We don’t think [bleepbit] will take offense when we say the “poor man’s theremin” looks cheesy — after all, it was built in a cheese container. Actually, it isn’t a bad case for a simple device, as you can see in the picture and the video below. Unlike a traditional theremin, the device uses ultrasonics to detect how far away your hand is and modifies the sound based on that.
There are also two buttons — one to turn the sound off and another to cycle through some effects. We liked how it looked like a retro cassette, though. The device uses a cheap Arduino clone, but even with a real Arduino, the price wouldn’t be too bad. However, the price tag quoted doesn’t include a few connectors or the speaker that appears in the schematic. There’s a note that the model built uses a jack instead of a speaker, but it would be nice to include both and use the kind of jack that disconnects the speaker when you plug speakers or headphones in.
The code is simple and there are four possible effects you can cycle through with one of the buttons. Unlike a real theremin, you can trigger this one with anything the ultrasonic sensor can see. The Arduino audio quality is not superb, of course, but it is still a fun rainy day project.
We couldn’t help but think that a 32-bit Arduino could have used one of the sophisticated audio libraries. However, there are other libraries that might improve things even with the 8-bit processor.
Granted, this isn’t a true theremin, but we’ve seen plenty of those, too. We’ve even used the same sensors to control a PC.