For interfacing with machines, most of us use our hands and fingers. When you don’t have use of your hands (permanently or temporarily), there are limited alternatives. [Dorothee Clasen] has added one more option, [In]Brace, which is basically a small slide switch that you can operate with your tongue.
[In]Brace consists of a custom moulded retainer for the roof of your mouth, on which is a small ball with an embedded magnet, that slides long wire tracks. Above the track is a set of three magnetic sensors, that can detect the position of the ball. On the prototype, a wire from the three sensors run out of the corner of the users mouth, to a wireless microcontroller (Which looks to us like a ESP8266) hooked behind the user’s ear. In a final product, it would obviously be preferable if everything were sealed in the retainer. We think there is even more potential if one of the many 3-axis hall effect sensors are used, with a small joystick of rolling ball. The device could be used by disabled persons, for physical therapy, or just for cases where a person’s hands are otherwise occupied. [Dorothy] created a simple demonstration, where she plays Pong, or Tong in this case, using only the [In]Brace. Hygiene and making sure that it doesn’t somehow become a choke hazard will be very important if this ever became a product, but we think there is some potential.
[Kristina Panos] did a very interesting deep dive into the tongue as an HMI device a while ago, so this isn’t a new idea, but the actual implementations differ quite a lot. Apparently it’s also possible to use your ear muscles as an interface!
Take a second to imagine all the people in your life. Your family, friends, coworkers. Your buddies down at the hackerspace, and anyone you chat with on IO and over the airwaves. Statistically speaking, one in four of these people has a disability of some kind, and needs help doing everyday things that you might not think twice about — simple things like opening doors or interacting with computers. Or maybe that one in four is you.
The people behind this non-profit are all about inclusion, access, and opportunity, and this is why we are proud to partner with UCPLA for the 2020 Hackaday Prize. With the world in upheaval, there is no better time to build a better future for everyone. You never know when you might need assistive technology. In addition to the open challenge that calls for everyone to work on a design, this year there is also a Dream Team challenge which offers a $3,000 per month stipend over the next two months to work on a team addressing one specific challenge. Apply for that asap!
What kind of challenges has UCPLA outlined for the Hackaday Prize? Let’s dive in and find out, and we’ll also hear from the UCPLA team in a Q&A video at the end of the article.
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.
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.
Welcome to the first installment of Inputs of Interest. In this column, we’re going to take a look at various input devices and methods, discuss their merits, give their downsides a rundown, and pontificate about the possibilities they present for hackers. I’ll leave it open to the possibility of spotlighting one particular device (because I already have one in mind), but most often the column will focus on input concepts.
Some inputs are built for having fun. Some are ultra-specific shortcuts designed to do work. Others are assistive devices for people with low mobility. And many inputs blur the lines between these three ideas. This time on Inputs of Interest, we’re going to chew on the idea of oral inputs — those driven by the user’s tongue, teeth, or both.
Unless you’ve recently bitten it, burned it, or had it pierced, you probably don’t think much about your tongue. But the tongue is a strong, multi-muscled organ that rarely gets tired. It’s connected to the brain by a cranial nerve, and usually remains undamaged in people who are paralyzed from the neck down. This makes it a viable input-driving option for almost everyone, regardless of ability. And yet, tongues and mouths in general seem to be under-utilized as input appendages.
Ideally, any input device should be affordable and/or open source, regardless of the driving appendage. Whether the user is otherwise able-bodied or isn’t, there’s no reason the device shouldn’t be as useful and beautiful as possible.
Assistive technology is extremely fertile ground for hackers to make a difference, because of the unique requirements of each user and the high costs of commercial solutions. [Nick] has been working on Earswitch, an innovative assistive tech switch that can be actuated using voluntary movement of the middle ear muscle.
Most people don’t know they can contract their middle ear muscle, technically called the tensor tympani, but will recognise it as a rumbling sound or muffling effect of your hearing when yawning or tightly closing eyes. Its function is actually to protect your hearing from loud sounds screaming or chewing. [Nick] ran a survey and found that 75% can consciously contract the tensor tympani and 17% of can do it in isolation from other movements. Using a cheap USB auroscope (an ear camera like the one [Jenny] reviewed in November), he was able to detect the movement using iSpy, an open source software package meant for video surveillance. The output from iSpy is used to control Grid3, a commercial assistive technology software package. [Nick] also envisions the technology being used as a control interface for consumer electronics via earphones.
With the proof of concept done, [Nick] is looking at ways to make the tech more practical to actually use, possibly with a CMOS camera module inside a standard noise canceling headphones. Simpler optical sensors like reflectance or time-of-flight are also options being investigated. If you have suggestions for or possible use case, drop by on the project page.
Assistive tech always makes for interesting hacks. We recently saw a robotic arm that helps people feed themselves, and the 2017 Hackaday Prize has an entire stage that was focused on assistive technology.
Have you shopped for an appliance lately? They’re all LEDs, LEDs everywhere. You might say that manufacturers are out of touch with the utility of tactile controls. [Wingletang]’s fancy new washing machine is cut from this modern cloth. While it does have a nice big knob for selecting cycles, the only indication of your selection is an LED. This isn’t an issue for [Wingletang], but it’s a showstopper for his visually impaired wife.
They tried to make tactile signposts for her most-used cycles with those adhesive rubber feet you use to keep cabinet doors quiet. But between the machine’s 14(!) different wash cycles and the endlessly-rotating selector knob, the tactile map idea was a wash. It was time to make the machine talk.
The system, dubbed SOAP (Speech Output Announcing Programmes), has been a great help to [Mrs. Wingletang] for about the last year. Watch her take it for a spin after the break, and stick around for SOAP’s origin story and walk-through videos.
The ThisAbles project is a series of 3D-printed IKEA furniture hacks making life easier for those without full use of their bodies. Since IKEA furniture is affordable and available across most of the planet, it’s the ideal target for a project that aims to make 3D-printed improvements accessible to everyone.
These hacks fit all meanings of the word “accessible”: Available worldwide, affordable, and helping people overcome physical barriers of everyday living. ThisAbles has support of multiple organizations including IKEA Israel. In their short introductory video (embedded below the break) they explained their process to find ways to make big impacts with simple 3D-printed modifications. From bumpers protecting furniture against wheelchair damage, to handles that allow drawers to be opened without fine fingertip control. Each of these designs also fit the well-known IKEA aesthetic, including their IKEA style illustrated manuals.
The site launched with thirteen downloadable solutions, but they have ambitions for more with user feedback. There’s a form where people can submit problems they would like to see solved, or alternatively, people can submit solutions they’ve already created and wish to share with the world. Making small changes to commodity IKEA furniture, these 3D printed accessories will have far more impact on people’s lives than the average figurine trinket on Thingiverse. It’s just the latest way we can apply hacker ingenuity to help others to do everything from simple daily tasks to video gaming.