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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S.T.E.A.M. Fabrikarium Builds Assistive Tech in Mumbai

Starting this weekend, a group of 65 invited Maker’s from various disciplines, along with 20 awesome Mentors, will gather at the Maker’s Asylum in Mumbai for the five day S.T.E.A.M. Fabrikarium program. The aim is to improve the capabilities of the differently-abled by building and expanding upon existing open source projects. At the same time, the teams will learn more about rapid prototyping techniques.

Among the participants will be at least 15 differently-abled people who will be a part of the whole process of learning as well as providing their inputs on the problems being tackled. Participants have an opportunity to understand how design thinking works and work on improving the existing designs.

Participants will team up and choose from five existing open source projects:

  • Bionico – a myoelectric prosthesis
  • Braille rap – using a 3D printer as a braille embosser.
  • e-Trotti – a low-cost, removable electrical assistance for wheelchair use, made from electric scooter parts.
  • Project Shiva – customized and beautiful upper limb prosthetics.
  • Flying Wheelchair – a wheelchair specially adapted for use while paragliding.

The Asylum’s fully-fledged workshop facilities offer a wood shop, a laser cutter, a CNC, several 3D printers, electronics tools and instruments and an infectious environment that will allow the participants to learn a lot during the five short days. While working on prototyping their projects, all teams will have constant access to a team of mentors and industry experts who will help solve their problems and give guidance when necessary.

The Maker’s Asylum includes fully-fledged workshop facilities for the build process, and the team succeeded in bringing onboard a slew of industrial partners and supporters to ensure that the program can be offered to the participants for free. That is a great way to bring makerspaces, makers, and the industry together in a symbiotic program that benefits society. The program was developed in collaboration with My Human Kit, a company from France who selected the five open-source projects mentioned above. The Fabrikarium is made possible via Bonjour-India, which fosters Indo-French partnerships and exchanges.

Hackaday is proud to be a part of this program and will be present to help document all of the awesome projects. Participants will share their progress on Hackaday.io, so watch for updates over the coming week. To get an idea of what to expect at the S.T.E.A.M. Fabrikarium 2018, check out the video from an earlier version embedded below.

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OpenBraille is an Impressive DIY Embosser

In 2024, the Braille system will have been around for 200 years. What better way to mark the occasion than with an open source project devoted to making embossing equipment affordable for the visually impaired? This long overdue cause became the plight of [ccampos7], who couldn’t find a DIY embosser kit and set out to build one himself.

While other embossers forcibly punch the letters in one go, OpenBraille takes a more gradual approach to ensure a clean impression with a rolling motion. Paper is placed between a mechanical encoder with moving pins and a dimpled roller that provides resistance and a place to land. The embossing head is driven by an Arduino Mega and a standard RAMPS board, as the rest of the system relies on Cartesian movement.

The encoder and roller.

The encoder mechanism itself is pretty interesting. A micro servo drives a 3D printed wheel with three distinct tracks around half of the edge. The peaks and valleys encoded in these plastic tracks actuate the embossing pins, which are made from nails embedded through the sides of hex nuts. There’s a quick demo of the encoder movement after the break, and another video of it in action on the OpenBraille Facebook page.

[ccampos7] has all the files up on Thingiverse and plans to post the software soon. You should also check out this compact embosser that was recognized in the first round of the 2017 Hackaday Prize which is a nice all-print Braille concept. Continue reading “OpenBraille is an Impressive DIY Embosser”

Making Braille Signs out of PCBs

[jg] recently passed some damaged Braille signs and took on the challenge of repairing them. Informed by his recent work on PCB lapel pins, [jg] immediately thought of using circuit boards for this project. He’d noticed that round solder pads made for uniform hills of solder, and this reminded him of the bumps in Braille.

He began by reading up on the standards of the Braille Authority of North America, which stipulates a dot height of 0.6mm. He loaded up the PharmaBraille font system and laid it out the dots in photoshop, then and imported it into KiCad and laid out the boards. When the PCBs had arrived from OSH Park, [jg] soldering up the pads (lead free, but of course) to see if he could get the hills to 0.6mm. He’s experimenting with different methods of melting the solder to try to get more even results.

Braille interfaces crop up a surprising amount in hacker projects. This refreshable Braille display and keyboard and the Braigo LEGO Braille printer are prime examples.

[thanks, Drew!]

Becdot Teaches With Touch

Braille is a tactile system of communication, used the world over by those with vision impairment. Like any form of language or writing, it can be difficult to teach and learn. To help solve this, [memoriesforbecca] has developed Becdot as a teaching tool to help children learn Braille.

The device is built around four Braille cells, which were custom-designed for the project. The key was to create a device which could recreate tactile Braille characters at low cost, to enable the device to be cheap enough to be used a children’s toy. The Braille cells are combined with an NFC tag reader. Small objects are given NFC tags which are programmed into the Becdot. When the object is placed onto the reader, the Braille cells spell out the name of the object. Objects can be tagged and the system programmed with a smartphone, so new objects can be added by the end user.

It’s a great way to teach Braille, and an impressive build that keeps costs down low. Details are a little thin on the ground, and we’d love to see more detail on how the actuators on the Braille cells work. We’ve seen similar projects before, like this Hackaday prize entry. Share your theories in the comments below.

Hackaday Prize Entry: MOLBED Braille Display

Electromechanical braille displays, where little pins pop up or drop down to represent various characters, can cost upwards of a thousand dollars. That’s where the Modular Low-cost Braille Electro Display, aka MOLBED, steps up. The project’s creator, [Madaeon] aims to create a DIY-friendly, 3D-printable,  and simple braille system. He’s working on a single character’s display, with the idea it could be expanded to cover a whole row or even offer multiple rows.

[Madeon]’s design involves using Flexinol actuator wire to control whether a pin sticks or not. He designed a “rocker” system consisting of a series of 6 pins that form the Braille display. Each pin is actuated by two Flexinol wires, one with current applied to it and one without, popping the pin up about a millimeter. Swap polarity and the pin pops down to be flush with the surface.

This project is actually [Madeon]’s second revision of the MOLBED system. The first version, an entry to the Hackaday Prize last year, used very small solenoids with two very small magnets at either end of the pole to hold the pin in place. The new system, while slightly more complex mechanically, should be easier to produce in a low-cost version, and has a much higher chance of bringing this technology to people who need it. It’s a great project, and a great entry to the Hackaday Prize.

Hackaday Prize Entry: A Braille Keypad For SmartPhone

A few things stand out about [Vijay]’s braille keypad for smartphones. One is how ergonomic the plans for the final result are, sitting on the back of the smartphone such that you hold the phone much as you often normally would. Another is that it plugs in just like any other USB keyboard. And the last should make any vi user smile — you don’t have to move your fingers to type. You just press combinations of buttons already under your fingers.

It consists of a custom circuit board with an AtMega32U4, a 16 MHz oscillator, a Micro-USB connector and eight pushbutton switches.  The AtMega32U4 allows him to use the Arduino HID library. After mapping the braille button combinations to keys, the HID library sends the key values over a USB-OTG cable to the smartphone to be accepted as if they were coming from a normal plug and play keyboard.

We have to give kudos to [Vishay] for testing with blind people experienced with braille. For example, he’s learned that if the user presses [Dots 1 2] for ‘b’ followed by [Dots 1 4] for ‘c’, they prefer to not have to remove their finger from the 1 in between the two characters, for more rapid typing.  He also learned that battery management is problematic and that may be why he’s since abandoned the option of communicating over Bluetooth, leaving just USB, and thereby eliminating the need for a battery.

[Vijay]’s project is a finalist for the Internet of Useful Things Hackaday Prize and we’re eager to see what the final result will look like. But in the meantime, check out his hackaday.io and GitHub pages, and see the video below of one iteration of his keypad in use.

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