Jan 20, 2018 | By David

3D printing technology has been around for a while now, but radio technology has been around for even longer. Tech-minded enthusiasts have been playing around with homemade equipment to pick up radio signals and even make their own broadcasts for decades, and it makes sense that many of these hobbyists would also be taking advantage of what 3D printing has to offer. One such DIY maker, Texas-based Sage Hansen, has recently made his own 3D printed crystal radio, a type of radio that works without batteries or an external power source.

Sometimes known as a ‘cat’s whisker’ receiver, the crystal radio is powered entirely by the electromagnetic signal that it picks up. "AM radio was one of the first ways of transmitting audio to a very broad audience in the early 1900s, but it is still very popular today," Hansen told Digital Trends. It starts with the radio station converting their audio sound waves into electromagnetic waves, which can travel great distances. Each radio station uses a specific frequency that is constant, but the sound waves are mixed so they amplify and modulate the base radio wave. What makes the crystal radio so exciting is how simple the circuit is, and how it can be made out of normal household items."

Hansen used 3D printing technology to put together a simple version of a crystal radio, so that he could demonstrate to people following Youtube channel exactly how they work. He has made the digital 3D models available for free download alongside a detailed tutorial video with animations.

The 3D printed parts of the radio are primarily the base components, with the circuit being the most important part of the crystal radio system. The antenna receives a transmitted AM radio signal, which then passes through a coil of wire. This coil acts as an inductor, determining the frequency. A diode converts the alternating current passing through the coil into a direct current, and this is used to vibrate the piezo speaker in order to create the sound waves that make up the transmitted sounds.

Another important part of the circuit is the ground, and for this Hansen kept it surprisingly simple. A long piece of metal is extended from the circuit to a regular kitchen sink, which works perfectly well as a ground. Hooking up the circuit to the kitchen faucet in this way will earth the charge, making sure the whole system functions as it should.

As an actual working radio, the 3D printed crystal receiver is obviously somewhat limited. It can only receive signals within a certain frequency range, and the unamplified sound that it produces is a bit too quiet, with a lot of static and interference.  On the plus side, this can be used when all your other radio equipment is out of power, and for certain functions it could prove invaluable, or at least a fun diversion.

Mostly the project was an educational endeavour which gave Hansen the chance to show people how straightforward it can be to put together a working radio, and to teach them a bit about the basic mechanics of radios. It’s also another demonstration of how 3D printing can be used to motivate and stimulate the imaginations of enthusiastic hobbyists. The potential to quickly produce cheap, quality components, which can then be used as part of a new piece of technology, has expanded the range of possibilities for DIY makers in a variety of fields.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Ken M wrote at 1/23/2018 8:01:38 PM:

A hobbyist should stay as he is: a hobby ist.

Old enough to know better wrote at 1/22/2018 5:32:07 PM:

Very sad this is news. "3D printer prints frame for crystal radio" should be the title.

Theodore Wirth wrote at 1/21/2018 12:39:17 AM:

I had a rocket-shaped crystal radio back in early 60s that had no power source. It was about 4" long and you extended the nose cone for tuning. That said, why is this a big deal?

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