Air-Powered Wheelchair Goes Like The Wind

Electric wheelchairs are responsible for giving back independence to a great many people the world over. They do have their limitations, however, including long recharge times and a general aversion to large amounts of water. Being weatherproof is one thing, but taking one to a waterpark is another thing entirely. Fear not, for The University of Pittsburgh has the answer: the air-powered wheelchair.

Known as the PneuMobility project, the chair relies on a couple of compressed air tanks as a power source. They appear to be a of composite construction, which would cut down on weight significantly and help reduce risk of injury in the case of a failure. The air is passed through a system of valves to a special compressed air motor, allowing the user to control the direction of travel. Unfortunately details on the drive system are scant — we’d love to know more about the design of the drivetrain! Reportedly a lot of the components come from the local hardware store, though we haven’t seen a whole lot of compressed air drive motors on the racks of Home Depot/Bunnings/et al.

Range for the wheelchairs is listed as about 1/3 of an electric wheelchair but recharging compressed air takes minutes, not hours. Developed by the university’s Human Engineering Research Laboratories, the wheelchair isn’t just a one off. There are plans to supply ten of the machines to the Morgan’s Wonderland amusement park to enable wheelchair users to share in the fun of the water park.

We’ve seen some great wheelchair hacks in the past, too – like this chair built specifically for the sand dunes! Video after the break.

Continue reading “Air-Powered Wheelchair Goes Like The Wind”

Assistive Technology Pioneer Patrick Joyce Has Passed Away

We are once again saddened to report the loss of another great hacker. Patrick Joyce has passed away after a decade-long struggle with ALS/MND. Patrick was the team captain of Eyedriveomatic, the Grand Prize winning hardware from the 2015 Hackaday Prize. The loss of Patrick comes quickly after receiving word on Monday about the death of Patrick’s teammate, Steve Evans.

Despite the challenges Patrick faced in the final years of his life he was a prolific hardware hacker. He and his team won the Hackaday Prize in 2015 for designing a system which allowed electric wheelchairs to be controlled with eye gaze software without altering the chairs themselves (which are often not owned by the user). But he was also a finalist in the Assistive Technologies challenge of the 2016 Hackaday Prize. The Raimi’s Arm project set its goal at creating bionic arms for kids — a noble and worthy challenge for everyone to undertake. Check out Patrick’s profile page and you’ll see he has also built an open source head mouse (an alternative to eye gaze controls) and a headphone robot which allowed him to put on and take off his own headphones.

I find it amazing what he achieved in his work considering the physical limitations placed before him. Patrick had limited use of one hand which he used with a joystick for mouse control. His typing was done using eye gaze. Yet he managed to design and document a number of incredible creations. This is inspiring.

Reflect on this loss to our community, but take comfort in the fact that his work lives on. Cody Barnes, the software developer for the Eyedrivomatic, plans to continue work on the project. If you are interested in helping to make that open source assistive tech available to more people who need it, now is a great time to send a private message to Cody to learn more about getting involved.

Steve Evans Passes Away, Leaves an Inspiring Legacy

It is with great sadness that Hackaday learns of the passing of Steve Evans. He was one of the creators of Eyedrivomatic, the eye-controlled wheelchair project which was awarded the Grand Prize during the 2015 Hackaday Prize.

News of Steve’s passing was shared by his teammate Cody Barnes in a project update on Monday. For more than a decade Steve had been living with Motor Neurone Disease (MND). He slowly lost the function of his body, but his mind remained intact throughout. We are inspired that despite his struggles he chose to spend his time creating a better world. Above you can see him test-driving an Eyedrivomatic prototype which is the blue 3D printed attachment seen on the arm of his chair.

The Eyedrivomatic is a hardware adapter for electric wheelchairs which bridges the physical controls of the chair with the eye-controlled computer used by people living with ALS/MND and in many other situations. The project is Open Hardware and Open Source Software and the team continues to work on making Eyedriveomatic more widely available by continuing to refine the design for ease of fabrication, and has even begun to sell kits so those who cannot build it themselves still have access.

The team will continue with the Eyedrivomatic project. If you are inspired by Steve’s story, now is a great time to look into helping out. Contact Cody Barnes if you would like to contribute to the project. Love and appreciation for Steve and his family may be left as comments on the project log.

Beyond The Prize: Eye Driving Wheelchairs

For this year’s Hackaday Prize, we opened up five challenges for hackers and tinkerers to create the greatest hardware in five categories. We asked citizen scientists to build something to expand the frontiers of knowledge. We asked automation experts to build something more useful than the Internet of chocolate chip cookies. In the Assistive Technologies portion of the prize, we asked our community of engineers to build something that would open the world up to all of us.

While this year’s Assistive Technologies challenge brought out some great projects, there is one project from last year that must be mentioned. The Eyedrivomatic is a project to turn any electric wheelchair into a gaze-controlled robotic wheelchair, opening up the world to a population who has never had this level of accessibility at a price this low.

eyedriveomatic-hardwareThe Eyedrivomatac was the winner of last year’s Hackaday Prize, and given the scope of the project, it’s not hard to see why. The Eyedriveomatic is the solution to the problem of mobility for quadriplegics. It does this surprisingly simply by adding a servo-powered robot onto the joystick of an electric wheelchair, with everything controlled by eye gaze technology. While other systems similar to this exist, it’s the cost of the Eyedrivomatic system that makes it special. The robotic half of the project can be easily manufactured on any 3D printer, all the associated hardware can be bought for just a few dollars, and the software stack is completely open source. The entire system is interchangeable between different models of electric wheelchairs without any modifications, too.

Since winning last year’s Hackaday Prize, Patrick, Steve, and David of the Eyedrivomatic project received the grand prize of $196,883, and are now working towards starting their own production run of their revolutionary device. Right now, there’s a small cottage industry of eye gaze controlled wheelchairs cropping up, and the Eyedrivomatic team is busy building and assembling systems for electric wheelchair users across the globe.

The Eyedrivomatic is the best the Hackaday Prize has to offer. At its heart, it’s an extremely simple device — just a few 3D printed parts, a few servos, an Arduino, and some open source software. The impact the Eyedrivomatic has on its users can’t be understated. It is a liberating technology, one of the greatest projects we’ve seen, and we’ve very proud to have the Eyedrivomatic as a Hackaday Prize champion.

Continue reading “Beyond The Prize: Eye Driving Wheelchairs”

The Hackaday Prize: An Open Electric Wheelchair

[Irene Sans] and [Alvaro Ferrán Cifuentes] feel that electric wheelchairs are still too expensive. On top of that, as each person’s needs are a little different, usually don’t exactly fit the problems a wheelchair user might face. To this end they’ve begun the process of creating an open wheelchair design which they’ve appropriately dubbed OpenChair.

As has been shown in the Hackaday Prize before, there’s a lot of things left to be desired in the assistive space. Things are generally expensive. This would be fine, but often insurance doesn’t cover it or it’s out of the range of those in developing nations.  As always, the best way to finish is to start, so that’s just what [Irene] and [Alvaro] has done.

They based their initial design on the folding wheel chair we all know. It’s robust enough for daily use and is fairly standard around the world. They designed a set of accessories to make the wheelchair more livable for daily use as well as incorporating the controls.

The next problem was locomotion. Finding an off-the-shelf motor that was powerful enough without breaking the budget was proving  difficult, but they had an epiphany. Why not use mass production toy crap to their advantage. The “hoverboards” that were all the rage this past commerical holiday season were able to roll a person around, so naturally a wheelchair would be within the power range.

They extracted the two 350 watt hub motors, batteries, and control boards. It took a bit of reverse engineering but they were able to get the hub drive motors of the hoverboard integrated with the controls on their wheelchair.

In the end they were able to cut the price of a regular electric wheelchair in half with their first iteration and set the foundation for future work on an open electric wheelchair system. Certainly more work could bring even better improvements.

A Better Way to Measure Your Impact on the World

Close your eyes and think of an electric wheelchair. What do you see? Is it sleek, futuristic, and elegant… worthy of the moniker: iChair? No, no it is not. It’s a boxy tank-like thing with grey knobbed wheels that is powered with lead-acid batteries. Why is that?

Obviously there are alternatives. Just yesterday I came across UPnRIDE (that name is sore on the eyes but speak it aloud and you’ll get it). It’s an electric wheelchair that converts into a standing position. And it looks comparatively sleek and modern. And it’s not the first time I’ve seen the idea before. One of my favorite articles over the years is still our coverage of Tek RMD, a similar standing robotic wheelchair design. So why is it I don’t see these in the wild? Why is it I only remember seeing the concept twice in four years?

Continue reading “A Better Way to Measure Your Impact on the World”

Cyborg Olympics is Coming this Fall

You heard right. There’s a team of scientists in Europe who are arranging the world’s first Cyborg Olympics, called the Cybathlon. Hosted in Zurich this October, it aims to help gauge the performance and advancement in the latest developments of prosthesis and other devices that can augment human ability beyond what is considered normal or baseline.

The best example of this is [Oscar Pistorius] — the man with fiberglass spring legs. He’s a double amputee who can run at an Olympic level — or maybe even faster. With the Cybathlon, his prosthesis would not only be accepted, but encouraged to help demonstrate and further the technology by adding a competitive angle to the companies manufacturing them.  Continue reading “Cyborg Olympics is Coming this Fall”