Saving Lives with Open-Source Electrocardiography

A few months ago, MobilECG wowed us with a formidable electrocardiograph (ECG, also EKG) machine in the format of a business card, complete with an OLED display. We’ve seen business card hacks before, but that was the coolest. But that’s peanuts compared with the serious project that it supports: making an open-source ECG machine that can actually save lives by being affordable enough to be where it’s needed, when it’s needed.

The project, MobilECG, is an open-source, wearable device that supports all of the major ECG modes. In their talk, [Péter Isza] and [Róbert Csordás] taught us a lot about what that exactly entails and how the heart works. We learned a lot, and we’ll share some of that with you after the break.

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Passwords? Just Use Your Head!

Biometrics–the technique of using something unique about your body as a security device–promises to improve safety while being more convenient than a password. Fingerprints, retinal scans, and voice identification have all found some use, although not without limitations.

Now researchers in Germany want you to use your head, literally. SkullConduct measures vibrations of your skull in response to a sonic signal. A small prototype was successful and is particularly well suited for something you are holding up to your head anyway, like a smartphone or a headset like a Google Glass.

There are some limitations, though. For one thing, background noise can be a factor. It stands to reason, also, that more testing is necessary.

This looks straightforward enough that you could try your own version of it. After all, scanning veins in your hand has been hacked. We’ve even seen a biometric safe.

Poopable Cameras

Pill cameras, devices for ‘capsule endoscopy’, or in much cruder terms, ‘poopable cameras’, are exceedingly cool technology. They’re astonishingly small, communicate through a gastrointestinal tract to the outside world, and have FDA certification. These three facts also mean pill cameras are incredible expensive, but that doesn’t mean a hardware hacker can’t build their own, and that’s exactly what [friarbayliff] is doing for his entry into The Hackaday Prize.

First things first: [friarbayliff] is not building one of these for human consumption. That’s a morass of regulatory requirements and ethical issues. This pill camera is only being built as an experiment, because it would be fun to build one. The pill cams swallowed by patients every day have millions of dollars in R&D behind them before human trials. That said, given a good food-safe enclosure, I’d down one of these as an experiment.

This pill camera will use a simple, off-the-shelf 2 megapixel image sensor that can be bought on eBay for less than five dollars. With a small 32-bit micro, these cameras are easy to drive and capture images from. Power is provided from a single silver oxide button cell battery and a boost converter. In total, [friarbayliff] estimates the total PCB area to be just under one square inch, making this a relatively inexpensive device to build. There will be a radio transceiver in there somewhere, but [friar] hasn’t figure that part out yet.

Pill cameras are some amazing technology, but relatively inaccessible unless you get a used one. Ew. [Mike Harrison] tore one of these pill cams apart a few years ago, and it really is an incredible device. Building one for fun – even if it won’t be used in a human – is a fantastic learning experience and a great entry for the 2016 Hackaday Prize.

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Custom Media Player Helps Hacker’s Autistic Son

Getting to play with technology is often the only justification a hacker needs to work on a build. But when your build helps someone, especially your own special-needs kid, hacking becomes a lot more that playing. That’s what’s behind this media player customized for the builder’s autistic son.

People generally know that the symptoms of autism cover a broad range of behaviors and characteristics that center around socialization and communication. But a big component of autism spectrum disorders is that kids often show very restricted interests. While [Alain Mauer] doesn’t go into his son [Scott]’s symptoms, our guess is that this media player is a way to engage his interests. The build came about when [Alain] was unable to find a commercially available media player that was simple enough for his son to operate and sturdy enough to put up with some abuse. A Raspberry Pi came to the rescue, along with the help of some custom piezo control buttons, a colorful case, and Shin Chan. The interface allows [Scott] to scroll through a menu of cartoons and get a preview before the big show. [Scott] is all smiles in the video below, and we’ll bet [Alain] is too.

Pi-based media player builds are a dime a dozen on Hackaday, but one that helps kids with autism is pretty special. The fact that we’ve only featured a few projects aimed at autistics, like this 2015 Hackaday Prize entry, is surprising. Maybe you can come up with something like [Alain]’s build for the 2016 Hackaday Prize.

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Weight Tracking, Wise Cracking IoT Bathroom Scale

For those fighting the battle of the bulge, the forced discipline of fitness bands and activity tracking software might not be enough motivation. Some who are slimming down need a little gentle encouragement to help you lose weight and keep it off. If that sounds like you, then by all means avoid building this weight-tracking IoT scale with an attitude.

Then again, if you live in fear of your scale, [Jamie Bailey]’s version is easy to hate, at least when your numbers are going in the wrong direction. Centered around a second-hand Wii Balance Board talking to a Raspberry Pi via Bluetooth, the scale really only captures your weight and sends it up to InitialState for tracking and feedback. Whether the feedback is in the form of jokes at your expense is, of course, is entirely up to you; if you’d rather get gentle nudges and daily affirmations, just edit a few files. Or if your tastes run more toward “Yo momma so fat” jokes, have at it.

Bathroom scales are a good hacking target, whether it’s reverse engineering a digital scale or eavesdropping on a smart scale. This build is snarky good fun, and if nothing else, it’s good for pranking your roommate. Unless your roommate is your husband or wife, of course. That’s just – no.

A Developer’s Kit for Medical Ultrasound

From watching a heart valve in operation to meeting your baby before she’s born, ultrasound is one of the most valuable and least invasive imaging tools of modern medicine. You pay for the value, of course, with ultrasound machines that cost upwards of $100k, and this can put them out of reach in many developing countries. Sounds like a problem for hackers to solve, and to help that happen, this 2016 Hackaday prize entry aims to create a development kit to enable low-cost medical ultrasounds.

PhysicalSpaceDeveloped as an off-shoot from the open-source echOpen project, [kelu124]’s Murgen project aims to enable hackers to create an ultrasound stethoscope in the $500 price range. A look at the test bench reveals that not much specialized equipment is needed. Other than the Murgen development board itself, everything on the test bench is standard issue stuff. Even the test target, an ultrasound image of which leads off this article, is pretty common stuff – a condom filled with tapioca and agar. The Murgen board itself is a cape for a BeagleBone Black, and full schematics and code are available.

We’ll be paying close attention to what comes out of the ultrasound dev kit. Perhaps something as cool as this augmented reality ultrasound scope?

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Universities Envision Flying Beetle Swarms; But Crawl Before You Fly

Researchers at Nanyang Technical University and the University of California at Berkley wanted to answer the question: how do you make a small drone that can fly all day? The problem is that a drone needs a battery or other energy source, but a big battery needs a big drone.

Their answer? Take a giant beetle and strap enough electronics onboard to deliver tiny shocks to direct the insect’s flight. The tiny shocks don’t take much power and once the beetle is on course, no further shock is necessary unless the human pilot needs to correct the direction. Recent work allows a similar controller to control each leg of the beetle, turning it into a more versatile flying or walking cyborg.

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