Solar-Powered Prosthetic Skin

One of the biggest problems for prosthetic users is feel. If you’ve ever tried to hold a pen and write with a numb hand, you’ve realised how important feedback is to the motor control equation. Research is ongoing to find ways to provide feedback from prosthetic limbs, in even a basic format.  The human nervous system is a little more complex than just interfacing with the average serial UART. One of the requirements of many feedback systems is power, which usually would involve bulky batteries or some form of supercapacitors, but a British team has developed a way to embed solar cells in a touch-sensitive prosthetic skin.

The skin relies on everyone’s favourite material of the minute, graphene. A thin layer of graphene allows the prosthetic to feed signals back to the user of both temperature and contact pressure. The trick is that the graphene skin is incredibly transparent, reportedly allowing 98% of light on its surface to pass through. It’s then a simple matter of fitting solar panels beneath this skin, and the energy harvested can then be used to power the sensor system.

The team does admit that some power storage will later be required, as it would be difficult for any prosthetic user if their limbs lost all feedback when they walked into a dark room. The idea of one’s arm losing all feeling upon going to bed isn’t particularly appealing. Check out the paper here (paywalled). Video below the break.
We see a lot of great prosthetic projects cross our desk here at Hackaday – like this 3D printed prosthetic hand. Prosthetics definitely matter, so why not build your own and enter it in the 2017 Hackaday Prize?

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Scratch-built Camera Gimbal for Photographer with Cerebral Palsy

We so often hack for hacking’s sake, undertaking projects as a solitary pursuit simply for the challenge. So it’s nice to see hacking skills going to good use and helping someone out. Such was the case with this low-cost two-axis handheld camera gimbal intended to help a budding photographer with a motion disorder.

When [Tadej Strah] joined his school photography club, a fellow member who happens to have cerebral palsy needed help steadying cameras for clean shots. So rather than shell out a lot of money for a commercial gimbal, [Tadej] decided to build one for his friend. A few scraps of aluminum bar stock were bent into the gimbal frames and camera mount. Two hobby servos take care of the pitch and roll axes, controlled by an Arduino talking to an MPU-6050. Mounted to a handle from an angle grinder with the battery and electronics mounted below, the gimbal looks well-balanced and does a good job of keeping the camera level.

Hats off to [Tadej] for pitching in and solving a real world problem with his skills. We like to see people helping others directly, whether it’s building a gyroscopic spoon for Parkinson’s sufferers or vision enhancement for a nearly blind adventurer.

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Two Bits a Gander: Of Premature Babies, Incubators, and Coney Island Sideshows

Newborn humans are both amazingly resilient and frighteningly fragile creatures. A child born with a 40 full weeks of gestation has pretty good odds of surviving the neonatal period these days, and even if he or she comes along a few weeks early, things usually go smoothly. But those babies that can’t wait to get out and meet the world can run into trouble, and the earlier they’re born, the greater the intervention needed to save them.

We’ve all seen pictures of remarkably tiny babies in incubators, seemingly dwarfed by the gloved hands of an anxious parent who just wants that first magical touch of their baby’s skin. As common as such an intervention is now and as technologically advanced as neonatology is, care for premature infants as a medical discipline has a long and interesting history of technical and social hacks that’s worth looking at.

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Wireless Wearable Watches your Vital Signs

Is it [Dr. McCoy]’s long-awaited sickbay biobed, with wireless sensing and display of vital signs? Not quite, but this wearable patient monitor comes pretty close. And from the look of it, [Arthur]’s system might even monitor a few more parameters than [Bones]’ bleeping bed from the original series.

Starting with an automatic blood pressure cuff that [Arthur] had previously reversed engineered, he started adding sensors. Pulse, ECG, respiration rate, galvanic skin response, and body temperature are all measured from one compact, wrist-wearable device. It’s not entirely wireless – the fingertip pulse oximetry dongle and chest electrodes still need to be wired back to the central unit – but the sensors all talk to a Teensy 3.2 which then communicates to an Android app over Bluetooth, so there’s no need to be tethered to the display. And speaking of electrodes, we’re intrigued by the ADS1292 chip [Arthur] uses, which not only senses the heart’s electrical signals but also detects respirations by the change in impedance as the chest wall expands and contracts. Of course there’s also pneumography via radar that could be rolled into this sensor suite.

It’s all pretty cool, and we can easily see a modified version of this app displayed on a large tablet or monitor being both an accurate prop reconstruction and a useful medical device.

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Pulse Oximeter is a Lot of Work

These days we are a little spoiled. There are many sensors you can grab, hook up to your favorite microcontroller, load up some simple library code, and you are in business. When [Raivis] got a MAX30100 pulse oximeter breakout board, he thought it would go like that. It didn’t. He found it takes a lot of processing to get useful results out of the device. Lucky for us he wrote it all down with Arduino code to match.

A pulse oximeter measures both your pulse and the oxygen saturation in your blood. You’ve probably had one of these on your finger or earlobe at the doctor’s office or a hospital. Traditionally, they consist of a red LED and an IR LED. A detector measures how much of each light makes it through and the ratio of those two quantities relates to the amount of oxygen in your blood. We can’t imagine how [Karl Matthes] came up with using red and green light back in 1935, and how [Takuo Aoyagi] (who, along with [Michio Kishi]) figured out the IR and red light part.

The MAX30100 manages to alternate the two LEDs, regulate their brightness, filter line noise out of the readings, and some other tasks. It stores the data in a buffer. The trick is: how do you interpret that buffer? Continue reading “Pulse Oximeter is a Lot of Work”

The ‘All-Seeing Pi’ Aids Low-Vision Adventurer

Adventure travel can be pretty grueling, what with the exotic locations and potential for disaster that the typical tourist destinations don’t offer. One might find oneself dangling over a cliff for that near-death-experience selfie or ziplining through a rainforest canopy. All this is significantly complicated by being blind, of course, so a tool like this Raspberry Pi low-vision system would be a welcome addition to the nearly-blind adventurer’s well-worn rucksack.

[Dan] has had vision problems since childhood, but one look at his YouTube channel shows that he doesn’t let that slow him down. When [Dan] met [Ben] in Scotland, [Ben] noticed that he was using his smartphone as a vision aid, looking at the display up close and zooming in to get as much detail as possible from his remaining vision. [Ben] thought he could help, so he whipped up a heads-up display from a Raspberry Pi and a Pi Camera. Mounted to a 3D-printed frame holding a 5″ HDMI display and worn from a GoPro head mount, the camera provides enough detail to help [Dan] navigate, as seen in the video below.

The rig is a bit unwieldy right now, but as proof of concept (and proof of friendship), it’s a solid start. We think a slimmer profile design might help, in which case [Ben] might want to look into this Google Glass-like display for a multimeter for inspiration on version 2.0.

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Interactive Game Board Helps Toddler Learn Colors and Shapes

Most parents would do anything to enrich their kids’ worlds and teach them what they need to know. Hacker parents often take it one step further by modifying the kid’s world to allow them to work past a disability. To wit we have an interactive game board to help a toddler learn her shapes and colors.

The toddler in question is [Becca], and her needs are special because of the progressive nature of the blindness that will result from her Usher Syndrome. [Becca] will need visual acuity testing much earlier than most toddlers, but a standard eye chart is meaningless to kids before they get their letters. This is where Lea shapes come in – a set of four shapes that are used to make visual testing a game and help practitioners assess what a child can and cannot see.

[Jake] and his wife [Beth] were advised to familiarize [Becca] with the shapes, but all she wanted to do was eat the printed sheet. In order to make the task more entertaining, [Jake] built an interactive board where brightly colored Lea shapes trigger the room lights to change to the same color as the block when it’s inserted into the correct spot on the board, as a visual reward. Reed switches, magnets, and an Arduino comprise the game logic, and the board communicates to the Philips Hue smart bulbs over an NRF24L01. The video below also shows some cool under-bed lights and a very engaged [Becca] learning her shapes and colors.

As we expected when we last covered his efforts to help [Rebecca], [Jake] has leveraged the Raspberry Pi he used as a hub for the stairwell lighting project. We’re looking forward to seeing what else he comes up with, and to see how [Becca] is thriving.

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