Making flex sensors on the cheap

When [Michelle] was making a sign language translation glove, she needed a bunch of flex sensors. These flex sensors cost about $10 a pop, meaning her budget for the project was eaten up by these bendy potentiometers. Since then, [Michelle] figured out a great way to make extremely inexpensive bend sensors using anti-static bags and masking tape, allowing her to start her project once again.

The build works by sandwiching Velostat plastic bags – the same electrically conductive bags all your components arrive in – between layers of masking tape. A jumper wires is attached to a strip of Velostat attached to a piece of masking tape. Between two of these anti-static/masking tape assemblies, another piece of Velostat is placed. After laminating all these pieces together, [Michelle] had a primitive yet very functional flexible potentiometer.

After attaching one of these flex sensors to an analog input of her dev board of choice, she had a wonderful and inexpensive flexible sensor. You can check out this sensor in action after the break.

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Failed kayaking data logger is something we want to see succeed

How can your love of hobby electronics and your participation in the Canadian National Kayaking Team be combined? Why not use your technical know-how to provide a performance edge? [Geoff Clarke] decided to rig up a paddle for data capture to see if they could learn anything.

Here you can see that a series of flex sensors were applied to one of the business ends of the paddle. These are connected to a microcontroller which is constantly monitoring them and dumping the data onto an SD card. The design will provide about nine minutes of data before the storage is used up. That sounds like a number that might need improving. We could see this being useful to log a series of practice runs on the same course, but with different athletes. By graphing and comparing the data, you should be able to make observations about how the paddle is being held and when force is applied that could help the rest of the team improve.

But we’re way ahead of ourselves. The rig was given a premature test-run and the flex sensors were destroyed by the salt water. We wish this had worked out and hope that [Geoff] will give it another try after rethinking the water proofing.

Sign and speak glove

This wire covered glove is capable of turning your hand gestures to speech, and it does so wirelessly. The wide range of sensors include nine flex sensors, four contact sensors, and an accelerometer. The flex sensors do most of the work, monitoring the alignment of the wearer’s finger joints. The contact sensors augment the flex sensor data, helping to differentiate between letters that have similar finger positions. The accelerometer is responsible for decoding movements that go along with the hand positions. They combine to detect all of the letters in the American Sign Language alphabet.

An ATmega644 monitors all of the sensors, and pushes data out through a wireless transmitter. MATLAB is responsible for collecting the data which is coming in over the wireless link. It saves it for later analysis using a Java program. Once the motions have been decoded into letters, they are assembled into sentences and fed into a text-to-speech program.

You’ve probably already guess that there’s a demo video after the break.

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Building a flex sensor from component packing materials

Hacks like this one don’t help us recover from extreme pack-rat behavior. Driving home the point that one should never throw anything away [Peter] built a flex sensor from component packing material. It uses the black conductive foam in which integrated circuits are sometimes embedded for shipping. Above you can see the grey rectangle which is the sensor itself. in the background of the image, each component used in the build is labelled except for the tape.

The project starts with the foam being cut to the appropriate size and thickness. He does the same with some aluminum foil, then rips tape strips to act as the enclosure. Fine wire from some cable shielding serves as the two conductors for the sensor. He attaches each wire to an upturned piece of tape, followed by the foil, and finally the foam. When the two halves are assembled in the video after the break, [Peter] hooks up his multimeter to show the change in resistance as the sensor is bent.

We think it will take a clever calibration algorithm to get this working reliably, but it’s no more troublesome than the optical flex sensors we saw in this links post. [Read more...]

Wireless MIDI piano glove

Sometimes you just don’t have space for a baby grand. [Abdullah] got around this problem and built a virtual wireless MIDI piano. Unlike it’s inspiration, it’s not bad but we still love it.

[Abdullah] got his hands on some flex sensors and attached them to a glove. These resistive sensors are put through a voltage divider and sent to a microcontroller (a PIC16F778, we believe) and corresponding MIDI notes are chosen. These MIDI notes are sent to a computer and played over a speaker.

Right now, only a single arpeggio is coded into the microcontroller. Depending on which finger is bent shifts this arpeggio up and down the keyboard. That being said, the firmware can be easily modified to recognize standard piano fingering so chords can be played. The only issue is moving the hand up and down the keyboard.

[Abdullah] is planning on making his glove completely wireless with a microcontroller and battery sewn into the glove. Here’s to hoping he’ll keep us posted.

Check out [Abdullah]‘s demo after the break.

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Building optical flex sensors

[Joel] dug up this hack that he pulled off over ten years ago. It’s inspired by the Nintendo PowerGlove, and uses flex sensors to react to movements of your fingers. The interesting thing is, he built these optical flex sensors himself.

He likes to say that this is a ghetto fiber-optic setup. The inlaid diagram above gives you an idea of how the sensors work. An IR LED and infrared diode are positioned at either end of a piece of clear aquarium tubing. When the tube is flexed, the amount of light that makes it to the diode is diminished, a change that can be measured by a microcontroller. [Joel] found that he could increase the resolution of the sensor by adding something to the center of the tube, blocking the light when not straight. In this case he used pieces of scrap wire. The outside of the sensor was also wrapped in shrink tubing to keep ambient light from interfering with measurements.

He uses a trimpot to tune the sensors but we wonder how hard it would be to add a calibration algorithm to the firmware?

Electric mountain board with glove control

Last summer, we saw [Andres Guzman]‘s electric mountain board tearing around the University of Illinois campus. He’s back again, only this time the board isn’t controlled with a PlayStation controller. [Andres] built a wireless glove to control his mountain board.

An Arduino and power supply is mounted to the glove. A 2.4GHz transceiver serves as the comm link between the glove and board. The speed control is handled by this flex sensor from Sparkfun. With the flex sensor held between the middle and ring fingers, all [Andres] needs to do to apply power is slightly bend his fingers.

There’s also a number of safety features built into the board. To enable power to the boards motor, there’s a dead man switch on the glove underneath the thumb. If [Andres] were to take a nasty spill, he would release the switch and the board would come to a stop. [Andres] also made sure the board would shut down if the wireless link was interrupted. The build seems pretty safe, even if he is tearing around his campus in the video below.

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