Voice Controlled Camera for Journalist in Need

Before going into the journalism program at Centennial College in Toronto, [Carolyn Pioro] was a trapeze performer. Unfortunately a mishap in 2005 ended her career as an aerialist when she severed her spinal cord,  leaving her paralyzed from the shoulders down. There’s plenty of options in the realm of speech-to-text technology which enables her to write on the computer, but when she tried to find a commercial offering which would let her point and shoot a DSLR camera with her voice, she came up empty.

[Taras Slawnych] heard about [Carolyn’s] need for special camera equipment and figured he had the experience to do something about it. With an Arduino and a couple of servos to drive the pan-tilt mechanism, he came up with a small device which Carolyn can now use to control a Canon camera mounted to an arm on her wheelchair. There’s still some room for improvement (notably, the focus can’t be controlled via voice currently), but even in this early form the gadget has caught the attention of Canon’s Canadian division.

With a lavalier microphone on the operator’s shirt, simple voice commands like “right” and “left” are picked up and interpreted by the Arduino inside the device’s 3D printed case. The Arduino then moves the appropriate servo motor a set number of degrees. This doesn’t allow for particularly fine-tuned positioning, but when combined with movements of the wheelchair itself, gives the user an acceptable level of control. [Taras] says the whole setup is powered off of the electric wheelchair’s 24 VDC batteries, with a step-down converter to get it to a safe voltage for the Arduino and servos.

As we’ve seen over the years, assistive technology is one of those areas where hackers seem to have a knack for making serious contribution’s to the lives of others (and occasionally even themselves). The highly personalized nature of many physical disabilities, with specific issues and needs often unique to the individual, can make it difficult to develop devices like this commercially. But as long as hackers are willing to donate their time and knowledge to creating bespoke assistive hardware, there’s still hope.

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DIY Switches For People Who Can’t Push Switches

An outstanding number of things most people take for granted present enormous hurdles for people with physical disabilities, including interaction with computers and other digital resources. Assistive technologies such as adaptive switches allow users who cannot use conventional buttons or other input devices to interact with digital devices, and while there are commercial offerings there is still plenty of room for projects like [Cassio Batista]’s DIY Low-cost Assistive Technology Switches.

[Cassio]’s project focuses on non-contact switches, such as proximity and puff-based activations. These are economical, DIY options aimed at improving accessibility for people who are unable to physically push even specialized switches. There are existing products in this space, but cost can be a barrier and DIY options that use familiar interfaces greatly improves accessibility.

Assistive technologies that give people the tools they need to have more control over their own lives in a positive, healthy way is one of the more vibrant and positive areas of open hardware development, and it’s not always clear where the challenges lie when creating solutions. An example of this is the winner of the 2015 Hackaday Prize, the Eyedrivomatic, which allows one to interface the steering of an electric wheelchair to a gaze tracking system while permanently altering neither device; a necessity because users often do not own their hardware.

Shooting for the First Time with Help from a Raspberry Pi

Like many people, [Mike] has a list of things he wants to do in life. One of them is “fire a gun with a switch,” and with a little help from some hacker friends, he knocked this item off last weekend.

For those wondering why the specificity of the item, the backstory will help explain. [Mike] has spinal muscular atrophy, a disease that was supposed to end his life shortly after it began. Thirty-seven years later, [Mike] is still ticking items off his list, but since he only has voluntary control of his right eyebrow, he faces challenges getting some of them done. Enter [Bill] and the crew at ATMakers. The “AT” stands for “assistive technologies,” and [Bill] took on the task of building a rig to safely fire a Glock 17 upon [Mike]’s command.

Before even beginning the project, [Bill] did his due diligence, going so far as to consult the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) and arranging for private time at a local indoor gun range. The business end of the rig is a commercially available bench rest designed to control recoil from the pistol, which is fired by a servo connected to the trigger. The interface with [Mike]’s system is via a Raspberry Pi and a Crikit linked together by a custom PCB. A PiCam allowed [Mike] to look down the sights and fire the gun with his eyebrow. The videos below show the development process and the day at the range; to say that [Mike] was pleased is an understatement.

We’re not sure what else is on [Mike]’s list, but we see a lot of assistive tech projects around here — we even had a whole category of the 2017 Hackaday Prize devoted to them. Maybe there’s something else the Hackaday community can help him check off.

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An Open Source Sip-and-Puff Mouse for Affordable Accessibility

At the core of any assistive technology is finding a way to do something with whatever abilities the user has available. This can be especially difficult in the case of quadriplegia sufferers, the loss of control of upper and lower limbs caused by spinal cord damage in the cervical region. Quadriplegics can gain some control of their world with a “Sip-and-puff” device, which give the user control via blowing or sucking on a mouthpiece.

A sip-and-puff can make a world of difference to a quadriplegic, but they’re not exactly cheap. So to help out a friend, [Jfieldcap] designed and built an open source sip-and-puff mouse on the cheap. As is best for such devices, the design is simple and robust. The hollow 3D-printed mouthpiece acts as handle for a joystick module , and a length of tubing connects the mouthpiece to a pressure sensor. An Arduino lets the user move his head to position the cursor; hard sips and puffs are interpreted as left and right clicks, while soft mouth pressure is used for scrolling. In conjunction with some of the accessibility tools in modern OSes and personal assistant software like Siri or Cortana, the sip-and-puff opens up the online world, and for all of $50 in material.

We’re impressed by the effort and the results, but we worry that the standard PLA used for the mouthpiece won’t stand up to the cleaning it’ll need. Of course, printing extra mouthpieces is easy, but since it’s going to be in contact with the mouth, perhaps a review of food-safe 3D-printing is in order.

DIY Text-to-Speech with Raspberry Pi

We can almost count on our eyesight to fail with age, maybe even past the point of correction. It’s a pretty big flaw if you ask us. So, how can a person with aging eyes hope to continue reading the printed word?

There are plenty of commercial document readers available that convert text to speech, but they’re expensive. Most require a smart phone and/or an internet connection. That might not be as big of an issue for future generations of failing eyes, but we’re not there yet. In the meantime, we have small, cheap computers and plenty of open source software to turn them into document readers.

[rgrokett] built a RaspPi text reader to help an aging parent maintain their independence. In the process, he made a good soup-to-nuts guide to building one. It couldn’t be easier to use—just place the document under the camera and push the button. A Python script makes the Pi take a picture of the text. Then it uses Tesseract OCR to convert the image to plain text, and runs the text through a speech synthesis engine which reads it aloud. The reader is on as long as it’s plugged in, so it’s ready to work at the push of a button. We can probably all appreciate such a low-hassle design. Be sure to check out the demo after the break.

If you wanted to use this to read books, you’d still have to turn the pages yourself. Here’s a BrickPi reader that solves that one.

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Rapidly Prototyping Prosthetics, Braille, and Wheelchairs

We live in an amazing time where the availability of rapid prototyping tools and expertise to use them has expanded faster than at any other time in human history. We now have an amazing ability to quickly bring together creative solutions — perfect examples of this are the designs for specialized arm prosthetics, Braille printing, and custom wheelchair builds that came together last week.

Earlier this month we published details about the S.T.E.A.M. Fabrikarium program taking place at Maker’s Asylum in Mumbai. The five-day event was designed to match up groups of makers with mentors to build assistive devices which help improve the condition of differently-abled people.

The participants were split into eight teams and they came up with some amazing results at the end of the five-day program.

Hands-On: Prosthetic Designs That Go Beyond

Three teams worked on projects based on Bionico – a myoelectric prosthesis

DIY Prosthetic Socket – a Human Machine Interface : [Mahendra Pitav aka Mahen] lost his left arm during the series of train bomb blasts in Mumbai in 2006, which killed 200 and injured over 700 commuters. He uses a prosthetic arm which is essentially a three-pronged claw that is cable activated using his other good arm. While it is useful, the limited functionality restricted him from doing many simple things. The DIY Prosthetic socket team worked with [Mahen] and [Nico Huchet] from MyHumanKit (who lost his right arm in an accident 16 years back), and fabricated a prosthetic forearm for [Mahen] with a modular, 3D printed accessory socket. Embedded within the arm is a rechargeable power source that provides 5V USB output at the socket end to power the devices that are plugged in. It also provides a second port to help recharge mobile phones. Also embedded in the arm was an IR reflective sensor that can be used to sense muscle movements and help trigger specific functions of add-on circuits, for example servos.

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IoT Doorman: Eye-Controlled Door for a Girl with Cerebral Palsy

Kyleigh has an eye-controlled computer on her wheelchair but something as simple as her bedroom door was still beyond her reach… until now! [Bill Binko], recently filmed a demo of an automatic, IoT door opener built for the young girl with cerebral palsy. [Bill] is a co-founder of ATMakers, an organization that enables makers interested in assistive technologies to collaborate with users to improve quality of life.

Using her eye tracking tablet (PRC Device), Kyleigh has two new icons that make the relevant call to a website, pushing a simple command to either open or close her bedroom door. The device attached to the door uses an Adafruit M0 WiFi Feather board, a DC stepper motor and wheel, a UBEC buck converter, and a potentiometer.

Since other family members are also going to be opening and closing the door, there’s potentiometer which measures the door position for proper operation next time Kyleigh wishes to use the door. The installation also maintains a fairly inconspicuous profile for the assistance it gives — the ‘brain’ is enclosed in a small box on the door, with the motor only slightly larger on the door’s base.

[Bill] believes the project has a few quibbles and wants to work out a smaller wait before the open/close process is executed and optimizing the open/close speed. You have to check out the video below to see that it works really really. We’re also excited to see Kyleigh using her gaze control to talk to an Amazon Echo. [Bill] foresee a door control improvement that links it to Alexa. And how much did it cost to improve the quality of life for this young girl? $70.

We love seeing makers help people, and cannot wait to see what 2018 will bring! If you’re looking for more inspiration, don’t miss the eye-controlled wheelchair project called Eyedrivomatic which won the 2015 Hackaday Prize. There’s also the top Assistive Technology projects from the Hackaday Prize.

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