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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Cyborg Olympics is Coming this Fall

You heard right. There’s a team of scientists in Europe who are arranging the world’s first Cyborg Olympics, called the Cybathlon. Hosted in Zurich this October, it aims to help gauge the performance and advancement in the latest developments of prosthesis and other devices that can augment human ability beyond what is considered normal or baseline.

The best example of this is [Oscar Pistorius] — the man with fiberglass spring legs. He’s a double amputee who can run at an Olympic level — or maybe even faster. With the Cybathlon, his prosthesis would not only be accepted, but encouraged to help demonstrate and further the technology by adding a competitive angle to the companies manufacturing them.  Continue reading “Cyborg Olympics is Coming this Fall”

Enzymes From The Deep – The Polymerase

Our bodies rely on DNA to function, it’s often described as “the secret of life”. A computer program that describes how to make a man. However inaccurate these analogies might be, DNA is fundamental to life. In order for organisms to grown and replicate they therefore need to copy their DNA.

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DNA structure and replication

Since the discovery of its structure in 1953, the approximate method used to copy DNA has been obvious. The information in DNA is encoded in 4 nucleotides (which in their short form we call A,T,G, and C). These couple with each other in pairs, forming 2 complimentary strands that mirror each other. This structure naturally lends itself to replication. The two strands can dissociate (under heat we call this melting), and new strands form around each single stranded template.

However, this replication process can’t happen all by itself, it requires assistance. And it wasn’t until we discovered an enzyme called the DNA polymerase that we understood how this worked. In conjunction with other enzymes, double stranded DNA is unwound into 2 single strands which are replicated by the polymerase.

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Hacker Straightens Own Teeth

So you say your wonky smile has you feeling a bit self-conscious? And that your parents didn’t sock away a king’s ransom for orthodontia? Well, if you have access to some fairly common fab-lab tools, and you have the guts to experiment on yourself, why not try hacking your smile with DIY braces?

First of all: just – don’t. Really. But if you’re curious about how [Amos Dudley] open-sourced his face, this is one to sink your teeth into. A little research showed [Amos] how conventional “invisible” braces work: a 3D model is made of your mouth, each tooth is isolated in the model, and a route from the current position to the desired position is plotted. Clear plastic trays that exert forces on the teeth are then 3D printed, and after a few months of nudging teeth around, you’ve got a new smile. [Amos] replicated this hideously expensive process by creating a cast of his teeth, laser scanning it, manipulating the teeth in 3D modeling software, and 3D printing a series of intermediate choppers. The prints were used to vacuum mold clear plastic trays, and with a little Dremel action they were ready to wear. After 16 weeks of night and day wear, the results are pretty amazing – a nicely aligned smile, and whiter teeth to boot, since the braces make great whitening trays.

Considering how badly this could have turned out, we’ve got to hand it to [Amos] for having the guts to try this. And maybe he’s onto something – after all, we’ve advocated for preemptive 3D scanning of our bodies recently, and what [Amos] did with this hack is a step beyond that.

[LupusMechanicus], thanks for the tip!