Stairwell Lights Keep Toddler with Night-Blindness Safe

A devastating diagnosis for a young child is every parent’s worst nightmare. All too often there’s nothing that can be done, but occasionally there’s a window of opportunity to make things better for the child, even if we can’t offer a cure. In that case even a simple hack, like a rapid response stairwell light to help deal with night-blindness, can make a real difference.

[Becca] isn’t yet a year old, but she and her parents carry a heavy burden. She was born with Usher Syndrome, an extremely rare genetic disease that affects hearing and vision to different degrees. In [Becca]’s case, she was born profoundly deaf and will likely lose her sight by the time she’s 10 or so. Her dad [Jake] realized that the soon-to-be-toddler was at risk due to a dark stairwell and the night-blindness that accompanies Usher, so he came up with a simple tech solution to the problem.

He chose Philips Hue LED light strips to run up the stringer of the stairs controlled by a Raspberry Pi. Originally he planned to use IFTTT for but the latency resulted in the light not switching on fast enough. He ended up using a simple PIR motion sensor which the Pi monitors and then uses the Hue API to control the light. This will no doubt give him a platform for future capabilities to help [Becca].

We’ve covered a few builds where parents have hacked solutions for their kids, like this custom media center for the builder’s autistic son. We suspect [Jake] has a few more tricks up his sleeve to help [Becca], and we’re looking forward to seeing how she does.

The Music of a Sunset

What would you do if you suddenly went blind and could never again see the sun set? How would you again experience this often breathtaking phenomenon? One answer is music, orchestrated by the sun and the Weather Warlock.

Built by the musician [Quintron] (builder and inventor of insane electronic instruments), the Weather Warlock is an analog synthesizer controlled by — you guessed it — the weather. It translates temperature, moisture, wind and sunlight into tones and harmonics with an E major root chord. UV, light, moisture, and temperature sensors combined with an anemometer set up outside feed the weather data to a synthesizer that has [Quintron] dialing knobs and toggling switches. The Weather Warlock steams 24/7 to the website so that the visually impaired are able to tune in and experience the joy of sunrise and sunset through music. Continue reading “The Music of a Sunset”

The Politest Patent Discussion, OSHW v. Patents

We’ve covered [Vijay] refreshable braille display before. Reader, [zakqwy] pointed us to an interesting event that occured in the discussion of its project page.

[Vijay] was inspired by the work of [Paul D’souza], who he met at Makerfaire Bangalore. [Paul] came up with a way to make a refreshable braille display using small pager motors. [Vijay] saw the light, and also felt that he could make the vibrating motor display in such a way that anyone could make it for themselves at a low cost.

Of course, [Paul], had patented his work, and in this case rightly so. As jaded as we have become with insane patent trolls, our expectation on receiving the tip was that [Paul] had sued [Vijay] out of house and home and kicked his dog while he was at it. A short google search shows that [Paul] is no patent troll, and is a leader in his field. He has done a lot to help the visually impaired with his research and inventions.

Instead we were greeted by a completely different conversation. [Paul] politely mentioned that his lawyer informed him that in order to protect his IP he needed to let [Vijay] know exactly how the information could be used. No cease and desist, in fact he encouraged [Vijay] to continue his open research as long as he made it clear that the methods described could not be used to make a marketable product without infringing on [Paul]’s patents. They’d need to get in touch with [Paul] and work something out before doing such.

[Vijay] responded very well to this information. His original goal was to produce a cheap braille display that could be made and sold by anyone. However, he did use [Paul]’s work as a basis for his variation. Since [Paul]’s commercial interests relied on his patent, there was a clear conflict, and it became obvious to [Vijay] that if he wanted to meet his goal he’d have to pick a new direction. So, he released his old designs as Creative Commons, since the CERN license he was using was invalidated by [Paul]’s patent. He made it very clear that anyone basing their work off those designs would have to get in touch with [Paul]. Undaunted by this, and still passionate about the project, [Vijay] has decided to start from scratch and see if he can invent an entirely new, unprotected mechanism.

Yes, the patent system is actually encouraging innovation by documenting prior work while protecting commercial and time investments of beneficial inventors. Well. That’s unexpected.

Kudos to [Paul] for encouraging the exploration of home hackers rather than playing the part of the evil patent owner we’ve all come to expect from these stories. Also [Vijay], for acting maturely to [Paul]’s polite request and not ceasing his work.

A Virtual Cane for the Visually Impaired


[Roman] has created an electronic cane for the visually impaired. Blind and visually impaired people have used canes and walking sticks for centuries. However, it wasn’t until the 1920’s and 1930’s that the white cane came to be synonymous with the blind. [Roman] is attempting to improve on the white cane design by bringing modern electronics to the table. With a mixture of hardware and clever software running on an Android smartphone, [Roman] has created a device that could help a blind person navigate.

The white cane has been replaced with a virtual cane, consisting of a 3D printed black cylinder. The cane is controlled by an ATmega328 running the Arduino bootloader and [Roman’s] code. Peeking out from the end of the handle is a Maxbotix ultrasonic distance sensor. Distance information is reported to the user via a piezo buzzer and a vibration motor. An induction coil allows for charging without fumbling for tiny connectors. A Bluetooth module connects the virtual cane to the other half of the system, an Android phone.

[Roman’s] Android app runs solely on voice prompts and speech syntheses. Navigation commands such as “Take me to <address>” use the phone’s GPS and Google Maps API to retrieve route information. [Roman’s] app then speaks the directions for the user to follow. Help can be summoned by simply stating “Send <contact name> my current location.” In the event that the user drops their virtual cane, “Find my device” will send a Bluetooth command to the cane. Once the command is received, the cane will reveal its position by beeping and vibrating.

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again. Using technology to help disabled people is one of the best hacks we can think of. Hackaday alum [Caleb Kraft] has been doing just that with his work at The Controller Project. [Roman] is still actively improving his cane. He’s already won a gold medal at the Niagara Regional Science and Engineering Fair. He’s entered his project in several more science events, including the Canada Wide Science Fair and the Google Science Fair. Good luck [Roman]!

Attacknid Becomes Laser Death Drone

Laser Drone

[styroPyro] liked his Attacknid, but decided it needed just a bit more blue death ray laser. We’ve seen [styroPyro’s] high-powered laser hacks before, but this time he’s taken to hacking one of [Jaimie Mantzel’s] Attacknid robots. According to one of the top comments on [styroPyro’s] video—a comment by Attacknid inventor [Jaimie] himself—the robots were meant to be hacked, and [Jamie] is ecstatic.

[styropyro] removed the disk shooter from his Attacknid and used the fire control circuit to activate a 2 watt blue laser. A low powered, red laser pointer serves as a laser sight, allowing you to aim at your target before unleashing the beefy blue laser. As the video shows, 2 watts is a heck of a lot of power. The Attacknid easily pops balloons and sets fire to flash paper. As usual, we urge you to use caution when handling 2 watt lasers, which fall under Class 4: aka the most dangerous class of lasers. Goggles, skin protection, and safety interlocks are the order of the day. [styroPyro] has been working with high power lasers for a few years, and seems to know what he’s doing. That said, we’ll leave the burning lasers to the professionals.

Continue reading “Attacknid Becomes Laser Death Drone”

Rubik’s Cube for the blind

Check out this Rubik’s Cube for the blind. The idea didn’t start off as an accessibility hack, but instead as a way for [Brian Doom] to figure out where the face of each cube goes when manipulating the puzzle. It gave him tactile feedback and his ability to use it in dim lighting was when it dawned on him that this could be useful to others.

Now when we first thought of a puzzle for the blind the term ‘Braille’ immediately jumped to mind. But this doesn’t use it. That’s great, because not all visually impaired people can understand Braille. Instead, this uses dimension and texture to identify each of the puzzle faces. There are mushroom-shaped knobs, Phillips screws, adhesive rubber bumpers, raised text label maker labels, and a few other items that go along with each color. This doesn’t prevent those with sight from playing either. It’s something of one Rubik’s cube for all. Well, all except for the robots made to solve a stock cube.

[via Dvice]

The Hand-Mounted Haptic Feedback Sonar Obstacle Avoidance Asstance Device.. Or the Tacit

Here is a hack that takes the stick out of the blind mans hand. [Steve] has been working on the Tacit, a wrist mounted sonar device with haptic feedback, it’s like strapping a bat to your wrist to help you see. The Tacit uses two sonar ping sensors to measure the distance to the nearest obstacle, the relative distance to an object is then fed back to the user using two servos which apply pressure to the back of the wrist. The Tacit is sporting an Arduino pro mini to control the ping sensors and drive the servos, and runs off a 9 volt battery.

This is not an entirely new concept, haptic headbands have been around on the net for a while, but the Tacit allows the user to detect  obstacles on the ground waiting to trip you up. All in all a neat hack that may have a future in helping the blind. Check out the video after the break to see it in action.

Continue reading “The Hand-Mounted Haptic Feedback Sonar Obstacle Avoidance Asstance Device.. Or the Tacit”