to be least when the back pressure is about 1.1kPa (not at zero, surprisingly). The fluctuation is then all positive pressure, ranging from 0 to 2.2kPa and is nearly sinusoidal, with some 2nd and 3rd harmonic.

As the back pressure increases for the Whisper40, the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th harmonics get larger, but the 60Hz fundamental gets smaller. The 4th harmonic is maximized (with the 1st through 4th harmonics almost equal) at about 22.8kPa, above which all harmonics get smaller, until the air hose is completely pinched off and there is no pressure variation.

When driving the large airstone in our aquarium, the Whisper40 has a back pressure of about 7.50kPa (1.1psi) with a peak-to-peak fluctuation of about 2.6kPa.

I’m not sure whether this air-pump back-pressure experiment is worth adding to the pressure sensor lab.  If I decide to do it, we would need to get a dozen cheap air pumps.  The Tetra 77853 Whisper 40 air pump is $11.83 each from Amazon, but the smaller one for 10-gallon aquariums is only $6.88.  With 12 Ts and 12 clamps, this would cost about $108, which is not a significant cost for the lab.

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