When we think of exoskeletons, we tend to think along comic book lines: mechanical suits bestowing superhero strength upon the villain. But perhaps more practical uses for exoskeletons exists: restoring the ability to walk, for instance, or as in the case of these exoskeleton shorts, preventing hip fractures by detecting and correcting falls before they happen.
Falls and the debilitating injuries that can result are a cruel fact of life for the elderly, and anything that can potentially mitigate them could be a huge boon to public health. Falls often boil down to loss of balance from slipping, whether it be a loose rug, a patch of ice, or even the proverbial banana peel. The “Active Pelvic Orthosis” developed by [Vito Monaco] and colleagues seeks to sense slips and correct them by applying the correct torque to the hip joints. Looking a little bulky in their prototype form and still tethered to an external computer, the shorts have motors with harmonic drives and angle sensors for each hip, plus accelerometers to detect the kinematic signature of a slip. The researchers discovered that forcing the leg that slipped forward while driving the stable leg back helped reduce the possibility of a fall. The video below shows the shorts in action preventing falls on a slip-inducing treadmill.
At the Hackaday Unconference in Pasadena, we heard from [Raul Ocampo] on his idea for autonomous robots to catch falling seniors. Perhaps wearing the robot will end up being a better idea.
Officially dubbed a “Planar Elliptical Runner,” the bot is a test platform for bipedal locomotion from the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition. Taking inspiration from the gait of an ostrich — we think it looks more like a T. rex or velociraptor, but same difference — [Jerry Pratt]’s team at IHMC have built something pretty remarkable. Contrary to all the bipedal and quadrupedal robots we’ve seen, like Boston Dynamics’ Big Dog and PETMAN, which all fairly bristle with sensors and actuators, the PER is very stripped down.
A single motor runs the entire drive chain using linkages that will look familiar to anyone who has taken an elliptical trainer apart, and there’s not a computer or sensor on board. The PER keeps its balance by what the team calls “reactive resilience”: torsion springs between the drive sprocket and cranks automatically modulate the power to both the landing leg and the swing leg to confer stability during a run. The video below shows this well if you single-frame it starting at 2:03; note the variable angles of the crank arms as the robot works through its stride.
The treadmill tests are constrained by a couple of plastic sheets, but the next version will run free. It’s not clear yet how directional control will be achieved, not is it obvious how the PER will be able to stop running and keep its balance. But it’s an interesting advance in locomotion and we look forward to seeing what IHMC’s next trick will be.
It seems like everyone is building belt grinders these days. You might think [Jeremy Schmidt] is just hoping on the bandwagon, but you’d be wrong. He took a full two years to design the perfect belt grinder for his needs. Now he’s built his perfect beast, and we must say, it’s quite impressive!
[Jeremy] had seen grinders which can tilt, but most of them tilt the entire machine, including the table. He designed his machine with an independent table. This means the belt can be placed at any angle, while the table remains flat. He’s achieved some really interesting finishes with a course grind on a 45-degree angle to the workpiece.
No build is without its problems. In [Jeremy’s] case it was building the box which acts as a receiver for the machine and the tables. Regular square tube stock wasn’t quite rigid enough, so bar stock was the way to go. The first attempt at building the box resulted in a warped tube, due to the stresses of welding. [Jeremy] was more careful the second time, moving from section to section of the four welds. This kept the heat from building up, and the box stayed straight.
The final result is an incredibly rigid machine which definitely will withstand anything that [Jeremy] can throw at it.
We hear a lot about patent portfolios when we scan our morning dose of tech news stories. Rarely a day passes without news of yet another legal clash between shady lawyers or Silicon Valley behemoths, either settling spats between multinationals or the questionable activities of patent trolls.
These huge and well-heeled organisations hold many patents, which they gather either through their staff putting in the hard work to make the inventions, or by acquisition of patents from other inventors. It is not often that a large quantity of patents are amassed by any other means, for example by an individual.
There is one prolific individual inventor and holder of many patents though. He achieved notoriety not through his inventions being successful, but through their seeming impracticability while conforming to the rules of the patent system. His name was [Arthur Paul Pedrick], and he was a retired British patent examiner who filed a vast number of eccentric patents from the early 1960s until his death in the mid 1970s, all of which stretched the boundaries of practicality.
His subject matter was varied, but included a significant number of transport inventions as well as innovations in the field of energy and nuclear physics. We wish there was room to feature them all on these pages, but sadly they are so numerous that it is difficult even to pick the selection we can show you. So sit down, and enjoy the weird and wonderful world of [Pedrick] innovations.
We’re just over a month into the new year, and some people’s resolve on those exercise plans are already dwindling. There’s some good news though. That treadmill can be hacked into a nice belt grinder for your shop.
[Bob]’s treadmill belt grinder is based on a 2.5 horsepower motor he salvaged from a broken, donated treadmill. This motor needs 130 VDC to run, which is a bit of a challenge to generate. Fortunately, lots of treadmills seem to use the same MC-60 motor controller, which is compatible with this motor. Due to the widespread use of this controller, they can be found on eBay for about $30.
With the motor spinning, [Bob] built up a frame for the grinder, added rollers to hold the belt, and a spring based belt tensioner. The motor’s speed set point is controlled by a potentiometer, and the controller varies the power to keep a constant speed. Since the motor is capable of some serious RPM, a tachometer was added for feedback to prevent high-speed belt shredding.
The final result is a very professional looking tool for under $200. What would a grinder like this be used for? Knives of course! 2″ belt grinders are perfect for shaping and grinding knives and swords. In fact, you can see one in use in this sword hack.
It’s funny, how obsessed we are with qualifications these days. Kids go to school and are immediately thrust into a relentless machine of tests, league tables, and exams. They are ruthlessly judged on grades, yet both the knowledge and qualifications those grades represent so often boil down to relatively useless pieces of paper. It doesn’t even end for the poor youngsters when they leave school, for we are now in an age in which when on moving on from school a greater number of them than ever before are expected to go to university. They emerge three years later carrying a student debt and a freshly-printed degree certificate, only to find that all this education hasn’t really taught them the stuff they really need to do whatever job they land.
A gold standard of education is revealed as an expensive piece of paper with a networking opportunity if you are lucky. You need it to get the job, but in most cases the job overestimates the requirement for it. When a prospective employer ignores twenty years of industry experience to ask you what class of degree you got twenty years ago you begin to see the farcical nature of the situation.
In our hackspaces, we see plenty of people engaged in this educational treadmill. From high schoolers desperately seeking to learn something other than simply how to regurgitate the textbook, through university students seeking an environment closer to an industrial lab or workshop, to perhaps most interestingly those young people who have eschewed university and gone straight from school into their own startups.
When you mention Shenzhen, many people think about electronic gadgets, cheap components, manufacturing, and technology. I’m there quite often and find that all of the technology and manufacturing related stress can be overwhelming at times. Sometimes I feel the need to escape it all so I go to markets and places that aren’t traditionally associated with technology so I can clear my head as well as expose myself to something different. It provides me with a constant source of new design ideas and also allows me to escape the persistent tech treadmill that Shenzhen runs on. There are a lot of places in Shenzhen that I consider hidden gems that don’t get a lot of press since mainstream media associates Shenzhen with either factories or technology. Here are my favorite places to window shop and de-stress in Shenzhen.