Hackaday Prize Entry: Staircane, a Walker That Takes the Stairs

[Jim]’s aunt has lived in the same house for the last 50 years. She loves it there, and she wants to stay as long as possible. There’s a big problem, though. The house has several staircases, and they are all beginning to disagree with her. Enter Staircane, [Jim]’s elegant solution that adds extendable legs to any standard walker.

Most of the time, walkers serve their purpose quite well. But once you encounter uneven ground or a staircase, they show their limitations. The idea behind Staircane is a simple one: quickly extend the back or front legs of a walker depending on the situation, and do so in unison. Staircane uses one button for each set of legs. Pushing the button engages a thin cable, much like the brake cable on a bicycle. The cable pulls a release trigger, unlocking the notched extensions. When the legs are sufficiently extended, the user simply releases the button to lock them in place. Once on flat ground, the user pushes the button again while pressing down on the walker to even out the leg lengths. Check out the video after the break to see the 3D-printed prototype.

Staircane is a semi-finalist in our Wheels, Wings, and Walkers challenge, which ended a few weeks ago. Did you know that you can enter your project into more than one challenge? Since this project falls squarely into assistive technologies territory, we hope that [Jim] and his team submit Staircane to our Assistive Technologies challenge before the deadline on September 4th. We don’t have many entries so far, so if  you’re thinking about entering, give in to temptation!

Continue reading “Hackaday Prize Entry: Staircane, a Walker That Takes the Stairs”

A Hacker’s Guide to Getting Old

It’s no surprise that things change as we age, and that tasks that were once trivial become difficult. Case in point: my son asked for help with the cord on his gaming headset the other night. The cable had broken and we could see frayed conductors exposed. When I got it apart, I found that I could barely see the ultra-fine wires to resolder them after cutting out the bad section. I managed to do it, but just barely.

This experience got me thinking about how to deal with the inevitable. How do you stay active as a hacker once your body starts to fight you more than it helps you? I’m interested mostly in dealing with changes in vision, but also in loss of dexterity and fine motor skills, and dealing with cognitive changes. This isn’t a comprehensive list of the ravages of time, but they’re probably the big ones that impact any hacker-related hobby. I enlisted a couple of my more seasoned Hackaday colleagues, [Bil] and [Rud], for their tips and tricks to deal with these issues.

Continue reading “A Hacker’s Guide to Getting Old”

The Race to Develop Technology that Enhances Elder Care

It happens with every generation – we’re born, our parents care for us and nurture us, we grow up, they grow old, and then we switch roles and care for them. Soon it’ll be my turn to be the caregiver to my parents, and I recently got a preview of things to come when my mom fell and busted her ankle. That it wasn’t the classic broken hip was a relief, but even “just” a broken ankle was difficult enough to deal with. I live 40 minutes away from the ‘rents, and while that’s not too bad when the visits are just the weekly dinner at Grammy’s, the time and the miles really start to add up when the visits turn into every other day to make sure Mom’s getting around OK and Dad is eating and sleeping.

I was sorely tempted to hack some kind of solution to give myself a rudimentary telepresence, but I couldn’t think of anything that wouldn’t have either been unacceptably intrusive (think webcams) or difficult to support from an IT perspective. Mom’s pretty handy with the iPad and she Skypes with my brother and his family out in California, but beyond leveraging that I was tapped out for ideas that I could easily deploy and would deliver sufficient value beyond the support burden within the time frame of healing the ankle. Consequently, I spent a lot of time in the car this summer.

This experience got me to thinking about how intergenerational caregiving will change with the rise of pervasive technology. The bad news: we’re still going to get old, and getting old sucks. The good news is, I think technology is going to make things easier for caregivers and elders alike. We have an incredible range of technology experiences among the generations present right now, from my parents who can remember phones without dials and nights spent listening to the radio, to my daughter’s generation that is practically growing up with supercomputers in the palms of their hands. How each generation ages and how it embraces technology as a solution for age-related problems are going to be vastly different.

Continue reading “The Race to Develop Technology that Enhances Elder Care”

Aging in Place Prize Projects that Made us say Wow

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is all about solutions to problems affecting a large number of people, and aging touches everyone. This week we were on the lookout for the entries best addressing the problem of Aging in Place. This means being able to live in your home and community independently and comfortably as one ages. It is as important to the aging as it is to their friends and family; a topic well worth your hacking skills and engineering brilliance.

Monitor Warning Signs

There were several entries that focused on monitoring for out-of-the-ordinary behavior. The Personal Medical Assistant seeks to leverage the sensor array and computing power of smartphones combined with ancillary data harvesting from things like an ECG chest band or a pulse oximeter watch. The idea is to watch for a series of precursors to health emergencies and warn both the person being monitored and their support network of family or caretakers.

The whimsically title Ye Oldie Monitor focuses on a similar idea with a more passive role. The concept suggests a base-station and a series of remote monitors throughout the living area, like PIR motion sensors, to alert for notable variations on a person’s normal day-to-day activities. In a similar vein the LiteHouse project would retrofit the household lighting fixtures with motion detectors. These automatically light each area to help prevent low-light accidents like falls, while also monitoring for signs of duress.

Solving the Communication Barrier

being-thre-with-pi-thumbWatching out for each other is complicated by distance.  We saw a few entries that try to alleviate that, like the Being There with Pi project. Smartphones and computers are a great way to communicate, until you need help making your smartphone or computer work in order to do so. This project looks at developing a dedicated video conferencing system based around the Rasperry Pi. The point is to develop an excruciatingly simple, robust form of live video communications.

julias-speakerphoneContinuing on the note of simplified communications is Julia’s Speakerphone project. [Julia] is living with multiple sclerosis that has resulted in her being bed bound for almost a decade. Making phone calls has been both rare and leaves us wondering why this sort of solution isn’t already in wide adoption. The solution is a combination of a Bluetooth hands-free calling module, Android tablet, Skype a pay-as-you-go cellphone, and an interesting button hack for [Julia] to activate the hand’s free. It is crafted with leaf switches and polymorph and worn as a bracelet. The proof of concept is there and we can’t wait to see this evolve into a more robust and extensible solution.

This Week’s Winners

aging-in-place-prizes

First place this week goes to the Personal Medical Assistant and will receive a RE:load Pro programmable constant current load.

Second place this week goes to Julia’s Speakerphone and will receive a Sparkfun Microview.

Third place this week goes to Being There with Pi and will receive a Hackaday CRT-android head tee.

Next Week’s Theme

We’ll announce next week’s theme a bit later today. Don’t let that stop you from entering any ideas this collection of entries may have inspired.


The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Time for the Prize: Aging in Place

Aging in Place is a growing issue facing the world. As the population begins to live longer, healthier lives we need to continue developing assistive technologies that will facilitate independence and safe living long into our twilight years. That is the topic of this week’s Time for the Prize. Enter your idea for Aging in Place by starting a project on Hackaday.io and tagging it 2015HackadayPrize. Do this by next Monday and you’re in the running for this week’s awesome prizes.

What is Aging in Place?

I use the “define:” search term on Google all the time and for Aging in Place it turns up the Center for Disease Control’s definition:

“the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.”

I love this definition. How easy is it to get behind the concept of better quality of life for all as we age? Still not getting the thought process flowing? After listing the prizes I’ll illustrate a couple of projects that will give you a good idea of what people are working on.

This Week’s Prizes

aging-in-place-prizes

We’ll be picking three of the best ideas based on their potential to help alleviate a wide-ranging problem, the innovation shown by the concept, and its feasibility. First place will receive a RE:load Pro programmable constant current load. Second place will receive a Sparkfun Microview. Third place will receive a Hackaday CRT-android head tee.

 Hacks that Help

pill-reminderrx-timer-capsThe easiest examples I can think of relate to medicine. A lot of the time people can be independent and high-functioning as long as they take the right medicine at the right time. The simplest way to ensure this is to use technology that helps track medication schedules. Pill reminders can monitor a pill case, sending reminders to you if you miss your schedule, and alertimg family or caretakers if you don’t respond to the reminder.

We’ve also seen technology built right into the cap of the prescription bottle. These caps have a timer that resets to zero every time the bottle is opened. But anyone who has taken several medicines on different time schedules can tell you that this can still be very confusing. We wonder if anyone can prototype a system that would use computer vision to verify and log the pills each time you take them?

Of course the prescription reminders are just one of a multitude of low-hanging fruit. Safety is another aspect. Here’s an entry that seeks to give peace of mind that the stove is off for those dealing with Alzheimer’s or memory issues.

Now you see what we’re getting at. What ideas do you have that can move the goal of Aging in Place forward?


The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by: