Many of us will have seen robotics or prosthetics operated by the electrical impulses detected from a person’s nerves, or their brain. In one form or another they are a staple of both mass-market technology news coverage and science fiction.
The point the TV journalists and the sci-fi authors fail to address though is this: how does it work? On a simple level they might say that the signal from an individual nerve is picked up just as though it were a wire in a loom, and sent to the prosthetic. But that’s a for-the-children explanation which is rather evidently not possible with a few electrodes on the skin. How do they really do it?
A project from [Bruce Land]’s Cornell University students [Michael Haidar], [Jason Hwang], and [Srikrishnaa Vadivel] seeks to answer that question. They’ve built an interface that allows them to control a robotic hand using signals gathered from electrodes placed on their forearms. And their write-up is a fascinating read, for within that project lie a multitude of challenges, of which the hand itself is only a minor one that they solved with an off-the-shelf kit.
The interface itself had to solve the problem of picking up the extremely weak nerve impulses while simultaneously avoiding interference from mains hum and fluorescent lights. They go into detail about their filter design, and their use of isolated power supplies to reduce this noise as much as possible.
Even with the perfect interface though they still have to train their software to identify different finger movements. Plotting the readings from their two electrodes as axes of a graph, they were able to map graph regions corresponding to individual muscles. Finally, the answer that displaces the for-the-children explanation.
There are several videos linked from their write-up, but the one we’re leaving you with below is a test performed in a low-noise environment. They found their lab had so much noise that they couldn’t reliably demonstrate all fingers moving, and we think it would be unfair to show you anything but their most successful demo. But it’s also worth remembering how hard it was to get there.
We get a lot of press releases at Hackaday, but this one was horrific enough that we thought it was worth sharing. Apparently, some kids are accidentally eating lithium coin cell batteries. When this happens with bigger cells, usually greater than 20 millimeters (CR2032, CR2025, and CR2016) really bad things happen. Like burning esophaguses, and even death.
The National Capital Poison Center has done some research on this, and found that 14% of batteries swallowed over the past two years came from flameless candles like the ones above. We know some of our readers also deal with batteries in open trays, which are apparently pretty dangerous for children.
The National Capital Poison Center’s website has an entire page dedicated to battery safety, which is probably worth a read if you deal with batteries and small children on a regular basis. Should an incident occur, there’s even a hotline to call for assistance.
So, please, don’t swallow batteries, or let children put them in their mouths. After the break, a Canadian PSA song about not putting things in your mouth.
Life as a parent is never easy, but when you’ve got a kid with Type 1 diabetes it’s a little harder. Sometimes it feels like a full-time job in itself; there’s never a break. With carb counts and insulin ratios that change throughout the day, every meal is a medical procedure. A romp in the snow or a long bike ride can send her blood glucose plummeting. The overnights are the worst, though, because you never know if you overestimated the number of carbs at dinner and gave her too much insulin. Low blood glucose is easily treated with a few sips of juice, but if it goes unnoticed in the middle of the night, it could be fatal. That’s why parents of diabetics are always a little glassy eyed — we rarely sleep.
Why is all this necessary? It’s because Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is an autoimmune disease that attacks the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. Once those cells are dead, insulin is no longer produced, and without insulin the rest of the cells in the body can’t take in the glucose that they need to live. Diabetics have to inject just the right amount of insulin at just the right time to coincide with the blood glucose spike that occurs after meals. Knowing how much to give and when is why we say we have to “learn to think like a pancreas.”
Things are better than they used to be, for sure. Insulin pumps have been a game changer for T1Ds. An insulin pump is just a tiny syringe pump. A small motor moves the plunger on a disposable syringe filled with a few days worth of insulin. The hormone is delivered through a small catheter placed under the skin every few days — painful, but better than a needle stick with every meal and snack. A computer keeps track of everything and provides safety against overdosing on insulin, so it’s terribly convenient, but we still need to “think like a pancreas” and calculate the amount to deliver.
Even with its shortcomings, my daughter’s pump has been a blessing, and I’ll do whatever it takes to keep her in the latest gear. Pumps generally cost about $5000 or so, and need to be replaced every three years. While I’m not looking forward to paying the bill when her current pump gives up the ghost, I am certainly keen to do a teardown on the old one. I suspect it’s dead simple in there — a tiny gear motor, some kind of limit switches, and a main board. It’ll be painful to see how little my money buys, but it’ll be cool to play around with it.
Bodo Hoenen and his family had an incredible scare. His daughter, Lorelei, suddenly became ill and quickly went from a happy and healthy girl to one fighting just to breathe and unable to move her own body. The culprit was elevated brain and spinal pressure due to a condition called AFM. This is a rare polio-like condition which is very serious, often fatal. Fortunately, Lorelei is doing much better. But this health crisis resulted in nearly complete paralysis of her left upper arm.
Taking an active role in the health of your child is instinctual with parents. Bodo’s family worked with health professionals to develop therapies to help rehabilitate Lorelei’s arm. But researching the problem showed that success in this area is very rare. So like any good hacker he set out to see if they could go beyond the traditional to build something to increase Lorelei’s odds.
What resulted is a wearable prosthesis which assists elbow movement by detecting the weak signals from her bicep and tricep to control an actuator which moves her arm. Help came in from all over the world during the prototyping process and the project, which was the topic of Bodo Hoenen’s talk at the Hackaday SuperConference, is still ongoing. Check that out below and the join us after the break for more details.
What with wearable tech, haptic feedback, implantable devices, and prosthetic limbs, the boundary between man and machine is getting harder and harder to discern. If you’re going to hack in this space, you’re going to need to know a little about electromyography, or the technique of sensing the electrical signals which make muscles fire. This handy tutorial on using an Arduino to capture EMG signals might be just the thing.
In an article written mainly as a tutorial to other physiatrists, [Dr. George Marzloff] covers some ground that will seem very basic to the seasoned hacker, but there are still valuable tidbits there. His tutorial build centers around a MyoWare Muscle Sensor and an Arduino Uno. The muscle sensor has snap connectors for three foam electrodes of the type used for electrocardiography, and outputs a rectified and integrated waveform that represents the envelope of the electrical signal traveling to a muscle. [Dr. Marzloff]’s simple sketch just reads the analog output of the sensor and lights an LED if it detects a muscle contraction, but the sky’s the limit once you have the basic EMG interface. Prosthetic limbs, wearable devices, diagnostic tools, virtual reality — the possibilities are endless.
We don’t think of the human body as a piece of electronics, but a surprising amount of our bodies work on electricity. The heart is certainly one of these. When you think about it, it is pretty amazing. A pump the size of your fist that has an expected service life of nearly 100 years.
All that electrical activity is something you can monitor and–if you know what to look for–irregular patterns can tell you if everything is OK in there. [Ohoilett] is a graduate student in the biomedical field and he shares some simple circuits for reading electrocardiogram (ECG) data. You can see a video fo the results, below.
The build is pretty cool. She had to give up her passenger seat, but it’s a small price to pay for independence. He removed the door paneling on the passenger side. Then he welded on a few mounting points. Next he had to build the device.
The well-built device has a deceptively simple appearance. The frame is made from CNC milled panels and the ever popular aluminum extrusion. It uses a 12V right angle drive and some belting to lift the chair. There’s no abundance of fancy electronics here. A toggle switch changes the direction of the motor. There are some safety endstops and an e-stop.
Now all she has to do is strap the walker to the door. She picks the direction she wants the lift to go and presses a button. After which she walks the short distance to the driver’s seat, and cruises away.