Hackaday Prize Entry: OrthoSense, a Smart Knee Brace for Physical Therapy

If you have knee surgery, you can probably count on some physical therapy to go with it. But one thing you might not be able to count on is getting enough attention from your therapist. This was the case with [Vignesh]’s mother, who suffers from osteoarthritis (OA). Her physiotherapist kept a busy schedule and couldn’t see her very often, leaving her to wonder at her rehabilitation progress.

[Vignesh] already had a longstanding interest in bio-engineering and wearables. His mother’s experience led him down a rabbit hole of research about the particulars of OA rehabilitation. He found that less than 35% of patients adhere to the home regimen they were given. While there are a lot of factors at play, the lack of feedback and reinforcement are key components. [Vignesh] sought to develop a simple system for patients and therapists to share information.

The fruit of this labor is Orthosense, an intelligent knee brace system that measures gait angle, joint acoustics, and joint strain.  The user puts on the brace, pairs it with a device, and goes through their therapy routine. Sensors embedded in the brace upload their data to the cloud over Bluetooth.

Joint strain is measured by a narrow strip of conductive fabric running down the length of the knee. As the user does their exercises, the fabric stretches and relaxes, changing resistances all the while. The changes are measured against a Wheatstone bridge voltage divider. The knee’s gait angle is measured with an IMU and is calculated relative to the hip angle—this gives a reference point for the data collected by the strain sensor. An electret mic and a sensitive contact mic built for body sounds picks up all the pops and squeaks emitted by the knee. Analysis of this data provides insight into the condition of the cartilage and bones that make up the joint. As you might imagine, unhealthy cartilage is noisier than healthy cartilage.

[Vignesh]’s prototype is based the tinyTILE because of the onboard IMU, ADC, and Bluetooth. Since all things Curie are being discontinued, the next version will either use something nRF52832 or a BC127 module and a la carte sensors. [Vignesh] envisions a lot for this system, and we are nodding our heads to all of it.

A Trojan Horse full of music

With a Sound + Vision exhibition coming up, the folks over at Seaweed Factory decided they needed something big. Somehow they landed on building a giant pinata that responds to being walloped with a stick by playing MIDI notes. The end result is called the Trojan Chorus. Instead of Greek soldiers, though, the pinata is filled with electronics and candy.

The pinata was constructed out of cardboard and more colored tissue paper than we care to imagine. The horse stands seven feet tall and was built with a little more structural integrity than a normal pinata. Check out the ‘making of’ video for the pinata here.

From what we can tell, the electronics are 24 contact microphones implanted all over the inside of the pinata. Impacts on these contact mics are recorded by a small dev board, transcribed to serial data, and sent to a computer. You can check out the electronics in action right here. A horse neighing MIDI notes may sound fairly weird, but similar setup could be added to make the Trojan Chorus cry out in pain.

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Building a contact mic using homemade piezo crystals


[Leafcutter] is big in to making music and has put together all sorts of musical instruments and tools over the years. Recently, he was inspired to make his own piezo crystals, and wrote in to share the results of his experiments with us.

[Leafcutter] is no stranger to messing around with piezo elements, and after seeing [Collin’s] tutorial on making your own piezo crystals at home, he knew he had to give it a try. He stopped by the grocery store to fetch all of the ingredients, then followed [Collin’s] instructions to the letter…well, almost. It seems that he might have cooled the solution too quickly, so he found himself with a jar full of tiny, barely usable piezo crystals instead of larger ones like [Collin] was able to produce.

Undeterred, he decided to see if the stuff was any good, and rigged up a makeshift contact microphone using some conductive foil and a clamp. He piped the output to his amplifier, and wouldn’t you know it…it worked!

He has a small sound clip of what the mic sounded like on his site, and it worked pretty darn well despite the crystal’s tiny size. He is going to give the whole process another go, so we hope to see more experiments with bigger crystals in the near future.