Three Thumbs, Way, Way Up!

At least one in their lives — or several times a day — everyone has wished they had a third hand to help them with a given task. Adding a mechanical extra arm to one’s outfit is a big step, so it might make sense to smart small, and first add an extra thumb to your hand.

This is not a prosthetic in the traditional sense, but a wearable human augmentation envisioned by [Dani Clode], a master’s student at London’s Royal College of Art. The thumb is 3D-printed out of Ninjaflex and mounted to a printed brace which slides over the hand. One servo rotates the thumb, and a second pulls it closed using a bowden cable system — not unlike that of a bicycle brake. Control of the thumb is achieved by pressure sensors in the wearer’s shoes, linked via Bluetooth to a wristband hosting the servos and the electronics. We already use our hands and feet in conjunction, so why not capitalize on this intuitive link?

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Wearable Breadboard

We all know what a short circuit is, but [Clement Zheng] and [Manasvi Lalwani] want to introduce you to the shirt circuit. Their goal is to help children, teachers and parents explore and learn electronics. The vehicle is a shirt with a breadboard-like pattern of conductors attaching snaps. Circuit elements reside in stiff felt boxes with matching snaps. You can see it all in action in the video below.

We imagine you could cut the felt pieces out by hand with the included patterns. However, they used a laser cutter to produce the “breadboard” and the component containers. Conductive thread is a must, of course, as are some other craft supplies like glue and regular thread.

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A Minority Report Arduino-Based Hand Controller

Movies love to show technology they can’t really build yet. Even in 2001: A Space Oddessy (released in 1968), for example, the computer screens were actually projected film.  The tablet they used to watch the news looks like something you could pick up at Best Buy this afternoon. [CircuitDigest] saw Iron Man and that inspired him to see if he could control his PC through gestures as they do on that film and so many others (including Minority Report). Although he calls it “virtual reality,” we think of VR as being visually immersed and this is really just the glove, but it is still cool.

The project uses an Arduino on the glove and Processing on the PC. The PC has a webcam which tracks the hand motion and the glove has two Hall effect sensors to simulate mouse clicks. Bluetooth links the glove and the PC. You can see a video of the thing in action, below.

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Visual Scanner Turns Obstacles into Braille

This interesting project out of MIT aims to use technology to help visually impaired people navigate through the use of a haptic feedback belt, chest-mounted sensors, and a braille display.

The belt consists of a vibration motors controlled by what appears to be a Raspberry Pi (for the prototype anyway) with a distance sensor and camera connected as well. The core algorithm is designed to take input from the camera and distance sensors to compute the distance to obstacles, and to buzz the right motor to alert the user — fairly expected stuff. However, the project has a higher goal: to assist in identifying and using chairs.

Aiming to detect the seat and arms, the algorithm looks for three horizontal surfaces near each other, taking extra care to ensure the chair isn’t occupied. The study found that, used in conjunction with a cane, the system noticeably helped users navigate through realistic environments, as measured by minor and major collisions. Users recorded dramatically fewer collisions as compared to using the system alone or the cane alone. The project also calls for a belt-mounted braille display to relay more complicated information to the user.

We at HaD have followed along with several braille projects, including a refreshable braille display, a computer with a braille display and keyboard, and this braille printer.

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Bouncing Pack Eases Those Tired Shoulders

If you are a hillwalker, wherever your preferred stomping ground may be you’ll know the importance of a pack with a good strap system. A comfortable pack will make the difference between tiredness and agony, and can easily add a considerable difference to your daily range.

At Arizona State University’s Human Integration Laboratory, they were approached by the US Army to investigate means by which the effect of carrying a heavy backpack could be mitigated. A soldier’s full kit is extremely heavy, and while the best available webbing systems will make a contribution to the comfort of carrying it, they can only go so far. There is still the jarring effect of the impulse force of such a significant load bearing down on the soldier’s shoulders as it comes down after every step, and this when taken over a lengthy march makes a significant difference to overall endurance.

The ASU lab’s solution was to mount the load on a spring-loaded vertical actuator attached to the pack harness and frame. The on-board microcontroller judges the moment of maximum downward impulse force as the wearer comes down from a step, and applies a corresponding upward force to the actuator. Power comes from a lithium-ion battery pack. The effect is to make the load oscillate up and down, and to lessen the wear and tear on the shoulders. It does not reduce the weight you are carrying, but it does lift it off your shoulders for an instant just when you need it.

There is a video of it being tested in the sun-drenched Arizona mountains, that we’ve placed below the break.

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Robotic Arms Controlled By Your….. Feet?

The days of the third hand’s dominance of workshops the world over is soon coming to an end. For those moments when only a third hand is not enough, a fourth is there to save the day.

Dubbed MetaLimbs and developed by a team from the [Inami Hiyama Laboratory] at the University of Tokyo and the [Graduate School of Media Design] at Keio University, the device is designed to be worn while sitting — strapped to your back like a knapsack — but use while standing stationary is possible, if perhaps a little un-intuitive. Basic motion is controlled by the position of the leg — specifically, sensors attached to the foot and knee — and flexing one’s toes actuates the robotic hand’s fingers. There’s even some haptic feedback built-in to assist anyone who isn’t used to using their legs as arms.

The team touts the option of customizeable hands, though a soldering iron attachment may not be as precise as needed at this stage. Still, it would be nice to be able to chug your coffee without interrupting your work.

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Head-Up Display Augments Bionic Turtle’s Reality

There’s a harsh truth underlying all robotic research: compared to evolution, we suck at making things move. Nature has a couple billion years of practice making things that can slide, hop, fly, swim and run, so why not leverage those platforms? That’s the idea behind this turtle with a navigation robot strapped to its back.

This reminds us somewhat of an alternative universe sci-fi story by S.M. Stirling called The Sky People.  In the story, Venus is teeming with dinosaurs that Terran colonists use as beasts of burden with brain implants that stimulate pleasure centers to control them. While the team led by [Phill Seung-Lee] at the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology isn’t likely to get as much work from the red-eared slider turtle as the colonists in the story got from their bionic dinosaurs, there’s still plenty to learn from a setup like this. Using what amounts to a head-up display for the turtle in the form of a strip of LEDs, along with a food dispenser for positive reinforcement, the bionic terrapin is trained to associate food with the flashing LEDs. The LEDs are then used as cues as the turtle navigates between waypoints in a tank. Sadly, the full article is behind a paywall, but the video below gives you a taste of the gripping action.

Looking for something between amphibian and fictional dinosaurs to play mind games with? Why not make your best friend bionic? Continue reading “Head-Up Display Augments Bionic Turtle’s Reality”