Alma The Talking Dog Might Win Some Bar Bets

Students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have a brain-computer interface that can measure brainwaves. What did they do with it? They gave it to Alma, a golden labrador, as you can see in the video below. The code and enough info to duplicate the electronics are on GitHub.

Of course, the dog doesn’t directly generate speech. Instead, the circuit watches her brainwaves via an Arduino and feeds the raw data to a Raspberry Pi. A machine learning algorithm determines Alma’s brainwave state and plays prerecorded audio expressing Alma’s thoughts.

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Better Living Through Science: Why Your Kids Probably Aren’t Getting Measles

Oddly, there’s been a few recent outbreaks of measles. It struck me how when I was a kid, a few hundred kids getting measles wouldn’t have been news at all. However, even a handful makes the news now, since in 2000 the Center for Disease Control declared measles eradicated in the United States.

So how can an eradicated disease come back? How did we eradicate it to start with? The answers tell a pretty interesting tale of science applying to everyday life.

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Safely Dive Into Your Fears with Virtual Reality

What makes you afraid? Not like jump-scares in movies or the rush of a roller-coaster, but what are your legitimate fears that qualify as phobias? Spiders? Clowns? Blood? Flying? Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin are experimenting with exposure therapy in virtual reality to help people manage their fears. For some phobias, like arachnophobia, the fear of spiders, this seems like a perfect fit. If you are certain that you are safely in a spider-free laboratory wearing a VR headset, and you see a giant spider crawling across your field of vision, the fear may be more manageable than being asked to put your hand into a populated spider tank.

After the experimental therapy, participants were asked to take the spider tank challenge. Subjects who were not shown VR spiders were less enthusiastic about keeping their hands in the tank. This is not definitive proof, but it is a promising start.

High-end VR equipment and homemade rigs are in the budget for many gamers and hackers, and our archives are an indication of how much the cutting-edge crowd loves immersive VR. We have been hacking 360 recording for nearly a decade, long before 360 cameras took their niche in the consumer market. Maybe when this concept is proven out a bit more, implementations will start appearing in our tip lines with hackers who helped their friends get over their fears.

Via IEEE Spectrum.

Photo by Wokandapix.

Meet Tympan, The Open Hardware Hearing Aid

If you’re the kind of person who’s serious about using open source software and hardware, relying on a medical device like a pacemaker or an insulin pump can be a particular insult. You wouldn’t trust the technology with your email, and yet you’re forced to put your life into the hands of a device you can’t examine yourself. Unfortunately we don’t (yet) have any news to report on open source pacemakers, but at least now there’s an open software and hardware hearing aid for those who need it.

The Tympan project aims to develop a fully open source hearing aid that you can not only build yourself, but expand and modify to fit your exact specifications. Ever wanted to write code for your hearing aid with the Arduino IDE? No problem. You want Bluetooth, I2C, and SPI? You got it. In truth we’re not sure what this kind of technology makes possible just yet, but the point is that now those who want to hack their hearing aids have a choice in the matter. We have no doubt the community will come up with incredible applications that we can’t even begin to imagine.

But these open hearing aids aren’t just hackable, they’re affordable. Traditional hearing aids can cost thousands of dollars, but you can buy the Tympan right now for $250. You don’t even need to check with your health insurance first. Such a huge reduction in price means there’s a market for these outside the hardware hacking crowd, and yet another example of how open source can put cutting edge technology into the hands of those who would otherwise have to go without.

The latest version of the Tympan hardware, revision D, is powered by the Teensy 3.6 and features a Sierra Wireless BC127 Bluetooth radio, dual MEMS microphones, and even a microSD slot for recording audio or logging data. It might be a bit bigger than the traditional hearing aids you’re used to seeing, but with an external microphone and headphone setup, the wearer could simply keep it in their pocket.

We’ve seen DIY hearing aids before, but unless you’re willing to carry a breadboard around with you, they’ve generally been limited to proof of concept sort of builds. We’re glad to see a mature project like Tympan join the growing movement for open source medical hardware; it’s a another big step forward towards democratizing these critical pieces of technology.

Stethoscopes, Electronics, and Artificial Intelligence

For all the advances in medical diagnostics made over the last two centuries of modern medicine, from the ability to peer deep inside the body with the help of superconducting magnets to harnessing the power of molecular biology, it seems strange that the enduring symbol of the medical profession is something as simple as the stethoscope. Hardly a medical examination goes by without the frigid kiss of a stethoscope against one’s chest, while we search the practitioner’s face for a telltale frown revealing something wrong from deep inside us.

The stethoscope has changed little since its invention and yet remains a valuable if problematic diagnostic tool. Efforts have been made to solve these problems over the years, but only with relatively recent advances in digital signal processing (DSP), microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), and artificial intelligence has any real progress been made. This leaves so-called smart stethoscopes poised to make a real difference in diagnostics, especially in the developing world and under austere or emergency situations.

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Biodegradable Implants Supercharge Nerve Regeneration

Controlled electrical stimulation of nerves can do amazing things. It has been shown to encourage healing and growth in damaged cells of the peripheral nervous system which means regaining motor control and sensation in a shorter period with better results. This type of treatment is referred to as an electroceutical, and the etymology is easy to parse. The newest kid on the block just finished testing on rat subjects, applying electricity for one, three, or six days per week in one-hour intervals. The results showed that more treatment led to faster healing. The kicker is that the method of applying electricity was done through unbroken skin on an implant that dissolves harmlessly.

The implant in question is, at its most basic, an RFID tag with leads that touch the injured nerves. This means wireless magnetic coupling takes power from an outside source and delivers it to where it is needed. All the traces on are magnesium. There is a capacitor with silicon dioxide sandwiched between magnesium, and a diode made from a doped silicon nanomembrane. All this is encased in a biodegradable substrate called poly lactic-co-glycolic acid, a rising star for FDA-approved polys. Technologically speaking, these are not outrageous.

These exotic materials are not in the average hacker’s hands yet, but citizen scientists have started tinkering with the less invasive tDCS and which is applying a small electrical current to the brain through surface electrodes or the brain hacking known as the McCollough effect.

Via IEEE Spectrum.

Toilet Seat Could Save Your Ass

Our morning routine could be appended to something like “breakfast, stretching, sit on a medical examiner, shower, then commute.” If we are speaking seriously, we don’t always get to our morning stretches, but a quick medical exam could be on the morning agenda. We would wager that a portion of our readers are poised for that exam as they read this article. The examiner could come in the form of a toilet seat. This IoT throne is the next device you didn’t know you needed because it can take measurements to detect signs of heart failure every time you take a load off.

Tracking heart failure is not just one test, it is a buttload of tests. Continuous monitoring is difficult although tools exist for each test. It is unreasonable to expect all the at-risk people to sit at a blood pressure machine, inside a ballistocardiograph, with an oximeter on their fingers three times per day. Getting people to browse Hackaday on their phones after lunch is less of a struggle. When the robots overthrow us, this will definitely be held against us.

We are not sure if this particular hardware will be open-source, probably not, but there is a lesson here about putting sensors where people will use them. Despite the low rank on the glamorous scale, from a UX point of view, it is ingenious. How can we flush out our own projects to make them usable? After all, if you build a badass morning alarm, but it tries to kill you, it will need some work and if you make a gorgeous clock with the numbers all messed up…okay, we dig that particular one for different reasons.

Via IEEE Spectrum.