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.

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.

An Exoskeleton Arm For A Hacker On A Budget

Whether it is motivated by a dream of superhuman strength courtesy of a mech suit or of mobility for those with impaired muscle function, the powered exoskeleton exerts a curious fascination among engineers. The idea of a machine-augmented human body achieving great things is thwarted though by the difficulty of the task, actuators and power sources small enough to be worn comfortably represent a significant challenge that is not easily overcome. It’s a subject that has captivated [Kristjan Berce] since at a young age seeing his grandmother struggling with lifting, and he presents a working powered exoskeleton arm as a proof of his ideas.

It’s a wonderful exercise in low-tech construction with hand tools and a drill press on pieces of aluminium and wood. Motive power comes from an automotive windscreen wiper motor, and electrical power comes from a hefty LiPo attached to the device’s harness. There is a feedback potentiometer incorporated into the elbow joint, and an Arduino oversees the operation under the direction of a pair of glove-mounted buttons. It’s certainly impressive to see it in the video below lifting a bicycle, though we wonder how its weight might affect someone with less muscle function than average.

Projects like this one are very good to see, because there’s a chance that somebody out there may be helped by building one of these. However there is always a note of caution to be struck, as the best solutions come from those who need them and not those who merely think they have the solution. We have written about the Engineer Saviour Trap here in years past.

This isn’t the first prosthetic arm we’ve seen though, we covered a hackerspace in England printing one for a local youngster.

Continue reading “An Exoskeleton Arm For A Hacker On A Budget”

Hackaday Podcast Ep004 – Taking The Blue Pill, Abusing Resistors, And Not Finding Drones

Catch up on your Hackaday with this week’s podcast. Mike and Elliot riff on the Bluepill (ST32F103 boards), blackest of black paints, hand-crafted sorting machines, a 3D printer bed leveling system that abuses some 2512 resistors, how cyborgs are going mainstream, and the need for more evidence around airport drone sightings.

Stream or download Episode 4 here, and subscribe to Hackaday on your favorite podcasting platform! You’ll find show notes after the break.

Direct download (43.1 MB)

Places to follow Hackaday podcasts:

Continue reading “Hackaday Podcast Ep004 – Taking The Blue Pill, Abusing Resistors, And Not Finding Drones”

The Cyborgs Among Us: Exoskeletons Go Mainstream

Every technological advancement seems to have a sharp inflection point, a time before which it seems like any early adopters are considered kooks, but beyond which the device or service quickly becomes so mainstream that non-adopters become the kooky ones. Take cell phones, for example – I clearly remember a news report back in the 1990s about some manufacturers crazy idea to put a digital camera in a phone. Seemingly minutes later, you couldn’t buy a phone without a camera.

It seems like we may be nearing a similar inflection point with a technology far more complex and potentially far more life-altering than cameras in cell phones: powered exoskeletons. With increasing numbers of news stories covering advancements in exoskeletal assistants for the elderly, therapeutic applications for those suffering from spinal cord injuries and neurodegenerative diseases, and penetration into the workplace – including the battlefield – as amplifiers of human effort, it’s worth taking a look at where we are with exoskeletons before seeing someone using one in public becomes so commonplace as to go unnoticed.

Continue reading “The Cyborgs Among Us: Exoskeletons Go Mainstream”

Mechanisms: The Lever, It’s Everywhere

Levers are literally all around us. You body uses them to move, pick up a pen to sign your name and you’ll use mechanical advantage to make that ballpoint roll, and that can of soda doesn’t open without a cleverly designed lever.

I got onto this topic quite by accident. I was making an ornithopter and it was having trouble lifting its wings. For the uninitiated, ornithopters are machines which fly by flapping their wings. The problem was that the lever arm was too short. To be honest, as I worked I wasn’t even thinking in terms of levers, and only realized that there was one after I’d fine-tuned its length by trial and error. After that, the presence of a lever was embarrassingly obvious.

I can probably be excused for not seeing a lever right away because it wasn’t the type we most often experience. There are different classes of levers and it’s safe to say that most people aren’t even aware of this. Let’s take a closer look at these super useful, and sometimes hidden mechanisms known as levers.

Continue reading “Mechanisms: The Lever, It’s Everywhere”

Learning Software In A Soft Exosuit

Wearables and robots don’t often intersect, because most robots rely on rigid bodies and programming while we don’t. Exoskeletons are an instance where robots interact with our bodies, and a soft exosuit is even closer to our physiology. Machine learning is closer to our minds than a simple state machine. The combination of machine learning software and a soft exosuit is a match made in heaven for the Harvard Biodesign Lab and Agile Robotics Lab.

Machine learning studies a walker’s steady gait for twenty periods while vitals are monitored to assess how much energy is being expended. After watching, the taught machine assists instead of assessing. This type of personalization has been done in the past, but the addition of machine learning shows that the necessary customization can be programmed into each machine without a team of humans.

Exoskeletons are no stranger to these pages, our 2017 Hackaday Prize gave $1000 to an open-source set of robotic legs and reported on an exoskeleton to keep seniors safe.

Continue reading “Learning Software In A Soft Exosuit”