Hackaday Prize And UCPLA Are Driving Assistive Technology Forward

Take a second to imagine all the people in your life. Your family, friends, coworkers. Your buddies down at the hackerspace, and anyone you chat with on IO and over the airwaves. Statistically speaking, one in four of these people has a disability of some kind, and needs help doing everyday things that you might not think twice about — simple things like opening doors or interacting with computers. Or maybe that one in four is you.

For the past 75 years, United Cerebral Palsy of LA (UCPLA) have been helping people with various developmental and intellectual disabilities to live independently with dignity. They work directly with members of the disabled community to develop assistive technology that is both affordable and dependable. UCPLA helps the disabled community with everything from employment to providing a creative outlet, and gives them the tools to do these things and more. Their mission is to help people be as independent as possible so they can feel good about themselves and enjoy a life without limits.

The people behind this non-profit are all about inclusion, access, and opportunity, and this is why we are proud to partner with UCPLA for the 2020 Hackaday Prize. With the world in upheaval, there is no better time to build a better future for everyone. You never know when you might need assistive technology. In addition to the open challenge that calls for everyone to work on a design, this year there is also a Dream Team challenge which offers a $3,000 per month stipend over the next two months to work on a team addressing one specific challenge. Apply for that asap!

What kind of challenges has UCPLA outlined for the Hackaday Prize? Let’s dive in and find out, and we’ll also hear from the UCPLA team in a Q&A video at the end of the article.

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Automate Your Xbox

First the robots took our jobs, then they came for our video games. This dystopian future is brought to you by [Little French Kev] who designed this adorable 3D-printed robot arm to interface with an Xbox One controller joystick. He shows it off in the video after the break, controlling a ball-balancing physics demonstration written in Unity.

Hats off to him on the quality of the design. There are two parts that nestle the knob of the thumbstick from either side. He mates those pieces with each other using screws, firmly hugging the stick. Bearings are used at the joints for smooth action of the two servo motors that control the arm. The base of the robotic appendage is zip-tied to the controller itself.

The build targets experimentation with machine learning. Since the computer can control the arm via an Arduino, and the computer has access to metrics of what’s happening in the virtual environment, it’s a perfect for training a neural network. Are you thinking what we’re thinking? This is the beginning of hardware speed-running your favorite video games like [SethBling] did for Super Mario World half a decade ago. It will be more impressive since this would be done by automating the mechanical bit of the controller rather than operating purely in the software realm. You’ll just need to do your own hack to implement button control.

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Accessible Controller Plays Around With Modularity

Video games are a great way to have some fun or blow off a little steam when real life becomes laughable. But stock controllers and other inputs are hardly one size fits all. Even if you have no physical issues, they can be too big, too small, or just plain uncomfortable to hold.

[kefcom] wrote in to give us a heads up about a modular, adaptive system he designed for anyone who is unable to operate a PS3, PS4, or PC with a standard controller. The project was inspired by Microsoft’s adaptive XBOX controller and works pretty much the same way — broken-out buttons, joysticks, and other inputs all connect to a hub that unifies them into a controller the console or computer can communicate with. The major difference is that this project is open source and can be realized much more cheaply.

If you want to give this a try, [kefcom]’s project repo has step-by-step instructions for disassembling two types of wireless controllers and converting them into hubs for modular controls. He’s looking for help with design, documentation, and finding reliable suppliers for all the parts, so let him know if you can assist.

Some players need something more accessible than just broken-out buttons and full-size joysticks. Here’s an adaptive controller that uses ridged foam rollers to actuate buttons.

Converted Car Lets Toddlers Tool Around

A few years ago, a professor at the University of Delaware started a project called Go Baby Go. It’s designed to bring fun and affordable mobility to small children with disabilities. The idea is to modify Power Wheels cars to make them easier for disabled kids to operate, and to teach as many people as possible how to do it in the process. The [South Eugene Robotics Team] is taking this a step further by replacing the steering wheel with a joystick that controls two motors with an Arduino Nano.

In the first instance you replace the foot pedal with a push button. The plans also call for a PVC frame, a high-backed seat, and a seat belt to make it safer. The end result is a fun ride the kid can control themselves that functions a lot like a power wheelchair, but is much more affordable. It has the added bonus of being a fun conversation piece for the other kids instead of a weird scary thing.

They also replace the front wheels with 5″ casters, because being able to spin around in circles is awesome. Their project shows how to do the entire conversion in great detail, starting with a standard ride-on car that comes with some assembly required. Motor past the break to check out a short demo with an extremely happy child tooling around in a fire truck.

If these kids get too wild, they’re gonna need traction control for these things.

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Busy Box Beats Baby’s Boredom

We would love to be a fly on the wall Christmas morning to see [Wilksyonreddit]’s kid tear the paper off of this adult-level busy box. Can you imagine the unbridled glee? It should certainly make the arduous six-month build worth the trouble. Here’s hoping the walls are sturdy, because we predict they will be bounced off of.

This gift that keeps on giving has an Arduino MEGA clone inside and a couple of shift registers to deal with all those buttons and switches. In addition to all the buttons, switches, and the number pad, there are two 3D-printed touch sensor pads that can detect little fingers up to four inches away. Although he’s already built a few games and activities for it, [Wilksy] posted this in r/duino looking for more ideas. There’s a lot to work with here on baby’s first nuclear missile launch console, both input- and output-wise. We humbly suggest 4D Simon, though we must admit to fantasizing about MIDI controllers.

Hidden inside this Christmas present is an Easter egg we think you’ll appreciate. Enter the right code, and the box becomes a treasure trove of Back to the Future sound effects and audio clips. Video’s after the break, McFly.

This box would make a great Kerbal Space Program controller, too, like this one.

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Barcode Guitar Plays More Than Beep-Bop

One of our favorite things about the rise of hobbyist development ecosystems such as the Arduino is that it’s now possible to make a MIDI controller out of almost anything, as long as you have the the shields and the dedication. We’re glad that [James Bruton] takes the occasional break from making robots to detour into instrument making, because his latest creation turns it up to 11.

This awesome guitar uses a barcode scanner to play notes, and various arcade controls to manipulate those notes. The barcodes themselves scan as ASCII values, and their equivalent integers are sent to an external MIDI device. This futuristic axe is built on an Arduino Mega, with a USB shield for the barcode scanner, and a MIDI shield on top that [James] connects to various synths in the video after the break.

In between shooting barcodes, the right hand also controls octave shifting and changing MIDI channels with the joystick, and doing pitch-bends with the rotary encoder. The array of arcade buttons on the bottom neck let him switch between single player for monophonic synths, and multiplayer for polys. The other three buttons are press-and-scan programmable single-note sounders that assist in chord-making and noodling.

We particularly dig the construction, which is a combination of 20/20 and 3D printed boxes. [James] found some angled PVC to serve as fretboards for the four necks, and a nice backgrounds for bar codes.The only thing we would change is the native beep of the barcode scanner — either silence it forever or make it mutable, because it doesn’t jive with every note. It might be nice to get the gun to scan continuously so [James] doesn’t get trigger finger. Or better yet, build the scanner into a glove.

Want to do something more useful with that barcode scanner in your parts bin? Use it to manage your household inventory. But first, reacquaint yourself with the history of the humble barcode as presented by [Adam Fabio].

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Handheld LoRa Joystick For Long-Range Bots

Wanting a simple tool to aid in the development of LoRa controlled robotic projects, [Jay Doscher] put together this very slick one-handed controller based on the 900 MHz Adafruit Feather M0. With a single trigger and a miniature analog joystick it’s a fairly simple input device, but should be just enough to test basic functionality of whatever moving gadget you might find yourself working on.

Wiring for this project is about as simple as you’d expect, with the trigger and joystick hanging off the Feather’s digital ports. The CircuitPython code is also very straightforward, though [Jay] says in the future he might expand on this a bit to support LoRaWAN. The controller was designed as a barebones diagnostic tool, but the hardware and software in its current form offers an excellent opportunity to layer additional functionality on a known good base.

Everything is held inside a very well designed 3D printed enclosure which [Jay] ran off on his ELEGOO Mars, one of the new breed of low-cost resin 3D printers. The machine might be pretty cheap, but the results speak for themselves. While resin printing certainly has its downsides, it’s hard not to be impressed by the finish quality of this enclosure.

While LoRa is generally used for transmitting small bits of information over long distances, such as from remote sensors, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen it used for direct control of a moving object. If you’re not up to speed on LoRa, check out this excellent talk from [Reinier van der Lee] that goes over the basics of the technology and how he used it to build a community sensor network.