Introducing The Mobility Unlimited Challenge

If you take a walk across the centre of your city, you will find it to be a straightforward experience with few inconveniences. The occasional hold-up at a pedestrian crossing perhaps, or maybe a crowd of people in a busy shopping area. If however you take the same walk in the company of a wheelchair user you are likely to encounter an entirely different experience. The streets become a nightmare of obstacles to avoid and inaccessible areas requiring a detour, and suddenly what had been a pleasurable experience becomes a significant effort. Despite building and planning code updates to improve the situation, and millions of dollars invested in ramps, lifts, and other improvements, there remain so many problems to be addressed. Meanwhile legislators and the general public imagine that something has been done, the accessibility box has been ticked, and they can move on to the next thing that captures their attention.

The paralympian athlete [Tatyana McFadden] is an ambassador for the Toyota Mobility Foundation’s Mobility Unlimited Challenge, a global competition with the aim of improving mobility for people with disabilities. She’s written a piece introducing the challenge from her informed point of view as a wheelchair user, and makes the point that the basic design of a chair has not significantly changed since the 1930s. Her sentence: “There may be more hype around Bitcoin, but innovators could have far more impact if they turned their attention to how they can make the freedom to move available to all.” is one to make those of us with an interest in technology stop and think. To introduce the challenge they’ve released a glossy video, and we’ve placed it below the break.

As part of this year’s Hackaday Prize, we had an Assistive Technologies section that attracted some fantastic entries. That demonstrates that our community has plenty of people with the required skills, experience, and ideas to make a difference, and we hope that some of them might be among the entries for the Mobility Unlimited competition. If it excites your interest, we’d like to urge you to give it a second look.

A word of warning though – take care to avoid the Engineer Saviour Trap.

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Tough Pi-ano can Take a Punch

There will be no delicate solos for [24 Hour Engineer’s] Tough Pi-ano. It was built to soak punishment from aggressive youngsters in musical therapy, specifically those on the autism spectrum and those with Down’s syndrome. The Tough Pi-ano will be bolted to a wall with heavy-duty shelf brackets so it can’t fall on anyone. The keyboard is covered in plastic and it doesn’t have any exposed metal so there will be no splinters.

[24 Hour Engineer] made a short video demonstration and if you listen closely, he has a pun in all but one sentence. We love that kind of easter egg in YouTube videos. Check it out after the break.

Inside the 48-key instrument are four Raspberry Pi Zeros where each Pi controls one octave. The redundancy ensures that a hardware failure only drops out a single octave and the kids can keep playing until replacement parts arrive. Each Pi has identical programming and a thumbwheel switch tells it which octave it will be emulating.

Programming was done with Python and Pygame and all the inputs are run to a homemade “hat” where the wires are soldered. Pygame’s sole responsibility is to monitor the GPIO and then play the appropriate note when a button is pressed, slapped, punched or sat upon.

Similar in name, the Touch Piano has no moving parts or perhaps you would rather use your Raspberry Pi in an upright piano.

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Just Don’t Call it an Old Remote

[Hari Wiguna’s] father is ninety years young. He started having trouble pushing the buttons on his TV remote, so [Hari] decided to build a custom remote that just has the buttons his dad needs. Oh, and the buttons are big.

There are a few interesting things about this project. [Hari] wanted to maximize battery life, so he went through a good bit of effort to keep the processor asleep and minimize power consumption. The remote is programmable, but [Hari] didn’t have access to his dad’s remotes. His answer was elegant. He used his Android phone to mimic the required remotes and provided a way for the remote to learn from another remote (in this case, the phone).
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It Sucks to Pick Up the Pieces

Jigsaw puzzles are a fun and interactive way to spend an afternoon or twelve, depending on the piece count and your skill level. It’s exciting to find the pieces you need to complete a section or link two areas together, but if you have poor dexterity, excitement can turn to frustration when you move to pick them up. [thomasgruwez] had the disabled and otherwise fumble-fingered in mind when he created this pick and place jigsaw puzzle aid, which uses suction to pick up and transport puzzle pieces.

The suction comes from an aquarium pump running in reverse, a hack we’ve seen often which [thomasgruwez] explains in a separate Instructable. A large, inviting push button is wired in line to turn the pump on and off. An equally large and inviting momentary switch turns off the vacuum temporarily so the piece can be placed.

At the business end of this hack is the tiny suction-cupped tip from a cheap vacuum pen. To interface the pen head with the pump, [thomasgruwez] designed and printed a rigid straw to bridge the gap. With utility already in mind, [thomasgruwez] also designed a ring that can be bolted to the straw to house a steadying finger of your choice, like the pinkie hook on a pair of barbers’ shears.

Our favorite part of this hack has to be the optional accessory—a tiny platform for quickly flipping pieces without cutting the vacuum. Check it out after the break.

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EVA: What’s on Telly for the Visually Impaired

[chewabledrapery] has certainly used his Raspberry Pi for good. His girlfriend’s grandfather is growing more visually impaired as time goes on. He likes to watch telly, but has trouble reading the on-screen information about the channel and programming. To that end, [chewabledrapery] has built an electronic voice assistant called EVA, who fetches the telly schedule from a web service and reads it aloud in her lovely voice that comes courtesy of Google Translate’s TTS function.

Under EVA’s hood is a Raspberry Pi. A USB hub powers the Pi and holds a small USB soundcard, a Wi-Fi dongle, and a USB daughterboard that the controller plugs into. The daughterboard is from a USB keyboard, which makes another appearance in the awesome controller. It’s made of a joystick and two arcade buttons that use the USB keyboard’s controller to interact with Python scripts.

[chewabledrapery]’s scripts make formatted requests to a web service called atlas, which returns JSON objects with the TV schedule and content descriptions. EVA then turns to Google Translate, speaking the formatted text through a small amplifier and salvaged PC speaker. In order to minimize the number of web calls, some of EVA’s frequent musings are stored locally. A full tour of EVA is after the break.

We love to see hacks that help people. Remember this RFID audio book reader?

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Talking Tactile 3D Prints

Cell biology professor [Mike] has created a way for blind students to decipher microscope slides using 3D prints and the magic of capacitive sensing. His write-up focuses on a slide showing the anaphase stage of mitosis in whitefish blastula, a popular choice for studying cell division. When a student touches a certain area of the print, the capacitive sensor triggers audio playback to tell them what they’re feeling.

[Mike] started by turning a 2D image of a cell into a 3D print. To do this, he made the image black and white, and then inverted the colors so that the 3D print’s topography will correspond correctly. The talking part is handled by an Arduino Duemilanove and a Spikenzie voice shield. The latter has a somewhat limited amount of space, but is more than adequate for the audio labels [Mike] made, which are all less than three seconds long.

A hard copy of the 2D file comes in handy for making sure the cap sensors are in the right places. To make those, [Mike] cut up some floor protector pads and covered the sticky side with copper tape. These are held on the 2D image with double-sided tape. The 3D print sits on top, separated by more furniture pads at the corners. He labeled this scientific sandwich model with a 3D printed Braille label that reads ‘anaphase’. [Mike] has made the referenced STL file along with a few others available at the National Institutes of Health’s 3D print exchange site.

RFID Audio Book Reader For the Visually Impaired

When [Willem] visited home last year, he stopped in at his grandparents’ house and found that his very active 93-year-old grandfather had recently gone almost completely blind and was passing the days just sitting in a chair. [Willem] suggested that he listen to audio books, but his grandfather wasn’t receptive to the idea until [Willem] convinced him that the well-narrated ones can be very gripping and entertaining. Once his grandfather was on board, [Willem] knew that he needed a much more accessible solution than a tiny device with tiny controls, so he built an RFID audio reader using a Raspberry Pi.

[Willem] has posted the build details at his personal site. Essentially, the box you see above contains a Raspi and an RFID reader. He created different ‘books’ by placing RFID cards inside of DVD boxes, which makes them more tangible and accessible. When a book is placed on the box, the RFID reader tells the Pi which mp3 files to load. The large colored buttons let the user pause, rewind 20 seconds, and control the volume.

We love to see this kind of build. It’s simple, effective, and greatly enhances the user’s quality of life. [Willem]’s grandfather loves it and uses it every day.