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.

Accessible Controller Plays Around With Modularity

Video games are a great way to have some fun or blow off a little steam when real life becomes laughable. But stock controllers and other inputs are hardly one size fits all. Even if you have no physical issues, they can be too big, too small, or just plain uncomfortable to hold.

[kefcom] wrote in to give us a heads up about a modular, adaptive system he designed for anyone who is unable to operate a PS3, PS4, or PC with a standard controller. The project was inspired by Microsoft’s adaptive XBOX controller and works pretty much the same way — broken-out buttons, joysticks, and other inputs all connect to a hub that unifies them into a controller the console or computer can communicate with. The major difference is that this project is open source and can be realized much more cheaply.

If you want to give this a try, [kefcom]’s project repo has step-by-step instructions for disassembling two types of wireless controllers and converting them into hubs for modular controls. He’s looking for help with design, documentation, and finding reliable suppliers for all the parts, so let him know if you can assist.

Some players need something more accessible than just broken-out buttons and full-size joysticks. Here’s an adaptive controller that uses ridged foam rollers to actuate buttons.

Inputs Of Interest: Ears To Communication For Everyone

Welcome back to Inputs of Interest! If you haven’t heard, I am all ears when it comes to new ways of talking to computers and machines. And speaking of ears, did you know they can do useful tricks? If you squeeze your eyes shut tightly and/or yawn widely, you might hear a low-level rumbling sound like distant thunder. A decent percentage of people are able to move theirs voluntarily, but not everyone. Maybe you already knew you could rumble, and have used it to entertain yourself, or dampen the unpleasant sounds of life.

No, you can’t reach your tensor tympani with a Q-tip. Image via Research Gate

That rumbling is caused by a muscle in your middle ear stretching out. It’s called the tensor tympani, and its purpose is to shield your ears from loud sounds like chewing, and oddly enough, thunder. When the tensor tympani are activated, they pull the eardrums taut to keep them from vibrating and getting damaged. Unfortunately, they don’t react quickly enough to protect us from sudden sounds like gunshots.

Nick G is able to rumble on command, and wanted to see if he could somehow use it as an input mechanism that he calls Earswitch. He got a cheap USB otoscope camera and figured out that the tensor tympani’s stretching movement shows up well enough to trigger motion detection software. So far, [Nick] has been able to demonstrate control of a few things, like the Windows on-screen keyboard, Grid3 assistive software, and a head tracking utility.

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Converted Car Lets Toddlers Tool Around

A few years ago, a professor at the University of Delaware started a project called Go Baby Go. It’s designed to bring fun and affordable mobility to small children with disabilities. The idea is to modify Power Wheels cars to make them easier for disabled kids to operate, and to teach as many people as possible how to do it in the process. The [South Eugene Robotics Team] is taking this a step further by replacing the steering wheel with a joystick that controls two motors with an Arduino Nano.

In the first instance you replace the foot pedal with a push button. The plans also call for a PVC frame, a high-backed seat, and a seat belt to make it safer. The end result is a fun ride the kid can control themselves that functions a lot like a power wheelchair, but is much more affordable. It has the added bonus of being a fun conversation piece for the other kids instead of a weird scary thing.

They also replace the front wheels with 5″ casters, because being able to spin around in circles is awesome. Their project shows how to do the entire conversion in great detail, starting with a standard ride-on car that comes with some assembly required. Motor past the break to check out a short demo with an extremely happy child tooling around in a fire truck.

If these kids get too wild, they’re gonna need traction control for these things.

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Macro Foot Stool Helps Me Get A Leg Up On Work

Macros are meant to make our lives easier, but they live up to this promise with mixed results. Generally speaking, a macro is a special combination of keys on the keyboard that execute a custom task — their goal is to speed up your productivity by getting away from mousing through menus. But once a macro requires more than two keys, they can get a bit cumbersome to input. I have personally found that repeated use of macros that require ctrl+shift can potentially cause problems. I don’t know about you (and your repetitive stress mileage may vary), but personal injury is the polar opposite of what I want from something that’s supposed to be convenient.

The more I thought about how nice it would be to have a field of dedicated one-punch macro keys, the more incomplete my life seemed without it. Every uncomfortable three-key shortcut I chorded was more motivational than the last.

I love keyboard shortcuts, and not just because I prefer keyboard navigation in general. A lot of little things about writing for the web can be streamlined with shortcuts, like writing html tags and doing image manipulation. And I’m always looking for a better workflow to pin down my fleeting mental fragments, at least until that dark day that I can turn on Dropbox Thoughts™ and burn my brainwaves directly to disk.

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