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.

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Forget Lithium Battery Technology, Just Boil A Potato

These researchers are taking this development so seriously we can’t help but be suspicious that, perhaps, they are all deeply embroiled in a bet to see who could get funding for and complete research in the most absurd technological advancement.

Most of us have had a science teacher desperately try to alleviate the drudgery of standardized test centric science education by dramatically putting a copper nail and a zinc nail into a potato or lemon. “Behold, we can measure a voltage with this voltmeter. If you get asked what a voltmeter is on a test, here is a definition none of you have enough experimental basis to understand,” the teacher would say as their dreams of being a true educator were crushed a little more.

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3D Printer Tragedy Claims a Life

Thankfully it’s rare that we report on something as tragic as the death of a 17-year old, but the fact that the proximate cause was a 3D printer makes it all the worse and important for us to discuss.

The BBC report tells of a recently concluded coroner’s inquest into the December death of a young man in a fire at his family’s magic shop in Lincolnshire. The building was gutted by the fire, and the victim died of smoke inhalation. The inquest found that he had been working with a 3D printer in the shop and using hairspray to prepare the bed, a tip he apparently picked up from forums and blogs.

Unfortunately for this young man and his family, the online material didn’t mention that hairspray propellant contains volatile hydrocarbons like propane, cyclopropane, n-butane and isobutane — all highly flammable. Apparently the victim used enough hairspray in a small enough space to create an explosive mixture of fuel and air. Neighbors reported a gigantic fireball that consumed the shop, which took 50 firefighters to control.

While the inquest doesn’t directly blame the 3D printer as the source of ignition — which could just as easily have been a spark from a light switch, or a pilot light on a water heater — it does mention that the hot end can reach 300C. And the fact remains that were it not for the 3D printer and the online tips, it’s unlikely that a 17-year old boy would be using enough hairspray in an enclosed space to create what amounted to a bomb.

By all accounts, the victim was a bright and thoughtful kid, and for this to have happened is an unmitigated tragedy for his family and friends. This young man probably had a bright future and stood to contribute to the hacker community but for a brief lapse of judgment. Before anyone starts slinging around the blame in the comments section, think about it — how many time haves you done something like this and gotten away with it? This kid got badly unlucky and paid the ultimate price. Maybe we should make his death worth something by looking at what we do that skates a little too close to the thin edge of the ice.

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Variable Thickness Slicing For 3D Printers

With proper tuning, any 3D printer can create exceptionally detailed physical replicas of digital files. The time it takes for a printer to print an object at very high detail is another matter entirely. The lower the layer height, the more layers must be printed, and the longer a print takes to print.

Thanks to [Steve Kranz] at Autodesk’s Integrated Additive Manufacturing Team, there’s now a solution to the problem of very long, very high-quality prints. It’s called VariSlice, and it slices 3D in a way that’s only high quality where it needs to be.

The basic idea behind VariSlice is to print vertical walls at a maximum layer height, while very shallow angles – the top of a sphere, for example – are printed at a very low layer height. That’s simple and obvious; you will never need to print a vertical wall at ten micron resolution, and fine details will always look terrible with a high layer height.

The trick, as in everything with 3D printing, is the implementation. In the Instructable for VariSlice, it appears that the algorithm considers the entire layer of an object at a time, taking the maximum slope over the entire perimeter and refining the layer height if it’s necessary. There’s no weird stair stepping, overlapping layers of different thicknesses, or interleaving here. It’s doing automatically what you’d normally have to do manually.

Nevertheless, the VariSlice algorithm is now one of Autodesk’s open source efforts, just like the Ember resin printer used in the example below. The application for this algorithm in filament-based printers is obvious, though. The speed increase for the same level of quality is variable, but the time it takes to print some very specific objects can be up to ten times faster. Whether or not this algorithm can be integrated into Cura or Slic3r is another matter entirely, but we can only hope so.

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The Hacks And Puzzles Of The Hackaday SuperCon Badge

The greatest hardware conference is right around the corner. We would be remiss if the Hackaday SuperConference badge wasn’t the greatest electronic badge in history, and we think we have something special here. We’ve already taken a look at the hardware behind this year’s badge, and now it’s time to take a look at the challenges for this year’s Hackaday SuperCon.

The Puzzles

A conference badge isn’t good unless there are a few puzzles to solve, and the 2016 Hackaday SuperCon badge doesn’t come up short. Hidden behind an accelerometer-based gravity simulation, a moving message display, a Tetris clone, and an infrared communications protocol are a series of five challenges. The first SuperCon attendee to beat the challenge will be awarded a fantastic cash prize of $256 and win the respect of their peers.
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Specifications You Should Read: The NASA Workmanship Standards

"This is reflective of the typically idiosyncratic way engineer's of this era explored the human condition. The purple and shitty gradient show's the artists deep struggle with deadlines and his personal philosophy on the tyranny of the bourgeois. " - A segment from a confused student's art history paper
“Reflective of the typically idiosyncratic way engineers of this era explored the human condition. The shitty gradient show’s the deep struggle with deadlines and their personal philosophy on the tyranny of the bourgeois. ” – An excerpt from a confused student’s art history paper after the standard is installed in the Louvre.

The NASA workmanship standards are absolutely beautiful. I mean that in the fullest extent of the word. If I had any say in the art that goes up in the Louvre, I’d put them up right beside Mona. They’re a model of what a standard should be. A clear instruction for construction, design, and inspection all at once. They’re written in clear language and contain all the vernacular one needs to interpret them. They’re unassuming. The illustrations are perfectly communicative.  It’s a monument to the engineer’s art.

Around five years ago I had a problem to solve. Every time a device went into the field happily transmitting magic through its myriad connectors, it would inevitably come back red tagged, dusty, and sad. It needed to stop. I dutifully traced the problem to a connector, and I found the problem. A previous engineer had informed everyone that it was perfectly okay to solder a connector after crimping. This instruction was added because, previously, the crimps were performed with a regular pair of needle nose pliers and they came undone… a lot. Needless to say, the solder also interfered with their reliable operation, though less obviously. Stress failures and intermittent contact was common.

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Drum on a Chip–Not That Kind of Chip

Comedian Mitch Hedberg had a theory about Pringles potato chips. His theory is the company formed to make tennis balls. But instead of a truckload of rubber, someone accidentally sent them potatoes, so they made the best of it. Certainly the Pringles can is an iconic brand all by itself. The cans also have a lot of hacker history, since they are commonly used for WiFi cantennas (even though it might not be the best choice of cans). People also use them to build pinhole cameras, macro lenses, and a variety of cannon-like devices.

[Ian H] uses the short Pringles cans to build a drum kit. Clearly, the little cans aren’t going to make very much sound on their own, but with a piezo speaker element used in reverse, the cans become touch sensors that feed an Arduino and drive a MIDI device. You can see a video of the result, below.

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