Gesture Controller For Roku And Universal Keyboard Built By UCPLA Dream Team

The coolest part of this year’s Hackaday Prize is teaming up with four nonprofit groups that outlined real-world challenges to tackle as part of the prize. To go along with this, the Dream Team challenge set out a two-month design and build program with small teams whose members each received a $6,000 stipend to work full time on a specific build.

The work of the Dream Team project is in, and today we’re taking a look at United Cerebral Palsy of Los Angeles (UCPLA) project which not only designed and built a universal remote for those affected with this condition, but also went to great lengths to make sure that “universal” was built into the software and user experience just as much as it was built into the hardware itself. Join us after the break for a closer look a the project, and to see the team’s presentation video.

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This Tabletop Lighthouse Will Get Your Attention

If you wear headphones around the house with any regularity, you’re probably missing out on a lot of audio cues like knocks at the door, people calling your name, or maybe even the smoke alarm. What if you had a visual indicator of sound that was smart enough to point it out for you?

That is the point of [Jake Ammons’] attention-getting lighthouse, designed and built in two weeks’ time for Architectural Robotics class. It detects ambient noise and responds to it by focusing light in the direction of the sound and changing the color of the light to a significant shade to indicate different events. Up inside the lighthouse is a Teensy 4.0 to read in the sound and spin a motor in response.

[Jake]’s original directive was to make something sound-reactive, and then to turn it into an assistive device. In the future [Jake] would like to add more microphones to do sound localization. We love how sleek and professional this looks — just goes to show you what the right t-shirt stretched over 3D prints can do. Check out the demo after the break.

Seaside lighthouses once used gas lights giant Fresnel lenses, but now they use LEDs. A company in Florida is using CNC machines to crank out acrylic Fresnels.

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Give Me A Minute, My Eyes Are Busy

Social cues are tricky, but humans are very good at detecting where someone is looking; that goes a long way toward figuring out where someone is placing their attention. All of this goes right out the window though, when you’re talking with somebody who uses eye-tracking software to speak. [Matthew Oppenheim] with Lancaster University, UK wants to give listeners the message of Give Me a Minute with an easy-to-recognize indicator. His choice is a microBit, which displays a rotating arrow on the LED array while someone composes their speech. He chose the microBit because they are readily available, and you can get cases to fit people’s personalities. After the break, you can see a demonstration, but the graphic appears scrambled because of the screen flicker. The rotating arrow is a clear indicator that someone is writing, whereas a clock might suggest a frozen computer, and a progress bar could not be accurate.

[Matthew] wrote a program for the interpreting computer which recognizes when a message is forming by monitoring the number of black pixels in the composition field. If it changes, someone must be composing a sentence. Many people will try to peek over the speaker’s shoulder and see if they are working, but we’re sure that most readers would join the users of such tech in being unhappy if someone blatantly looks at theirr computer screen while they are typing.

Wheelchairs don’t always have to come from a hospital or supply store, and they don’t have to stay on the ground.

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Assistive Gloves Come In Pairs

We have to hand it to this team, their entry for the 2020 Hackaday Prize is a classic pincer maneuver. A team from [The University of Auckland] in New Zealand and [New Dexterity] is designing a couple of gloves for both rehabilitation and human augmentation. One style is a human-powered prosthetic for someone who has lost mobility in their hand. The other form uses soft robotics and Bluetooth control to move the thumb, fingers, and an extra thumb (!).

The human-powered exoskeleton places the user’s hand inside a cabled glove. When they are in place, they arch their shoulders and tighten an artificial tendon across their back, which pulls their hand close. To pull the fingers evenly, there is a differential box which ensures pressure goes where it is needed, naturally. Once they’ve gripped firmly, the cables stay locked, and they can relax their shoulders. Another big stretch and the cords relax.

In the soft-robotic model, a glove is covered in inflatable bladders. One set spreads the fingers, a vital physical therapy movement. Another bladder acts as a second thumb for keeping objects centered in the palm. A cable system draws the fingers closed like the previous glove, but to lock them they evacuate air from the bladders, so jamming layers retain their shape, like food in a vacuum bag.

We are excited to see what other handy inventions appear in this year’s Hackaday Prize, like the thumbMouse, or how about more assistive tech that uses hoverboards to help move people?

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Open Exosuit Project Helps Physically Challenged Put One Foot In Front Of Another

Humans make walking look simple, but of course that’s an illusion easily shattered by even small injuries. Losing the ability to walk has an enormous impact on every part of your day, so rehabilitative advances are nothing short of life-changing. The Open Exosuit for Differently Abled project is working feverishly on their Hackaday Prize entry to provide a few different layers of help in getting people back on their feet.

We’ve seen a number of exosuit projects in the past, and all of them struggle in a few common places. It’s difficult to incorporate intuitive user control into these builds, and quite important that they stay out of the way of the user’s own balance. This one approaches those issues with the use of a walker that both provides a means of steadying one’s self, and facilitates sending commands to the exosuit. Using the OLED screen and buttons incorporated on the walker, the user can select and control the walking, sitting, and standing modes.

The exoskeleton is meant to provide assistance to people with weakness or lack of control. They still walk and balance for themselves, but the hope is that these devices will be an aid at times when human caregivers are not available and the alternative would be unsteady mobility or complete loss of mobility. Working with the assistive device has the benefit of continuing to make progress in strengthening on the march to recovery.

The team is hard at work on the design, and with less than two weeks left before the entry deadline of the 2020 Hackaday Prize, we’re excited to see where the final push will bring this project!

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Inputs Of Interest: The Infogrip BAT Chording Keyboard

I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that by researching weird and interesting keyboards, I would uncover more weird and interesting keyboards. This is the BAT personal keyboard by Infogrip, and it’s something I came across while researching the DataHand keyboard and mentally filed away as something cool to look into.

When I came across a used BAT for a reasonable price, I snagged it, even though it didn’t come with any of the manuals or software, not even a cord. Like I said, reasonable price. I looked these keyboards up and found out that you can buy them new for a lot more than what I paid.

My gently used BAT in all its angular glory.
The lowercase letter chords use either the middle thumb key or no thumb key. Image via Infogrip

So what is this thing? It’s a chording keyboard that’s meant to be used a standard PC input device by anyone who either can’t use a regular keyboard or has a need for speed. Years of research went into the BAT’s chording scheme, which was developed in conjunction with NASA’s Stennis Space Center.

Instead of stretching your fingers all over a regular keyboard, poking keys one at a time to spell out words, you press combinations of keys simultaneously, like playing chords on a piano.

You’re meant to use your thumb for the red, grey, and blue keys, and lay the other four on the rest of the keys. All of the alphabet keys are chorded with or without the gray thumb key, and all the number, symbol, and modifier keys are accessed through the red and blue layers.

Why would you want one of these? Well, given enough time to learn the chords, you can do anything a standard 104+ keyboard can do with only seven keys. You would never need to look down, not even for those weird seldom-used keys, and the only finger that ever travels is your thumb. All of this reduced hand/finger/wrist travel is going to be easier on the body.

The BAT lets you CAD like a madlad. Via Bill Buxton

The BAT is also part programmable macro pad, and from what I can gather, the main selling point was that you could quickly input shortcuts in CAD programs and the like, because you could keep one hand on the mouse.

The BAT came in both left- and right-handed versions that can be used either alone or together. Imagine how fast you could type if you chorded everything and split the typing duties between both hands! The only trouble is learning all those different finger combinations, although they say it doesn’t take that long.

So why is it called the BAT? Legend has it that it’s because company started out in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but also because a pair of BATs sitting next to each other resembles a bat (PDF).

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A Hoverboard As An Assistive Device

Assistive devices for people with disabilities can make an inestimable difference to their lives, but with a combination of technology, complexity, and often one-off builds for individual needs, they can be eye-wateringly expensive. When the recipient is a young person who may grow out of more than one device as they mature, this cost can be prohibitive. Some way to cut down on the expense is called for, and [Phil Malone] has identified the readily available hoverboard as a possible source of motive power for devices that need it.

Aside from being a children’s toy, hoverboards have been well and truly hacked; we’ve featured them in Hacky Racers, and as hacker camp transport. But this is an application which demands controllability and finesse not needed when careering round a dusty field. He’s taken that work and built upon it to produce a firmware that he calls HUGS, designed to make the hoverboard motors precisely controllable. It’s a departure from the norm in hoverboard hacking, but perhaps it can open up new vistas in the use of these versatile components.

There is much our community can do when it comes to improving access to assistive technologies, and we hope that this project can be one of the success stories. We would however caution every reader to avoid falling into the engineer savior trap.