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.

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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Homemade Superhero: [James’] DIY Exoskeleton

We’re not just a bunch of monkeys with typewriters here at Hackaday; we don our hacker hat whenever our schedules allow. Or, in the case of Hackaday’s own [James Hobson]—aka [The Hacksmith]—he dons this slick exoskeleton prototype instead,turning himself into a superhero. Inspired by the exoskeleton from the film Elysium, this project puts [James] one step closer to the greater goal of creating an Iron Man-style suit.

For now, though, the exoskeleton is impressive enough on its own. The build is a combination of custom-cut perforated steel tubing and pneumatic cylinders, attached to a back braces of sorts. In the demonstration video, [James] stares down 170 pounds of cinder block affixed to a barbell, and although he’s no lightweight, you can tell immediately from his reaction how much assistance the exoskeleton provides as [James] curls the makeshift weights over and over. And that’s only at half pressure. [James] thinks he could break the 300 pound mark of lifting if he didn’t break his legs first.

There’s plenty of behind-the-scenes footage of the build process to be had, so make sure you stick around after the jump for a sizable helping of videos, and check out [The Hacksmith’s] website for more of his projects.

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ReWalk Suit For Paraplegics


We here at Hack a Day are really interested in power suits, so the ReWalk suit for paraplegics immediately caught our attention. By using unique robotic control algorithms, the suit works with the user rather than for the user. This allows the user to experience the sensation of walking autonomously and a chance at a normal life. Argo, the design company, also claims that a suit like this will end up saving the user money considering the high price of medical and transportation equipment. The core design is not entirely new. It has a batterypack and DC motors placed at the joints. The wearer uses crutches and the sensors and software monitor upper body movement to predict when and where the user wants to move their leg.

[via Medgadget]