All About Biosignals

DIY medical science is fun stuff. One can ferret out many of the electrical signals that make the body run with surprisingly accessible components and simple builds. While the medical community predictably dwells on the healthcare uses of such information, the hacker is free to do whatever he or she wants.

A good first start is to look at the relatively strong electrical signals coming off of the heart and other muscles. [Bernd Porr] has put together a simple bioamplifier circuit, and his students have made a series of videos explaining its use that’s well worth your time if you are interested in these things.
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Swedish Senior Rolls in Style with Hybrid Hoverboard Walker

You don’t have to know a word Swedish to understand that 86-year old [Lasse Thörn] is the coolaste modernaste pensionären in Gränna. All you have to do is see him rolling on his walker-assisted hoverboard and you’ve got the whole story.

Still, not knowing any Swedish and the spotty nature of Google translations makes it hard to discern the details of this build. Did [Lasse] build the folding aluminum bracket that connects the battery-powered hoverboard to his walker himself? We guess that he did, since another story says that he built a pedal boat back in the 1950s because he thought it sounded cool. He also says that he gets a lot of attention when he’s out on his contraption, and that other seniors have asked him to build one. [Lasse] says he’s too old to start a business; we don’t think he’s giving himself enough credit, but if he’s willing to leave the field of affordable personal mobility open to the rest of us, we say go for it.

We’ve seen lots of hoverboard builds lately, and lots of hate in the comments about the use of that term. Seems like the false advertising vibe grates on folks, but face it: “rolling wheelie board” is kind of awkward, and until technology catches up with the laws of physics, it’s the best we’re going to do.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Helping Millions See Clearly

Slit lamps are prohibitively expensive in the third world areas of India where they are most needed. An invention that’s been around for over a hundred years, the slit lamp is a simple-in-concept way to see and diagnose a large array of ocular issues.

Since they are relatively old by technological standards, the principles behind them have become more and more understood as time has gone on. While a nice lab version with a corneal microscope is certainly better, innovations in manufacturing have brought the theoretical minimum cost of the device way down, or at least that’s what [Kewal Chand Swami] hopes.

His design aims for portability and cost reduction. It must be able to travel to remote locations and it must be significantly cheaper than the lab versions. It uses off-the-shelf lenses in a 3D printed housing with a simple LED torch, the kind you can buy for a dollar at the check-out stand.

The assembly slides onto the user’s head and is held there with straps. The doctor can adjust where the slit the lamp shines and also look through a microscope to diagnose the issue. Hopefully devices like this will see similar community support to the prosthetic projects we’ve covered.

In Bed With an Arduino, Fighting Sleep Apnea

Sometimes the journey is as interesting as the destination, and that’s certainly the case with [Marc]’s pursuit of measuring his sleep apnea (PDF, talk slides. Video embedded below.). Sleep apnea involves periods of time when you don’t breathe or breathe shallowly for as long as a few minutes and affects 5-10% of middle-aged men (half that for women.) [Marc]’s efforts are still a work-in-progress but along the way he’s tried a multitude of things, all involving different technology and bugs to work out. It’s surprising how many ways there are to monitor breathing.

Debugging the Eeonyx conductive fabric approach
Debugging the Eeonyx conductive fabric approach

His attempts started out using a MobSenDat Kit, which includes an Arduino compatible board, and an accelerometer to see just what his sleeping positions were. That was followed by measuring blood O2 saturation using a cheap SPO2 sensor that didn’t work out, and one with Bluetooth that did work but gave results as a graph and not raw data.

Next came measuring breathing by detecting airflow from his nose using a Wind Sensor, but the tubes for getting the “wind” from his nose to the sensor were problematic, though the approach was workable. In parallel with the Wind Sensor he also tried the Zeo bedside sleep manager which involves wearing a headband that uses electrical signals from your brain to tell you what sleep state you’re in. He particularly liked this one as it gave access to the data and even offered some code.

And his last approach we know of was to monitor breathing by putting some form of band around his chest/belly to measure expansion and contraction. He tried a few bands and an Eeonyx conductive textile/yarn turned out to be the best. He did run into noise issues with the Xbee, as well as voltage regulator problems, and a diode that had to be bypassed.

But while [Marc]’s list of approaches to monitor sleep is long, he hasn’t exhausted all approaches. For example there’s monitoring a baby using lasers to detect whether or not the child is still breathing.

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Arduino Meets da Vinci in a Gesture-controlled Surgical Robot

Lots of us get to take home a little e-waste from work once in a while to feed our hacking habits. But some guys have all the luck and score the really good stuff, which is how these robotic surgical tools came to be gesture controlled.

The lucky and resourceful hacker in this case is one [Julien Schuermans], who managed to take home pieces of a multi-million dollar da Vinci Si surgical robot. Before anyone cries “larcency”, [Julien] appears to have come by the hardware legitimately – the wrist units of these robots are consumable parts costing about $2500 each, and are disposed of after 10 procedures. The video below makes it clear how they interface with the robot arm, and how [Julien] brought them to life in his shop. A quartet of Arduino-controlled servos engages drive pins on the wrist and rotates pulleys that move the cables that drive the instruments. A neat trick by itself, but when coupled with the Leap Motion controller, the instruments become gesture controlled. We’re very sure we’d prefer the surgeon’s hands on a physical controller, but the virtual control is surprisingly responsive and looks like a lot of fun.

When we talk about da Vinci around here, it’s usually in reference to 3D printers or a Renaissance-style cryptex build. Unsurprisingly, we haven’t featured many surgical robot hacks – maybe it’s time we started.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Automatic Digital Microscope

Ziehl-Neelsen Sputum Smear Microscopy (ZN) is one of most common methods for diagnosing Tuberculosis. On the equipment side, it requires not much more than an optical microscope, although it still needs a trained professional to look through the glass, identify and count the number of bacteria in a sample. To provide reliable and effective Tuberculosis diagnostic to regions, where both equipment and trained personnel is in short supply, [Rodrigo Loza] and [khalilnallar] are developing an automated digital microscope based on computer vision and machine learning, their entry for the Hackaday Prize.

automated_microscope_detection_1They started out gathering images of Tuberculosis bacteria from the internet and experimented with color threshold algorithms to detect dyed bacteria, as well as algorithms for counting individual and clusters of bacteria. This process alone can, according to the team, take a trained professional 30 minutes or more. A graphical interface highlights identified bacteria and reads the bacteria count.

[Rodrigo Loza] and [khalilnallar] are testing their device at the Dr. Roberto Galindo Teran hospital in Cobija, Bolivia. However, getting access to a lab environment is one thing, and being given access to a steady supply of fresh M. Tuberculosis samples is another. Unable to obtain samples, which they need to test their algorithms on live subjects, they turned to another front of their project: The hardware. In several iterations, they developed a low-cost, 3D-printable kit, which transforms a laboratory-grade optical microscope into an embedded CNC-controlled microscopy platform. Their kit comprises three stepper-motor-based axis for the X, Y and Z direction, as well as a webcam mount. An Intel Edison and a custom, Arduino compatible shield control the system to achieve features such as homing procedures, autofocus and bacteria detection.

The team is currently in the process of refining their bacteria detection pipeline, exploring the feasibility of semi-automated detection methods, machine learning and neural networks for classification of bacteria within the hardware constraints. The video below shows their latest update on the Z-axis of their microscope.

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The Hacker is The Future of the Prosthetic: Hackers Helping Those In Need

Even the city’s welcome sign is held high by two prosthetic arms.

In the show Full Metal Alchemist, there’s a city called Rush Valley whose main and only business are the high performance prostheses called Automail. Engineers roam the street in Rush Valley; the best have their own shop like that of the high-end clothiers in Saville Row. Of course; it’s all fantasy set in a slightly ridiculous Japanese cartoon, but while walking through this year’s Maker Faire I began to wonder if is a future that may come to be.

The problem with prosthetics is the sheer variety of injuries, body types, and solutions needed. If an injury is an inch higher or an inch lower it can have a big effect on how a prosthetic will interact with the limb. If the skin is damaged or the nerves no longer function a different type of prosthesis will be needed. Some prostheses are to replace a lost limb, others are to assist an ailing body in order to return it to normal function. More than a few are simply temporary aides to help the body along in its healing efforts. Unfortunately, this means that it’s often the case that larger companies only sell the prostheses people are most likely to need; the rarer cases are often left without a solution.

The e-Nable project doesn't mess around.
The e-Nable project doesn’t mess around.

However, we see hackers stepping up and not just working on the problems, but solving them. One of our semifinalists last year, openbionics, inspired one of the projects we’ll be talking about later. There are robotic legs. We met a guy at MRRF who has been 3D printing hands for his son from the E-nable project.

Along these lines, we saw two really cool projects at Maker Faire this year: The first is the Motor-Assistive Glove, or MAG. MAG is designed to help people with Peripheral Neropathy regain some use of their hands while they go through the lengthy road to recovery. Perhipheral Neuropathy is a disease, usually resulting from diabetes, toxin exposure, or infection, where the nerves are damaged in such a way that typically the hands and feet are no longer mobile or feel sensation in a useful way. Once the disease is in full swing, a previously able person will find themselves unable to do simple things like hold a can of soda or grasp a doorknob firmly enough to open it.

The Motor Assistive Glove
The Motor Assistive Glove

We had a chance to interview one of the members of the MAG team, [Victor Ardulov], which you can see in the following video. [Victor] and his group started a research project at the University of Santa Cruz to develop the Motor-Assistive Glove. The concept behind it is simple. People with Peripheral Neuropathy typically have some movement in their hands, but no strength. The MAG has some pressure sensors at the tips of the fingers. When the user puts pressure on the pad; the glove closes that finger. When the pressure is off; the glove opens. The concept is simple, but the path to something usable is a long one.

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