Tiny ball magnets implanted in muscles could provide much better control over prosthetics.

Magnets Could Give Prosthetic Control A Leg Up

Today, prostheses and exoskeletons are controlled using electromyography. In other words, by recording the electrical activity in muscles as they contract. It’s neither intuitive nor human-like, and it really only shows the brain’s intent, not the reality of what the muscle is doing.

Researchers at MIT’s Media Lab have figured out a way to use magnets for much more precise control, and they’re calling it magnetomicrometry (MM). By implanting pairs of tiny ball magnets and tracking their movement with magnetic sensors, each muscle can be measured individually and far more accurately than with electromyography.

After embedding pairs of 3mm diameter ball magnets into the calves of turkeys, the researchers were able to detect muscle movement in three milliseconds, and to the precision of thirty-seven microns, which is about the width of a human hair. They hope to try MM on humans within the next couple of years. It would be a great solution overall if it works out, because compared with the electromyography method, MM is cheaper, less invasive, and potentially permanent. Couple MM with a new type of amputation surgery called AMI that provides a fuller range of motion, less pain overall, and finer control of prosthetics, and the future of prostheses and rehabilitation looks really exciting. Be sure to check out the video after the break.

There’s more than one way to control prostheses, such as deep learning and somatosensory stimulation.

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Powered Exoskeletons In Rough Terrain: An Interesting Aspect Of The Chang’e 5 Recovery Mission

At this point in time, one would be hard pressed to find anyone who is not at least aware of some of the uses of exoskeletons as they pertain to use by humans. From supporting people during rehabilitation, to ensuring that people working in industrial and warehouse settings do not overexert themselves, while also preventing injuries and increasing their ability to carry heavy loads without tiring.

During the recovery mission of the Chang’e 5 sample container in the rough terrain of Inner Mongolia, the crew which was tasked with setting up the communications center, electrical supply systems and other essential services in the area wore exoskeletons. Developed by a relatively new Chinese company called ULS Robotics (see embedded promotional video after the break), the powered exoskeletons allowed the crew to carry 50 kg loads at a time for a hundred meters across the rough, snowy terrain.

The obvious benefit of an exoskeleton here is that while humans are pretty good at navigating rough terrain, this ability quickly degrades the moment a heavy load is involved, as anyone who has done serious mountain trekking can probably attest to. By having the exoskeleton bear most of the load, the wearer can focus on staying upright and reaching the destination quickly and safely.

With the growing interest for exoskeletons from various industries, the military, as well as the elderly, it probably won’t be too long before we’ll be seeing more of them in daily life the coming years.

(Thanks, Qes)

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Exoskeleton Muscles Powered By Hydrogen

The idea of building a suit that increases the wearer’s strength is a compelling one, often featured in science fiction. There are a handful of real world examples, and [Alex] can now add his to the list. The build comes with a twist however, relying on hydrogen to do the work.

At its heart, the build is not dissimilar to other artificial muscle projects. The muscles in [Alex’s] build consist of a rubber tube inside a nylon braid. When the rubber tube is inflated, it expands, causing the nylon braid to shorten as it grows wider. Commonly, such builds rely on compressed air to power the muscles, however [Alex] took a different path. Instead, water is electrolysed in a chamber designed to look like Iron Man’s arc reactor, with the resulting gases produced being used to drive the muscles. With five muscles ganged up to pull together, the wearable arm support is capable of generating up to 15 kg of pull force.

It’s a design that has a few benefits; the electrolyser has no moving parts, and is much simpler and quieter than a typical air compressor. Obviously, there is a risk of fire thanks to the flammable gases used, but [Alex] explains the precautions taken to minimise this risk in the video.

Exosuits may not be mainstream just yet, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t working to make them a reality. We’ve featured a few before, like this open-source design. Video after the break.

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Hackaday Links: August 30, 2020

Tech history is rife with examples of bizarre product demos, but we’ve got to think that Elon Musk’s Neuralink demo this week will have to rank up there with the weirdest of them. Elon’s job here was to sell the proposition that having a quarter-sized plug removed from your skull by a surgical robot and having it plunge 1,024 tiny wires into your gray matter will be totally normal and something that all the cool kids will be doing someday. We watched the 14-minute supercut of the demo, which went on for considerably longer than that due to the realities of pig wrangling, and we remain unsold on the technology. Elon selling it as “a Fitbit in your skull, with tiny wires” probably didn’t help, nor did the somewhat terrifying appearance of the surgical robot needed to do the job. On the other hand, Gertrude the Bionic Pig seemed none the worse for her implant, which was reportedly wired to her snout and sending data wirelessly. The demonstration of reading joint positions directly from the brain was honestly pretty neat. If you want to dive deeper into Neuralink, check out Maya’s great article that separates fact from science fiction.

Jerry Carr, NASA astronaut and commander of the third and final crewed Skylab mission, passed away this week at the age of 88. Carr’s Skylab 4 mission was record-breaking in 1974, with the three astronauts living and working in the orbiting workshop for 84 days. The mission contributed a vast amount of information on space medicine and the human factors of long-duration spaceflight. Carr retired from NASA in 1977 and had a long career as an engineer and entrepreneur. It’s sad to lose yet another of the dwindling number of heroes remaining from NASA’s manned-flight heyday.

Speaking of spaceflight, the closest most of us DIYers can get to space is likely courtesy of a helium-filled balloon. If you’ve ever considered sending something — or someone — aloft, you’ll find this helium balloon calculator an invaluable tool. Just plug in the weight of your payload, select from a few common balloon sizes, and the calculator will tell you how many you need and how much gas it will take to fill them. It’s got a second section that tells you how many more balloons it’ll take to get to a certain altitude, should merely getting off the ground not be enough for you.

If 2020 has proven anything, it’s that time is, at best, a negotiable concept. Improbably, September is only a day away, after an August that somehow took forever to go by in the blink of an eye. With that in mind,¬† October is OSHWA’s Open Hardware Month, with this year’s theme being “Label and Certify”. We’re a little bit in love with the Open Hardware Facts generator, which takes your open-source hardware, software, and documentation license and generates a USDA “Nutrition Facts”-style label for your product. They’ve also added tools to make it easier to get OSHWA certification for your project.

And finally, what would it be like to pilot a giant exoskeleton? Like, a 9,000 pound (4,100 kg), quadrupedal all-terrain beast of a mech? Turns out you can (theoretically) find out for yourself courtesy of Furrion Exo-Bionics and their monster mech, dubbed Prosthesis. The machine has been in development for a long time, with the vision of turning mech racing into the next big thing in sports entertainment. Their Alpha Mech Pilot Training Program will allow mere mortals to learn how to pilot Prosthesis at the company’s proving ground in British Columbia. Details are sparse, so caveat emptor, but it sure looks like fun.

Open Exosuit Project Helps Physically Challenged Put One Foot In Front Of Another

Humans make walking look simple, but of course that’s an illusion easily shattered by even small injuries. Losing the ability to walk has an enormous impact on every part of your day, so rehabilitative advances are nothing short of life-changing. The Open Exosuit for Differently Abled project is working feverishly on their Hackaday Prize entry to provide a few different layers of help in getting people back on their feet.

We’ve seen a number of exosuit projects in the past, and all of them struggle in a few common places. It’s difficult to incorporate intuitive user control into these builds, and quite important that they stay out of the way of the user’s own balance. This one approaches those issues with the use of a walker that both provides a means of steadying one’s self, and facilitates sending commands to the exosuit. Using the OLED screen and buttons incorporated on the walker, the user can select and control the walking, sitting, and standing modes.

The exoskeleton is meant to provide assistance to people with weakness or lack of control. They still walk and balance for themselves, but the hope is that these devices will be an aid at times when human caregivers are not available and the alternative would be unsteady mobility or complete loss of mobility. Working with the assistive device has the benefit of continuing to make progress in strengthening on the march to recovery.

The team is hard at work on the design, and with less than two weeks left before the entry deadline of the 2020 Hackaday Prize, we’re excited to see where the final push will bring this project!

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Hackaday Links: December 15, 2019

When you’re right, you’re right. Back in January, we predicted that exoskeletons were about to break out as a mainstream product, and gave several examples of prototypes poised to become products. So it was with interest that we read about Sarcos Robotics and their new Guardian XO, a cyber suit aimed at those doing heavy lifting tasks. The wearable, full-body exoskeleton is supposed to amplify the wearer’s effort 20-fold, making a 200-pound load feel like lifting 10 pounds. It runs untethered for two hours on hot-swappable battery packs, and will be offered for lease to civilian heavy industries and the military for $100,000 a year. Honestly, it seems like you could hire a fair number of meat-robots for that sum, but still, it’s an interesting technology and a promising development.

Aficionados of 3D printing know all too well the limitations of the technology. While we’ve come a long way with things like a print in place, multiple materials, embedded electronics, and even direct 3D printing of complex mechanisms like electric motors, there’s been a long-standing obstacle to turning the 3D printer into the replicators of the Star Trek universe: batteries. But even that barrier is falling, and a new paper shows just how far we’ve come to printing batteries right into our designs. Using an off-the-shelf Prusa Mk 3 and specially formulated lithium iron phosphate/PLA and silicon dioxide/PLA filaments, the group was able to print working batteries in one shot. It’s exciting news because previous 3D-printed batteries required special printers or laborious post-processing steps. We’ll be watching for developments here.

Speaking of laboratory work, anyone who has been around labs is probably familiar with LabVIEW, the de facto standard for programming data capture and automation applications in the laboratory setting. The graphical programming language makes it easy to throw together a quick interface, and many lab-rats regret not having the expensive, proprietary environment available for their after-hours hacking. That might no longer be true, though, with special LabVIEW licensing for non-commercial users. It looks like there are two levels: LabVIEW Home Edition and a Community Edition of LabVIEW, which is currently in Beta. Either way, it’s good news for LabVIEW fans.

Friend of Hackaday Eric Strebel released a video the other day that we just had to comment on. It has nothing to do with electronics – unless you’re into circuit sculpture, that is. In the first of a two-part series, Eric covers the basics of modeling with brass and copper, using both wire and tubing. He has some great tips, like work-hardening and straightening copper wire by stretching it, and the miniature roll bender seen at 7:40 looks like something that could easily be 3D-printed. We recently did a Hack Chat on circuit sculpture with Mohit Bhoite, and saw his Supercon talk on the subject, so this video really got the creative juices flowing.

If you’re local to the Elkhorn, Wisconsin area, consider stopping by the Elkhorn Mini Maker Faire on February 15 and 16. Elkhorn looks like it has a nice central location between Milwaukee and Madison, and doesn’t appear too far from Chicago either, which is probably why they drew 1,200 people to the inaugural Faire last year. They’re looking to get that up to 2,000 people this year and over 150 booths, so if you’ve got something hackish to show off, check it out. The organizers have even set up a Hackaday.io event page to coordinate with the Hackaday community, so drop them a line and see what you can do to pitch in.

And finally, this one has us scratching our head. Activist group Extinction Rebellion (XR) has claimed they’ve “decommissioned” thousands of electric scooters in French cities. Why they’ve done this is the puzzler; they claim that the scooters-for-hire are an “ecological disaster” due to the resources needed to produce them compared to their short lifespan. We haven’t done the math. What is interesting, though, is the mode of decommissioning: XR operatives simply defaced the QR code on the scooters, rendering them un-rentable with the vendor’s smartphone app. Scooter companies might want to look into alternative rental methods if this keeps up.

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Hackaday Links: August 18, 2019

To the surprise of nobody with the slightest bit of technical intuition or just plain common sense, the world’s first solar roadway has proven to be a complete failure. The road, covering one lane and stretching all of 1,000 meters across the Normandy countryside, was installed in 2016 to great fanfare and with the goal of powering the streetlights in the town of Tourouvre. It didn’t even come close, producing less than half of its predicted power, due in part to the accumulation of leaves on the road every fall and the fact that Normandy only enjoys about 44 days of strong sunshine per year. Who could have foreseen such a thing? Dave Jones at EEVBlog has been all over the solar freakin’ roadways fiasco for years, and he’s predictably tickled pink by this announcement.

I’m not going to admit to being the kid in grade school who got bored in class and regularly filled pages of my notebook with all the binary numbers between 0 and wherever I ran out of room – or got caught. But this entirely mechanical binary number trainer really resonates with me nonetheless. @MattBlaze came up with the 3D-printed widget and showed it off at DEF CON 27. Each two-sided card has an arm that flops down and overlaps onto the more significant bit card to the left, which acts as a carry flag. It clearly needs a little tune-up, but the idea is great and something like this would be a fun way to teach kids about binary numbers. And save notebook paper.

Is that a robot in your running shorts or are you just sporting an assistive exosuit? In yet another example of how exoskeletons are becoming mainstream, researchers at Harvard have developed a soft “exoshort” to assist walkers and runners. These are not a hard exoskeleton in the traditional way; rather, these are basically running short with Bowden cable actuators added to them. Servos pull the cables when the thigh muscles contract, adding to their force and acting as an aid to the user whether walking or running. In tests the exoshorts resulted in a 9% decrease in the amount of effort needed to walk; that might not sound like much, but a soldier walking 9% further on the same number of input calories or carrying 9% more load could be a big deal.

In the “Running Afoul of the FCC” department, we found two stories of interest. The first involves Jimmy Kimmel’s misuse of the Emergency Alert System tones in an October 2018 skit. The stunt resulted in a $395,000 fine for ABC, as well as hefty fines for two other shows that managed to include the distinctive EAS tones in their broadcasts, showing that the FCC takes very seriously indeed the integrity of a system designed to warn people of their approaching doom.

The second story from the regulatory world is of a land mobile radio company in New Jersey slapped with a cease and desist order by the FCC for programming mobile radios to use the wrong frequency. The story (via r/amateurradio) came to light when someone reported interference from a car service’s mobile radios; subsequent investigation showed that someone had programmed the radios to transmit on 154.8025 MHz, which is 5 MHz below the service’s assigned frequency. It’s pretty clear that the tech who programmed the radio either fat-fingered it or misread a “9” as a “4”, and it’s likely that there was no criminal intent. The FCC probably realized this and didn’t levy a fine, but they did send a message loud and clear, not only to the radio vendor but to anyone looking to work frequencies they’re not licensed for.