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.

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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.

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The Hackaday Prize: Exoskeletons for the Masses

While medical facilities continue to improve worldwide, access to expensive treatments still eludes a vast amount of people. Especially when it comes to prosthetics, a lot of people won’t be able to afford something so personalized even though the need for assistive devices is extremely high. With that in mind, [Guillermo Herrera-Arcos] started working on ALICE, a robotic exoskeleton that is low-cost, easy to build, and as an added bonus, 100% Open Source.

ALICE’s creators envision that the exoskeleton will have applications in rehabilitation, human augmentation, and even gaming. Also, since it’s Open Source, it could also be used as a platform for STEM students to learn from. Currently, the team is testing electronics in the legs of the exoskeleton, but they have already come a long way with their control system and getting a workable prototype in place. Moving into the future, the creators, as well as anyone else who develops something on this platform, will always be improving it and building upon it thanks to the nature of Open Source hardware.

An ExoArm For The Elderly

Prosthetic and assistive technologies have come have come a long way in recent years. When there are not only major medical research organizations, but individuals getting on board designing tools to improve the lives of others? That’s something special. Enter a homebrew essay into this field: ExoArm.

Attached to the body via what was available — in this case, the support harness for a gas-powered weed-eater — which distributes the load across the upper body and an Arduino for a brain, ExoArm designer [Kristjan Berce] has since faced roadblocks with muscle sensors meant to enable more instinctive control. So — for now — functionality is limited to a simple up and down motion controlled by two switches. It is worth noting that the down switch is currently mounted in such a way that when the user moves their arm down, the ExoArm follows suit, so there is some natural feel to using the arm in its present iteration.

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Exoskeleton Aims to Prevent Falls for Seniors

When we think of exoskeletons, we tend to think along comic book lines: mechanical suits bestowing superhero strength upon the villain. But perhaps more practical uses for exoskeletons exists: restoring the ability to walk, for instance, or as in the case of these exoskeleton shorts, preventing hip fractures by detecting and correcting falls before they happen.

Falls and the debilitating injuries that can result are a cruel fact of life for the elderly, and anything that can potentially mitigate them could be a huge boon to public health. Falls often boil down to loss of balance from slipping, whether it be a loose rug, a patch of ice, or even the proverbial banana peel. The “Active Pelvic Orthosis” developed by [Vito Monaco] and colleagues seeks to sense slips and correct them by applying the correct torque to the hip joints. Looking a little bulky in their prototype form and still tethered to an external computer, the shorts have motors with harmonic drives and angle sensors for each hip, plus accelerometers to detect the kinematic signature of a slip. The researchers discovered that forcing the leg that slipped forward while driving the stable leg back helped reduce the possibility of a fall. The video below shows the shorts in action preventing falls on a slip-inducing treadmill.

At the Hackaday Unconference in Pasadena, we heard from [Raul Ocampo] on his idea for autonomous robots to catch falling seniors. Perhaps wearing the robot will end up being a better idea.

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Iron Man, In IRON!

Sometimes a project comes our way which has so much information contained in it as to be overwhelming, and on which it is difficult to know where to start. A good example is [Barry Armstead]’s Iron Man suit, to which we were introduced through a very long forum thread that spans several years.

Home-made armour is a staple of the cosplay world, with many astoundingly good creations being produced by fans. What makes [Barry]’s Iron Man suit stand out from the crowd is its construction; instead of fiberglass or vacuum-formed plastic he’s used real metal. (It’s steel. But steel contains iron, right? We’re calling poetic license.)

The best place to follow progress on the suit is probably [Barry]’s YouTube feed, in which he has so far racked up 44 build logs. We see joint articulation tests, early test walks, the iconic helmet taking shape, and the repulsor simulated with a nano sprayer. With so many videos to watch, you’ll be there quite a while. The one we’ll leave you with below the break is fairly straightforward, the first look at the entire exoskeleton in bare metal.

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Exoskeleton Designed for Children

Exoskeletons are demonstrably awesome, allowing humans to accomplish feats of strength beyond their normal capacity. The future is bright for the technology — not just for industrial and military applications, but especially in therapy and rehabilitation. Normally, one thinks of adults who have lost function in their limbs, but in the case of this exoskeleton, developed by The Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), children with spinal muscular atrophy are given a chance to lead an active life.

Designing prosthetics for children can be difficult since they are constantly growing, and CSIC’s is designed to be telescopic to accommodate patients between the ages 3-14. Five motors in each leg adapt to the individual symptoms of the patient through sensors which detect the child’s intent to move and simulates what would be their natural walking gait.

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