The Race to Develop Technology that Enhances Elder Care

It happens with every generation – we’re born, our parents care for us and nurture us, we grow up, they grow old, and then we switch roles and care for them. Soon it’ll be my turn to be the caregiver to my parents, and I recently got a preview of things to come when my mom fell and busted her ankle. That it wasn’t the classic broken hip was a relief, but even “just” a broken ankle was difficult enough to deal with. I live 40 minutes away from the ‘rents, and while that’s not too bad when the visits are just the weekly dinner at Grammy’s, the time and the miles really start to add up when the visits turn into every other day to make sure Mom’s getting around OK and Dad is eating and sleeping.

I was sorely tempted to hack some kind of solution to give myself a rudimentary telepresence, but I couldn’t think of anything that wouldn’t have either been unacceptably intrusive (think webcams) or difficult to support from an IT perspective. Mom’s pretty handy with the iPad and she Skypes with my brother and his family out in California, but beyond leveraging that I was tapped out for ideas that I could easily deploy and would deliver sufficient value beyond the support burden within the time frame of healing the ankle. Consequently, I spent a lot of time in the car this summer.

This experience got me to thinking about how intergenerational caregiving will change with the rise of pervasive technology. The bad news: we’re still going to get old, and getting old sucks. The good news is, I think technology is going to make things easier for caregivers and elders alike. We have an incredible range of technology experiences among the generations present right now, from my parents who can remember phones without dials and nights spent listening to the radio, to my daughter’s generation that is practically growing up with supercomputers in the palms of their hands. How each generation ages and how it embraces technology as a solution for age-related problems are going to be vastly different.

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Data Logging in the Picoampere Range

You probably know that to transfer the most energy between a source and a load their impedance needs to match. That’s why a ham radio transmitter needs a 50 ohm antenna (at least, usually). The transmitter is 50 ohms and you want a match. Some test equipment matches impedance, but for multimeters, oscilloscopes and a lot of other gear, the instrument just presents a very large impedance. As long as it is much larger than the measured circuit’s impedance, the effect will be small.

With today’s MOSFET instrumentation amplifiers, it isn’t uncommon to see very high input impedances.  However, you sometimes run into something that has a low input Z and that can cause issues if you don’t account for them. On the other hand, where some people see issues, others see opportunities.

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GoGo Starts Testing New In-Flight Internet Technology

GoGo, the largest provider of Internet above 30,000 feet, has announced they are now testing their next generation of in-flight Internet.

Of special interest in the new 2Ku system is the antennas strapped to the top of a GoGo-equipped plane’s fuselage. These antennas form a mechanically-phased-array that are more efficient than previous antennas and can provide more bandwidth for frequent fliers demanding better and faster Internet.

The Antenna Pod
The Antenna Pod

Currently, GoGo in-flight wireless uses terrestrial radio to bring the Internet up to 35,000 feet. Anyone who has flown recently will tell you this is okay, but you won’t be binging on Nexflix for your next cross country flight. The new system promises speeds up to 70Mbps, more than enough for a cabin full of passengers to be pacified by electronic toys. The 2Ku band does this with a satellite connection – much faster, but it does have a few drawbacks.

Because the 2Ku system provides Internet over a satellite connection, ping times will significantly increase. The satellites GoGo is using orbit at 22,000 miles above Earth, or about 0.1 light seconds away from the plane. Double that, and your ping times will increase by at least 200ms compared to a terrestrial radio connection.

While this is just fine for email and streaming, it does highlight the weaknesses and strengths of mobile Internet.

Hackaday Prize Semifinalist: CANcrusher

In 2007, everyone discovered you could blink an LED with an Arduino. A few years after that, someone discovered you could make a PID controller work with an Arduino, and a great number of sous vide cooker hacks showed up on the Internet. Trends in electronics projects come and go, and this year we have CANbus sniffers and development platforms. One of these CAN dev platforms, CANcrusher, is a semifinalist for the Hackaday Prize, and does a great job at poking and prodding a CANbus.

Like a lot of very excellent projects, the CANcrusher is based on a Teensy 3.1 microcontroller. This, along with the MCP2515 CAN controller gives the CANcrusher three independent CAN channels supporting DW-CAN, SW-CAN, and LSFT. The software for the device can stream data directly to a computer over USB.

Simply providing an interface for a CAN bus is something that has been done to death, and to improve upon the many CANbus projects out there, the CANcrusher is adding Bluetooth, a GSM radio, SD datalogging, and a real time clock. It’s a great project for the Hackaday Prize with multiple videos explaining how it works and what it can do. You can check out the entry video for the CANcrusher below.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

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Two-Axis Solar Tracker

Solar panels are an amazing piece of engineering, but without exactly the right conditions they can be pretty fickle. One of the most important conditions is that the panel be pointed at the sun, and precise aiming of the panel can be done with a solar tracker. Solar trackers can improve the energy harvesting ability of a solar panel by a substantial margin, and now [Jay] has a two-axis tracker that is also portable.

The core of the project is a Raspberry Pi, chosen after [Jay] found that an Arduino didn’t have enough memory for all of the functionality that he wanted. The Pi and the motor control electronics were stuffed into a Pelican case for weatherproofing. The actual solar tracking is done entirely in software, only requiring a latitude and longitude in order to know where the sun is. This is much easier (and cheaper) than relying on GPS or an optical system for information about the location of the sun.

Be sure to check out the video below of the solar tracker in action. Even without the panel (or the sun, for that matter) the tracker is able to precisely locate the panel for maximum energy efficiency. And, if you’d like to get even MORE power from your solar panel, you should check out a maximum power point tracking system as well.

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ESP8266 In Commercial Products

The hobbyist electronics market is still tiny, and even though random companies are coming out with some very interesting hardware, these parts and components aren’t exactly meant for us. The ESP8266 WiFi module is a slight deviation from this trend, with hundreds of different ESP dev boards floating around, and weirdos buying them by the bag.

[4ndreas] finally found the ESP8266 in a product; it’s not a very noteworthy observation until you realize how much work has gone into the development of open source toolchains for the ESP.

[4ndreas] found an RGB LED strip on Ali Express that could be controlled by WiFi. Inside, he found everyone’s favorite WiFi module, and by shorting two pins, he started up the controller in bootloader mode.

Because of the massive amount of open source development surrounding the ESP8266, there are a host of tools that can be used to program this cheap LED controller. [4ndreas] took a swing at writing his own firmware for the controller and came up with this project.

It’s not a killer project, but it does demonstrate the power of open source toolchains for cheap WiFi modules. This is only the first product found with an ESP8266 inside, but there are undoubtedly others out there just waiting to be taken apart and controlled in more advanced ways.

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Raspberry Pi Halt and Catch… Well, Halt

As far back as we can remember, there have always been hacks, exploits, and just curiosity about undocumented CPU instructions. The Z80 had them. Even the HP41C calculator had some undocumented codes. The HCF (Halt and Catch Fire) instruction was apocryphal, but we always heard the old video controller chips could be coaxed into blowing up certain monitors. You don’t hear too much about things like that lately, perhaps because fewer people are working in assembly language.

[Sergi Àlvarez i Capilla] not only works in assembly language, he was writing an ARM assembler when he noticed something funny. Instructions are built in a regular pattern and some of the patterns were missing. What to do? [Sergi] lost no time trying them out.

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