Just Don’t Call it an Old Remote

[Hari Wiguna’s] father is ninety years young. He started having trouble pushing the buttons on his TV remote, so [Hari] decided to build a custom remote that just has the buttons his dad needs. Oh, and the buttons are big.

There are a few interesting things about this project. [Hari] wanted to maximize battery life, so he went through a good bit of effort to keep the processor asleep and minimize power consumption. The remote is programmable, but [Hari] didn’t have access to his dad’s remotes. His answer was elegant. He used his Android phone to mimic the required remotes and provided a way for the remote to learn from another remote (in this case, the phone).
Continue reading “Just Don’t Call it an Old Remote”

It Sucks to Pick Up the Pieces

Jigsaw puzzles are a fun and interactive way to spend an afternoon or twelve, depending on the piece count and your skill level. It’s exciting to find the pieces you need to complete a section or link two areas together, but if you have poor dexterity, excitement can turn to frustration when you move to pick them up. [thomasgruwez] had the disabled and otherwise fumble-fingered in mind when he created this pick and place jigsaw puzzle aid, which uses suction to pick up and transport puzzle pieces.

The suction comes from an aquarium pump running in reverse, a hack we’ve seen often which [thomasgruwez] explains in a separate Instructable. A large, inviting push button is wired in line to turn the pump on and off. An equally large and inviting momentary switch turns off the vacuum temporarily so the piece can be placed.

At the business end of this hack is the tiny suction-cupped tip from a cheap vacuum pen. To interface the pen head with the pump, [thomasgruwez] designed and printed a rigid straw to bridge the gap. With utility already in mind, [thomasgruwez] also designed a ring that can be bolted to the straw to house a steadying finger of your choice, like the pinkie hook on a pair of barbers’ shears.

Our favorite part of this hack has to be the optional accessory—a tiny platform for quickly flipping pieces without cutting the vacuum. Check it out after the break.

Continue reading “It Sucks to Pick Up the Pieces”

EVA: What’s on Telly for the Visually Impaired

[chewabledrapery] has certainly used his Raspberry Pi for good. His girlfriend’s grandfather is growing more visually impaired as time goes on. He likes to watch telly, but has trouble reading the on-screen information about the channel and programming. To that end, [chewabledrapery] has built an electronic voice assistant called EVA, who fetches the telly schedule from a web service and reads it aloud in her lovely voice that comes courtesy of Google Translate’s TTS function.

Under EVA’s hood is a Raspberry Pi. A USB hub powers the Pi and holds a small USB soundcard, a Wi-Fi dongle, and a USB daughterboard that the controller plugs into. The daughterboard is from a USB keyboard, which makes another appearance in the awesome controller. It’s made of a joystick and two arcade buttons that use the USB keyboard’s controller to interact with Python scripts.

[chewabledrapery]’s scripts make formatted requests to a web service called atlas, which returns JSON objects with the TV schedule and content descriptions. EVA then turns to Google Translate, speaking the formatted text through a small amplifier and salvaged PC speaker. In order to minimize the number of web calls, some of EVA’s frequent musings are stored locally. A full tour of EVA is after the break.

We love to see hacks that help people. Remember this RFID audio book reader?

Continue reading “EVA: What’s on Telly for the Visually Impaired”

Talking Tactile 3D Prints

Cell biology professor [Mike] has created a way for blind students to decipher microscope slides using 3D prints and the magic of capacitive sensing. His write-up focuses on a slide showing the anaphase stage of mitosis in whitefish blastula, a popular choice for studying cell division. When a student touches a certain area of the print, the capacitive sensor triggers audio playback to tell them what they’re feeling.

[Mike] started by turning a 2D image of a cell into a 3D print. To do this, he made the image black and white, and then inverted the colors so that the 3D print’s topography will correspond correctly. The talking part is handled by an Arduino Duemilanove and a Spikenzie voice shield. The latter has a somewhat limited amount of space, but is more than adequate for the audio labels [Mike] made, which are all less than three seconds long.

A hard copy of the 2D file comes in handy for making sure the cap sensors are in the right places. To make those, [Mike] cut up some floor protector pads and covered the sticky side with copper tape. These are held on the 2D image with double-sided tape. The 3D print sits on top, separated by more furniture pads at the corners. He labeled this scientific sandwich model with a 3D printed Braille label that reads ‘anaphase’. [Mike] has made the referenced STL file along with a few others available at the National Institutes of Health’s 3D print exchange site.

RFID Audio Book Reader For the Visually Impaired

When [Willem] visited home last year, he stopped in at his grandparents’ house and found that his very active 93-year-old grandfather had recently gone almost completely blind and was passing the days just sitting in a chair. [Willem] suggested that he listen to audio books, but his grandfather wasn’t receptive to the idea until [Willem] convinced him that the well-narrated ones can be very gripping and entertaining. Once his grandfather was on board, [Willem] knew that he needed a much more accessible solution than a tiny device with tiny controls, so he built an RFID audio reader using a Raspberry Pi.

[Willem] has posted the build details at his personal site. Essentially, the box you see above contains a Raspi and an RFID reader. He created different ‘books’ by placing RFID cards inside of DVD boxes, which makes them more tangible and accessible. When a book is placed on the box, the RFID reader tells the Pi which mp3 files to load. The large colored buttons let the user pause, rewind 20 seconds, and control the volume.

We love to see this kind of build. It’s simple, effective, and greatly enhances the user’s quality of life. [Willem]’s grandfather loves it and uses it every day.

BRAIGO – A Lego Braille Printer


Accessibility devices tend to be prohibitively expensive, and it’s always nice to see a hacker apply their skills to making these devices more affordable. BRAIGO is a low cost braille printer by [Shubham Banerjee]. He built the printer using parts from the LEGO Mindstorms EV3 kit, with a few additions. This LEGO kit retails for $349, and a standard braille printer costs over $2000.

The BRAIGO print head uses weights and a pin to punch holes in standard calculator paper rolls. LEGO motors are used to feed the paper and align the head for accurate printing. It takes about 5 to 7 seconds to print each letter, which are entered on the Mindstorms controller.

While this is a great prototype, [Shubham] intends to continue development with the goal of creating an affordable braille printer. He’s a bit swamped with media requests right now, but is working on releasing BRAIGO as an open source project so others can contribute. It’s an impressive project, especially for a 12 year old student. After the break, watch the BRAIGO do some printing.

Continue reading “BRAIGO – A Lego Braille Printer”

An XBMC controller built for Grandma


Is your grandmother cool enough to use XBMC? Maybe it’s a testament to the functionality of the wildly popular home entertainment suite rather than the hipness of your elders. But indeed, [Brian’s] grandmother is an XBMC user who needed a controller with larger buttons to accommodate her. This is what he built. He sent us a set of photos and a description of the build, both of which you can see below. He was inspired to get in touch after reading about the custom controller which [Caleb] has been working on for [Thomas].

[Brian] didn’t get bogged down with electronics. He went with the simple, cheap, and popular solution of gutting a wireless keyboard. After tracing out the keys he needed he got rid of everything except the PCB. A wiring harness was crafted by soldering jumper wires to the PCB traces and terminating them with crimping slide connectors. The arcade buttons he used have terminals for the connectors which will make it simple to mate the electronics with the mechanics.

The enclosure is a little wooden hobby box. It originally had a lid with a mirror. [Brian] broke open the lid’s frame to replace it with a thin piece of plywood which hosts the buttons. Inside you’ll find a battery power source. These keyboards last a long time on one set of batteries so he just needs to remember to preemptively replace them from time to time. The finishing touch was to add decals so that granny can figure out what each button does.

Continue reading “An XBMC controller built for Grandma”