Human Power, Past And Future

We will assume you’ve seen The Matrix — it was from 1999, after all. The surprise, at the end, was that humans were being used as human batteries to power a civilization of intelligent machines. But aside from just putting out some heat, the idea does have some precedent. After all, humans powered machines like mills, sewing machines, and pumps for centuries before there were good alternatives.

History

Galley ship
Reconstruction of a squadron of ancient Greek galley ships.

Early machines used hand cranks, treadwheels, treadles, and even pedal power to harness energy from humans. Consider, for example, an ancient galley ship with many oarsmen providing an engine. This wasn’t a great use of human power. An oarsman on a galley used his arms and back but didn’t much use his legs. The legs, though, have larger muscles and are often stronger. A pedal boat or racing shell would have been much more efficient, but without mass production of strong metal parts, it would have been difficult to build and maintain such machines in ancient times.

There was a time when pedals or treadles operated lots of machines from sewing machines to lathes. There were even old radios able to transmit and receive with no external power thanks to pedals as late as the 1940s.

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Assistive Gloves Come In Pairs

We have to hand it to this team, their entry for the 2020 Hackaday Prize is a classic pincer maneuver. A team from [The University of Auckland] in New Zealand and [New Dexterity] is designing a couple of gloves for both rehabilitation and human augmentation. One style is a human-powered prosthetic for someone who has lost mobility in their hand. The other form uses soft robotics and Bluetooth control to move the thumb, fingers, and an extra thumb (!).

The human-powered exoskeleton places the user’s hand inside a cabled glove. When they are in place, they arch their shoulders and tighten an artificial tendon across their back, which pulls their hand close. To pull the fingers evenly, there is a differential box which ensures pressure goes where it is needed, naturally. Once they’ve gripped firmly, the cables stay locked, and they can relax their shoulders. Another big stretch and the cords relax.

In the soft-robotic model, a glove is covered in inflatable bladders. One set spreads the fingers, a vital physical therapy movement. Another bladder acts as a second thumb for keeping objects centered in the palm. A cable system draws the fingers closed like the previous glove, but to lock them they evacuate air from the bladders, so jamming layers retain their shape, like food in a vacuum bag.

We are excited to see what other handy inventions appear in this year’s Hackaday Prize, like the thumbMouse, or how about more assistive tech that uses hoverboards to help move people?

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Bike-Powered Everything

It’s hard to argue that bicycles aren’t super handy. They get you from point A to B in a jiffy with little effort. Since these machines are so simple and convenient, why not use them for things other than transportation? Well, [Job] set out to do just that.

[Job’s] starts with a standard single speed bike and adds a few parts. First, a stand is installed to the back axle. When in the down position, it lifts the rear wheel off of the ground and provides support so the bike does not tip over. When flipped up into the ‘up’ position the stand creates a rack for holding goods and the bike can be pedaled around in a normal manner.

dualpurposebike-midNext, a jack shaft made from a bike bottom bracket and crank is installed up front in between the top tube and down tube of the frame. On one side of the jack shaft is a sprocket and the other side is a large pulley. When converting to what [Job] calls ‘power production mode’, the chain going to the rear wheel is removed from the crank sprocket and replaced with a chain connected to the jack shaft.

With the rear stand down supporting the bike and the pedals now powering the jack shaft and large pulley, it is time to connect the bike to any sort of machine. A belt is slung around the pulley and connected to a matching pulley on a power-hungry machine. This dual-purpose bike has powered a rice thresher, peanut sheller, water pump, table saw and even a wood lathe!

[Job] set out to create a simple and inexpensive way to make a bike even more useful than just riding around town. We think he did just that. For more bike-powered stuff, check out this generator.