Medical equipment is not generally known for being inexpensive, with various imaging systems usually weighing in at over a million dollars, and even relatively simpler pieces of technology like digital thermometers, stethoscopes, and pulse oximeters coming in somewhere around $50. As the general pace of technological improvement continues on we expect marginal decreases in costs, but every now and then a revolutionary piece of technology will drop the cost of something like a blood pressure monitor by over an order of magnitude.
Typically a blood pressure monitor involves a cuff that pressurizes against a patient’s arm, and measures the physical pressure of the blood as the heart forces blood through the area restricted by the cuff. But there are some ways to measure blood pressure by proxy, instead of directly. This device, a small piece of plastic with a cost of less than a dollar, attaches to a smartphone near the camera sensor and flashlight. By pressing a finger onto the device, the smartphone uses the flashlight and the camera in tandem to measure subtle changes in the skin, which can be processed in an app to approximate blood pressure.
The developers of this technology note that it’s not a one-to-one substitute for a traditional blood pressure monitor, but it is extremely helpful for those who might not be able to afford a normal monitor and who might otherwise go undiagnosed for high blood pressure. Almost half of adults in the US alone have issues relating to blood pressure, so just getting information at all is the hurdle this device is attempting to overcome. And, we’ll count it as a win any time medical technology becomes more accessible, more inexpensive, or more open-source.
While there have been hiccups here and there, the general trend of electronics is to decrease in cost or increase in performance. This can be seen in fairly obvious ways like more powerful and affordable computers but it also often means that more powerful software can be used in other devices without needing expensive hardware to support it. [Manawyrm] and [Toble_Miner] found this was true of a particular inexpensive thermal camera that ships with Linux installed on it, and found that this platform was nearly perfect for tinkering with and adding plenty of other features to turn it into a much more capable tool.
The duo have been working on a SC240N variant of the InfiRay C200 infrared camera, which ships with a Hisilicon SoC. The display is capable of displaying 25 frames per second, making this platform an excellent candidate for modifying. A few ports were added to the device, including USB and MicroSD, and which also allows the internal serial port to be accessed easily. From there the device can be equipped with the uboot bootloader in order to run essentially anything that could be found on any other Linux machine such as supporting a webcam interface (and including a port of DOOM, of course). The duo doesn’t stop at software modifications though. They also equipped the camera with a lens, attached magnetically, which changes the camera’s focal length to give it improved imaging capabilities at closer ranges.
While the internal machinations of this device are interesting, it actually turns out to be a fairly capable infrared camera on its own as well. The hardware and software requirements for these devices certainly don’t need a full Linux environment to work, and while we have seen thermal cameras that easily fit in a pocket that are based on nothing any more powerful than an ESP32, it does tend to simplify the development process dramatically to include Linux and a little more processing power if you can.
Observing a colony, swarm or similar grouping of creatures like ants or zebrafish over longer periods of time can be tricky. Simply recording their behavior with a camera misses a lot of information about the position of their body parts, while taking precise measurements using a laser-based system or LiDAR suffers from a reduction in parameters such as the resolution or the update speed. The ideal monitoring system would be able to record at high data rates and resolutions, while presenting the recorded data all three dimensions. This is where the work by Kevin C. Zhou and colleagues seeks to tick all the boxes, with a recent paper (preprint, open access) in Nature Photonics describing their 3D-RAPID system.
This system features a 9×6 camera grid, making for a total of 54 cameras which image the underlying surface. With 66% overlap between cameras across the horizontal dimension, there enough duplicate data between image stream that is subsequently used in the processing step to extract and reconstruct the 3D features, also helped by the pixel pitch of between 9.6 to 38.4 µm. The software is made available via the author’s GitHub.
Three configurations for the imaging are possible, ranging from no downsampling (1x) for 13,000×11,250 resolution at 15 FPS, to 2x downsampling (6,500×5,625@60FPS) and finally 4x (3,250×2,810@230FPS). Depending on whether the goal is to image finer features or rapid movement, this gives a range of options before the data is fed into the computational 3D reconstruction and stitching algorithm. This uses the overlap between the distinct frames to reconstruct the 3D image, which in this paper is used together with a convolutional neural network (CNN) to automatically determine for example how often the zebrafish are near the surface, as well as the behavior of fruit flies and harvester ants.
As noted in an interview with the authors, possible applications could be found in developmental biology as well as pharmaceutics.
Just as the gold standard for multimeters and other instrumentation likely comes in a yellow package of some sort, there is a similar household name for thermal imaging. But, if they’re known for anything other than the highest quality thermal cameras, it’s excessively high price. There are other options around but if you want to make sure that the finished product has some sort of quality control you might want to consider building your own thermal imaging device like [Ruslan] has done here.
The pocket-sized thermal camera is built around a MLX90640 sensor from Melexis which can be obtained on its own, but can also be paired with an STM32F446 board with a USB connection in order to easily connect it to a computer. For that, [Ruslan] paired it with an ESP32 board with a companion screen, so that the entire package could be assembled together with a battery and still maintain its sleek shape. The data coming from the thermal imagining sensor does need some post-processing in order to display useful images, but this is well within the capabilities of the STM32 and ESP32.
The wand-like device is made by Gelsight, and instead of an optical lens like a normal microscope, it sports a gel pad on the sensing end. By squashing an object into the gel, the device is able to carefully illuminate and image the impression created. By taking multiple images lit from different angles, a lot of information can be extracted.
The result is a high-resolution magnification — albeit a monochromatic one — that conveys depth extremely well. It’s pretty neat clearly seeing tiny specks of dust or lint present on surfaces when [Steve] demonstrates imaging things like coin cells.
The technique is called NLOS or non-line-of-sight imaging. Previous approaches require scanning a large area to find indirect light from hidden objects. This new approach uses a laser to find objects that are moving. The indirect data changes based on the movement and an algorithm can reverse the measurements to determine the characteristics of the object.
A makerspace is a great place to use specialty tools that may be too expensive or large to own by oneself, but there are other perks that come with participation in that particular community. For example, all of the skills you’ve gained by using all that fancy equipment may make you employable in some very niche situations. [lukeiamyourfather] from the Dallas Makerspace recently found himself in just that situation, and was asked to image a two-million-year-old fossil.
The fossil was being placed into a CT machine for imaging, but was too thick to properly view. These things tend to be fragile, so he spent some time laser cutting an acrylic stand in order to image the fossil vertically instead of horizontally. Everything that wasn’t fossil had to be non-conductive for the CT machine, so lots of fishing line and foam was used as well. After the imaging was done, he was also asked to 3D print a model for a display in the museum.
This is all going on at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science if you happen to be in the Dallas area. It’s interesting to see these skills put to use out in the wild as well, especially for something as rare and fragile as studying an old fossil. Also, if you’d like to see if your local makerspace measures up to the Dallas makerspace, we featured a tour of it back in 2014, although they have probably made some updates since then.