Let’s Make Life A Little Better

Chances are you’ve spent a lot of time trying to think of the next great project to hit your workbench. We’ve all built up a set of tools, honed our skills, and set aside some time to toil away in the workshop. This is all for naught without a really great project idea. The best place to look for this idea is where it can make life a little better.

I’m talking about Assistive Technologies which directly benefit people. Using your time and talent to help make lives better is a noble pursuit and the topic of the 2016 Hackaday Prize challenge that began this morning.

Assistive Technology is a vast topic and there is a ton of low-hanging fruit waiting to be discovered. Included in the Assistive Technology ecosystem are prosthetics, mobility, diagnostics for chronic diseases, devices for the aging or elderly and their caregivers, and much more. You can have a big impact by working on your prototype device, either directly through making lives better and by inspiring others to build on your effort.

Need some proof that this is a big deal? The winners of the 2015 Hackaday Prize developed a 3D printed mechanism that links electric wheelchair control with eye movement trackers called Eyedrivomatic. This was spurred by a friend of theirs with ALS who was sometimes stuck in his room all day if he forgot to schedule a caregiver to take him to the community room. The project bridges the existing technologies already available to many people with ALS, providing greater independence in their lives. The OpenBionics Affordable Prosthetic Hands project developed a bionic hand with a clever whiffletree system to enable simpler finger movement. This engineering effort brings down the cost and complexity of producing a prosthetic hand and helps remove some of the barriers to getting prosthetics to those who need them.

The Is the Stove Off project adds peace of mind and promotes safe independence through an Internet connected indicator to ensure the kitchen stove hasn’t been left on and that it isn’t turned on at peculiar times. Pathfinder Haptic Navigation reimagines the tools available to the blind for navigating their world. It uses wrist-mounted ultrasonic sensors and vibration feedback, allowing the user to feel how close their hands are to objects. Hand Drive is another wheelchair add-on to make wheeling yourself around a bit easier by using a rowing motion that doesn’t depend as much on having a strong hand grip on the chair’s push ring.

Assistive TechnologiesIn most cases, great Assistive Technology is not rocket science. It’s clever recognition of a problem and careful application of a solution for it. Our community of hackers, designers, and engineers can make a big impact on many lives with this, and now is the time to do so.

Enter your Assistive Technology in the Hackaday Prize now and keep chipping away on those prototypes. We will look at the progress all of the entries starting on October 3rd, choosing 20 entries to win $1000 each and continue onto the finals. These finalists are eligible for the top prizes, which include $150,000 and a residency at the Supplyframe Design Lab, $25,000, two $10,000 prizes, and a $5,000 prize.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Shakelet

A person who is deaf can’t hear sound, but that doesn’t mean they can’t feel vibrations. For his Hackaday Prize entry, [Alex Hunt] is developing the Shakelet, a vibrating wristband for that notifies hearing impaired people about telephones, doorbells, and other sound alerts.

To tackle the difficulty of discriminating between the different sounds from different sources, [Alex’s] wants to attach little sound sensors directly to the sound emitting devices. The sensors wirelessly communicate with the wristband. If the wristband receives a trigger signal from one of the sensors, it alerts the wearer by vibrating. It also shows which device triggered the alert by flashing an RGB LED in a certain color. A first breadboard prototype of his idea confirmed the feasibility of the concept.

After solving a few minor problems with the sensitivity of the sensors, [Alex] now has a working prototype. The wristband features a pager motor and is controlled by an ATMEGA168. Two NRF24L01+ 2.4 GHz wireless transceiver modules take care of the communication. The sound sensors run on the smaller ATTiny85 and use a piezo disc as microphone. Check out the video below, where Alex demonstrates his build:

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Hackaday Advises the United Nations

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is being held this week at the United Nations in New York and Hackaday will be there. Sophi Kravitz is representing us as the conference discusses assistive technology.

Sophi’s panel is Thursday mid-day, entitled: Tec Talk: Brilliant New Designs in Assistive Technology, Ease of Use & Multimedia. The Hackaday community has become a world leader in thinking about new designs, implementations, and increased availability of assistive technologies. We’re really excited to have an organization like the UN recognize this trait. Congratulations on all of you who have spent time thinking about ways to make life better for a lot of people — you are making a difference in the world.

Most notable in this category is Eyedrivomatic, the eye-controlled electric wheelechair extension project which was selected as the winner of the 2015 Hackaday Prize. Awarded second prize last year was another notable project. OpenBionics designed an open source, easily manufactured, prosthetic hand. Hand Drive, a Best Product finalist from last year, developed a device to operate a wheelchair with a rowing motion. Like we said, the list goes on and on.

But of course our biggest accomplishments lie ahead. The 2016 Hackaday Prize is currently underway and again focusing on building something that matters. The current challenge is Citizen Scientist which focuses on making scientific experimentation, equipment, and knowledge more widely available. But on August 22nd we turn our sights to the topic of Sophi’s UN Panel as the Hackaday Prize takes on Assistive Technologies. Don’t wait until then, make this the summer you change peoples’ lives. Start your design now.

The HackadayPrize2016 is Sponsored by:

$20 Sip-and-Puff Mouse from E-Cig and 3D Printing

At Hackaday, we think the highest form of hacking is hacking for good. Sure, it’s fun to build robots and gadgets, and universal remotes. But it is even better to create things that make people’s lives better. In that spirit, we enjoyed seeing the Assistive Tech Challenge over on Thingiverse that ended last month. The winner was [0_o] who used 3D printing and an Arduino to produce a mouth-operated mouse for under $20.

sip-sensor-from-ecigInstructions on Thingiverse can be spotty, but [0_o] did an excellent job of laying out what you need to buy and how to assemble it. One of the most interesting parts of the build is the blow sensor. [0_o] tore apart a $5 electronic cigarette and used the sensor within. The mouthpiece is moved like a joystick to actuate the cursor, and the user blows into it for the mouse clicks. Perhaps not a true sip-and-puff system but it made us wonder what other uses you might find for these sensors.

You can see a video about the mouse after the break. These kinds of projects have the power to make someone’s life better and what could be better than that?

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Wheelchair hack lets two-year-old explore on his own

[Shea’s] son [Alejandro] was born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy which limits his ability to move. The ability to explore one’s environment as a toddler is really important to development so [Shea] and his wife have been looking into assistive technology. Their health insurance paid for a medical stroller when he was nine-months old and has told the family they need to wait five years for a powered wheelchair. Rather than wait, [Shea] took it upon himself to hack a wheelchair his son could control.

He found a used adult-sized motorized wheelchair on eBay for about $800. Not cheap, but way more affordable than a brand new unit. This type of chair is made to be controlled with a joystick, an option not available to his son at this point. Foot control was an option if he could figure out how to build an interface.

After unsuccessfully trying to repair a broken digital kitchen scale [Shea] was inspired to reuse the sensors as pedal inputs. [Alejandro] has limited foot strength and the sensitive strain gauges are perfect for picking it up. Above you can see the sandal-based interface he built. The two feet working together affect steering as well as forward and reverse. The pedal system is connected to the wheelchair using a Digital to Analog converter chip to stand-in for the original analog joystick. After the break we’ve embedded a video of [Alejandro] exploring the outdoors in the finished chair.

In this case it’s fortunate that [Shea] has the skills to build something like this for his son. We hope this will inspire you to donate your time an know-how to help those in your own community who are in a similar situation. This really takes the concept of The Controller Project to the next level.

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PlayStation 3 controlled with head movement

Our excitement just keeps building about how hackers can ply their skills to develop new adaptive technologies. Here’s another great example of custom control technology that helped [Steven] get back into gaming. The effects of muscular dystrophy have left him unable to use the stock PS3 controller. But after being paired up with [John Schimmel] he’s able to game again thanks to a head motion control system.

[John] looked at the way [Steven] interacts with the assistive technology at hand. He can drive his wheelchair with one finger, and interacts with his computer by moving his head. The computer detects a marker on the brim of his hat. [John] grabs input from the computer using Java and sends it to an Arduino board connected via USB. The Arduino has a USB Bit Whacker board letting it also connect to the PS3 as a controller. In the image above you can see the computer screen has a GUI for each of the controller’s buttons. [John] moves his head to select a control and clicks a button with his finger to actuate it.

If you like this check out some of the other assistive gaming hacks we’ve seen lately.

[via The Controller Project]

Adaptive technology used to fly an IR helicopter


This gentleman is using electrical impulses from his neck muscles to fly a toy helicopter around the room. The project is a demonstration of the AsTeRICS project which seeks to reduce the complexity of adapting the set of skills a disabled person can use to do a wide range of functions. In this case, controlling the helicopter could easily be switched to other tasks without changing the user interface hardware.

One of the plugins for the AsTeRICS project uses the OpenEEG library. This reads the signals coming from a pair of electrodes on top of each shoulder. In the video after the break you can see that as he flexes these muscles the changes in signal are mapped to the altitude of the helicopter. This is just one example of a wide range of inputs that include things like building a webcam-based mouse or using  facial recognition.

The toy itself is being driven by an Arduino sending IR commands. We’ve seen quite a few project where the helicopter communications protocols are laid bare.

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