Adding voice labels to real life objects for the visually impaired

[Matt Oppenheim] wrote in to share his work with us. He has been modifying the interfaces of electronics for the visually impaired. It started off with cassette decks. As [Matt] points out, many people who are visually impaired use cassettes for their audio books and newspapers. [Matt] added some touch sensors to the buttons so that he could have something announce what each button was as the user felt them. This allowed them to quickly learn the layout of the device.

After finding that the simple interface on the cassette player was learned very quickly, thereby making his addition no longer needed, he decided to go after something a little more complex. [Matt] set out to modify a digital radio with many more buttons that are less touch friendly. As you can see in the video after the break, he was able to pull this off quite nicely.

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Talking digital calipers make engineering more accessible


The team over at NerdKits recently put together a device aimed to help make the process of measuring things more accessible to those with disabilities. [Terry Garrett] is a Mechanical Engineering student, and as anyone who is in the field knows, it’s a discipline which requires taking tons of measurements. Since [Terry] cannot see he was often asking classmates to assist in measuring items during labs, but when he got a job at a nearby design studio, he knew he would have to find a way to take those measurements on his own.

Enter NerdKits.

[Humberto] wrote in to share how he and his team built a set of talking digital calipers to assist [Terry] in his daily tasks. They based the design off a previous project they worked on, getting digital readout data from a set of calipers. The DRO information is fed into an ATmega382p, which pieces together pre-recorded sound bites to announce the size of the object being measured.

As you can see in the video below, the system looks to work very well, and [Terry] is quite pleased with his new talking tool. We love seeing these sorts of hacks, because they truly make a difference in people’s lives – excellent job!

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Ignored disabled man builds his own damn elevator


There’s an old saying that goes something like, “When the going gets tough, the tough builds their own 5-story wheelchair lift.”

Actually we’re pretty sure that’s not even close to how the saying goes, but when his local council turned their backs on [Dmitry Bibikow’s] request for wheelchair access to his apartment, that’s exactly what he did.

[Dmitry], an avid mountaineer, was injured in a climbing accident that left him without the use of his legs. Unfortunately for him, he and his family reside on the 5th floor of an apartment building that was not handicap accessible. Rather than move out, he asked the local council to install an elevator, which they agreed to.

Time passed, and as the project sank deeper and deeper into a mire of bureaucracy, [Dmitry] began to lose hope of ever seeing an elevator installed. After six years of relying on friends to help him get in and out of his apartment, he took matters into his own hands and installed a chair lift just off the side of his balcony.

According to [Dmitry] it works great, and he can get from the front door to his apartment well before his more able neighbors make it up the stairs. So far, the city council has not said anything about the lift, and he hopes it stays that way.

Man spends 30 years helping disabled gamers


Using our hands to manipulate game controllers is something most of us take for granted. However for quadriplegics, whose arms and legs are completely paralyzed, gaming becomes a nearly impossible task. One man has spent the last 30 years of his life trying to help quadriplegics once again “pick up” the controller and enjoy a few rounds of their favorite video games.

Retired aerospace engineer [Ken Yankelevitz] has been using his skills to create game controllers that can be easily used by disabled gamers, offering them for sale at cost. Starting with Atari joysticks in 1981, he has been perfecting his craft over the years, creating some 800 mouth-operated game controllers. As the systems and their controllers became more complex, so did [Ken’s] designs. His new Xbox and Playstation controllers use all manner of components, including sip-puff tubes and lip-activated buttons in order to allow users to access every single controller function.

Even as he approaches his 70th birthday, he is busy making controllers, though at a slower pace than he has in the past. He has said that he will continue making them for as long as he can, but at some point he will have to close up shop. This has disabled gamers worried that they may no longer have someone to turn to for custom controllers, though we hope someone steps in to fill the gap whenever that day comes.

Be sure to check out his site to take a look at his designs, what he has done for the disabled community is amazing.

Giving “sight” to the visually impaired with Kinect


We have seen Kinect used in a variety of clever ways over the last few months, but some students at the [University of Konstanz] have taken Kinect hacking to a whole new level of usefulness. Rather than use it to control lightning or to kick around some boxes using Garry’s Mod, they are using it to develop Navigational Aids for the Visually Impaired, or NAVI for short.

A helmet-mounted Kinect sensor is placed on the subject’s head and connected to a laptop, which is stored in the user’s backpack. The Kinect is interfaced using custom software that utilizes depth information to generate a virtual map of the environment. The computer sends information to an Arduino board, which then relays those signals to one of three waist-belt mounted LilyPad Arduinos. The LilyPads control three motors, which vibrate in order to alert the user to obstacles. The group even added voice notifications via specialized markers, allowing them to prompt the user to the presence of doors and other specific items of note.

It really is a great use of the Kinect sensor, we can’t wait to see more projects like this in the future.

Stick around to see a quick video of NAVI in use.

[via Kinect-Hacks - thanks, Jared]

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Xbox 360 controller mod for a friend in need


[Adrian] has a friend that, due to an accident, can no longer play Xbox games in the standard fashion. His friend is unfortunately unable to hold the game pad properly, and no longer has the manual dexterity to reach the shoulder buttons and triggers on the top side of his Xbox 360 controller. Being the good guy that he is, he set out to see what he could do in order to bring the joy of playing Xbox back into his friend’s life.

Inspired by the many different gaming mods he has seen [Ben Heck] construct, he pulled apart an Xbox 360 wireless controller and began to investigate how the four top buttons were activated. In no time, he had four large buttons wired to the PCB where the triggers and shoulder buttons once connected.

[Adrian] mentions that his modification isn’t quite complete, as he is going to mount the buttons into a board which can easily be laid on his friend’s lap or a table. The only thing we are left wondering is whether or not he was able to replicate the analog functionality of the triggers, or if they are treated as simple on/off switches. Either way, we are sure his friend will be thrilled!

Talking joystick mouse

Instructibles user [Shadowwynd] shows us a great way to build a joystick/mouse device for people with special accessibility needs. When faced with a case that involved a man with very limited mobility as well as a limited budget, [shadowwynd] set out to find a cost effective solution to computer navigation. They found that his client could use a commercial joystick mouse, but the cost was quite high at over $400. So instead of just purchasing that, they bought a USB game pad and built their own version. They managed to reduce the cost to roughly $45.  While extending the buttons and joystick from a gamepad might not be groundbreaking, we feel that this project is the epitome of hacking. Great job [Shadowwynd] keep up the good work.


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