Cornell Students Have Your Back

Back problems are some of the most common injuries among office workers and other jobs of a white-collar nature. These are injuries that develop over a long period of time and are often caused by poor posture or bad ergonomics. Some of the electrical engineering students at Cornell recognized this problem and used their senior design project to address this issue. [Rohit Jha], [Amanda Pustis], and [Erissa Irani] designed and built a posture correcting device that alerts the wearer whenever their spine isn’t in the ideal position.

The device fits into a tight-fitting shirt. The sensor itself is a flex sensor from Sparkfun which can detect deflections. This data is then read by a PIC32 microcontroller. Feedback for the wearer is done by a vibration motor and a TFT display with a push button. Of course, they didn’t just wire everything up and call it a day; there was a lot of biology research that went into this. The students worked to determine the most ideal posture for a typical person, the best place to put the sensor, and the best type of feedback to send out for a comfortable user experience.

We’re always excited to see the senior design projects from university students. They often push the boundaries of conventional thinking, and that’s exactly the skill that next generation of engineers will need. Be sure to check out the video of the project below, and if you want to see more of this semester’s other projects, we have you covered there tooContinue reading “Cornell Students Have Your Back”

Flexible, Sensitive Sensors from Silly Putty and Graphene

Everyone’s favorite viscoelastic non-Newtonian fluid has a new use, besides bouncing, stretching, and getting caught in your kid’s hair. Yes, it’s Silly Putty, and when mixed with graphene it turns out to make a dandy force sensor.

To be clear, [Jonathan Coleman] and his colleagues at Trinity College in Dublin aren’t buying the familiar plastic eggs from the local toy store for their experiments. They’re making they’re own silicone polymers, but their methods (listed in this paywalled article from the journal Science) are actually easy to replicate. They just mix silicone oil, or polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), with boric acid, and apply a little heat. The boron compound cross-links the PDMS and makes a substance very similar to the bouncy putty. The lab also synthesizes its own graphene by sonicating graphite in a solvent and isolating the graphene with centrifugation and filtration; that might be a little hard for the home gamer to accomplish, but we’ve covered a DIY synthesis before, so it should be possible.

With the raw materials in hand, it’s a simple matter of mixing and kneading, and you’ve got a flexible, stretchable sensor. [Coleman] et al report using sensors fashioned from the mixture to detect the pulse in the carotid artery and even watch the footsteps of a spider. It looks like fun stuff to play with, and we can see tons of applications for flexible, inert strain sensors like these.

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Crossing Wheatstone Bridges

The Wheatstone bridge is a way of measuring resistance with great accuracy and despite having been invented over 150 years ago, it still finds plenty of use today. Even searching for it on Hackaday brings up its use in a number of hacks. It’s a fundamental experimental device, and you should know about it.

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Automatic Resistance: Resistors Controlled by the Environment

Resistors are one of the fundamental components used in electronic circuits. They do one thing: resist the flow of electrical current. There is more than one way to skin a cat, and there is more than one way for a resistor to work. In previous articles I talked about fixed value resistors as well as variable resistors.

There is one other major group of variable resistors which I didn’t get into: resistors which change value without human intervention. These change by environmental means: temperature, voltage, light, magnetic fields and physical strain. They’re commonly used for automation and without them our lives would be very different.

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Cheap Torque Sensor Goes Back to Basics on Strain Gauges

Sooner or later, we’ve all got to deal with torque measurement. Most of us will never need to go beyond the satisfying click of a micrometer-style torque wrench or the grating buzz of a cordless drill-driver as the clutch releases. But at some point you may actually need to measure torque, in which case this guide to torque sensors might be just the thing.

[Taylor Schweizer]’s four-part series on torque is pretty comprehensive. The link above is to the actual build of his DIY torque transducer, but the preceding three installments are well worth the read too. [Taylor] describes himself as an e-waste connoisseur and tantalizes us with the possibility that his build will be with salvaged parts, but in the end a $20 bag of strain gauges and an LM358 were the quickest way to his proof of concept. The strain gauges were super-glued to a socket extension, hot glue was liberally applied for insulation and strain relief, and the whole thing wired up to a Teensy for data capture. A quick script and dump of the data to Excel and you’ve got a way to visualize torque.

An LCD display for real-time measurements is in the works, as are improvements to the instrumentation amp – for which [Taylor] might want to refer to [Bil Herd]’s or [Brandon Dunson]’s recent posts on the subject.

[via r/arduino]

Bike Power Meter with Crank-mounted WiFi Strain Gauges

In any motorsport, the more you know about how the engine is performing, the better a driver is likely to do in a race. That holds for bicycles, too, where the driver just happens to also be the engine. There are plenty of cheap bike computers on the market, but the high-end meters that measure power output are a bit pricey. [chiprobot] is looking to change that with a home-brew, low-cost bike power meter.

The project still appears to be in the proof-of-concept phase, but it’s an interesting concept for sure. The stock crank arms are carefully fitted with two pairs of tiny strain gauges. The gauges are wired in a Wheatstone bridge arrangement, with one gauge in each pair mounted perpendicular to the force on the crank to serve as a static reference. Output from the bridge is fed to an HX711 instrumentation amplifier. The demo video below shows how sensitive the bridge and 24-bit amp are.

The goal is to send crank data to a handlebar-mounted UI via WiFi with a pair of ESP8266 modules. We like the idea of a bicycle area network, but [chiprobot] has his work cut out for him in terms of ruggedizing and weatherproofing all this gear. We’ll be sure to keep an eye on this project. In the meantime, there’s plenty to learn from this bike power meter project we covered last year.

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Grinding a Bicycle Crank for Power Analysis

For [Mark] and [Brian]’s final project for [Bruce Land]’s ECE class at Cornell, they decided to replicate a commercial product. It’s a dashboard for a bicycle that displays distance, cadence, speed, and the power being generated by the cyclist. Computing distance, cadence and speed is pretty easy, but calculating power is another matter entirely.

The guys are using an ATMega1284 to drive an LCD, listen in on some Hall Effect sensors, and do a few calculations. That takes care of measuring everything except power. A quick search of relevant intellectual property gave then the idea of measuring torque at the pedal crank. For that, [Mark] and [Brian] are using a strain gauge on a pedal crank, carefully modified to be stiff enough to work, but flexible enough to measure.

A custom board was constructed for the pedal crank that measures a strain gauge and sends the measurements through a wireless connection to the rest of the bicycle dashboard. It works, and the measurements in the classroom show [Brian] is generating about 450 W when pedaling at 33 mph.

Video below.

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