Tiny ball magnets implanted in muscles could provide much better control over prosthetics.

Magnets Could Give Prosthetic Control A Leg Up

Today, prostheses and exoskeletons are controlled using electromyography. In other words, by recording the electrical activity in muscles as they contract. It’s neither intuitive nor human-like, and it really only shows the brain’s intent, not the reality of what the muscle is doing.

Researchers at MIT’s Media Lab have figured out a way to use magnets for much more precise control, and they’re calling it magnetomicrometry (MM). By implanting pairs of tiny ball magnets and tracking their movement with magnetic sensors, each muscle can be measured individually and far more accurately than with electromyography.

After embedding pairs of 3mm diameter ball magnets into the calves of turkeys, the researchers were able to detect muscle movement in three milliseconds, and to the precision of thirty-seven microns, which is about the width of a human hair. They hope to try MM on humans within the next couple of years. It would be a great solution overall if it works out, because compared with the electromyography method, MM is cheaper, less invasive, and potentially permanent. Couple MM with a new type of amputation surgery called AMI that provides a fuller range of motion, less pain overall, and finer control of prosthetics, and the future of prostheses and rehabilitation looks really exciting. Be sure to check out the video after the break.

There’s more than one way to control prostheses, such as deep learning and somatosensory stimulation.

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Rotary Time Tracker Puts A New Spin On Productivity

Like many of us, [quincy] feels the distracting pull of non-work programs on what has become a mixed-use computer. So what’s the answer to the puzzle of work-life balance? We’re not sure, but time management and keeping track of tasks will probably get you most of the way there. The only problem is that keeping track of these things is boring and tedious and way too easy to forget, even for the fun tasks.

Similar commercial gadgets exist to serve this time-tracking purpose, but [quincy] wanted something much cooler that would work the same way: turn the indicator to the current task, and the status gets recorded on a computer. Rather than some smart polygon with informative stickers on each face à la the Timeflip2, [quincy] built a rotary task manager that serves the same purpose, but does it with magnets.

Our favorite part aside from the magnets has to be the clever binary encoding work. [quincy] is using three photoresistors and a single green LED to create a 3D-printed gray encoder that sidesteps the need to ever flip two bits at once. An Arduino takes care of reading the 3-bit code and converting it back into a decimal. There are more updates to come, including the main .ino file, but you can start printing the pieces while you wait.

If you have trouble staying on task, maybe you need a Pomodoro timer. We’ve seen a few over the years, ranging from the minimal to the sculptural.

Flexible Prototyping For E-Textiles That Doesn’t Cost An Arm And A Leg

Let’s face it: pretty much everything about e-textiles is fiddly. If wearables were easy, more people would probably work in that space. But whereas most circuit prototyping is done in two dimensions, the prototyping of wearables requires thinking and planning in 3D. On top of that, you have to figure out how much conductive thread you need, and that stuff’s not cheap.

[alch_emist] has a method for arranging circuits in 3D space that addresses the harsh realities of trying to prototype wearables. There’s that whole gravity thing to deal with, and then of course there are no straight lines anywhere on the human body. So here’s how it works: [alch_emist] made a bunch of reusable tie points designed to work with an adhesive substrate such as felt. They laser-cut a set of acrylic squares and drilled a hole in each one to accommodate a neodymium magnet. On the back of each square is a small piece of the hook side of hook-and-loop tape, which makes the tie points stay put on the felt, but rearrange easily.

We love the idea of prototyping with felt because it’s such a cheap and versatile fabric, and because you can easily wrap it around your arm or leg and see how the circuit will move when you do.

Not quite to this planning stage of your next wearable project? Magnets and conductive thread play just as well together in 2D.

Modular Box Design Eases Silicone Mold-Making

Resin casting is a fantastic way to produce highly detailed parts in a wide variety of colors and properties, and while the process isn’t complicated, it does require a certain amount of care and setup. Most molds are made by putting a part into a custom-made disposable box and pouring silicone over it, but [Foaly] was finding the process of making and re-making those boxes a bit less optimized than it could be. That led to this design for a re-usable, modular, adjustable mold box that makes the workflow for small parts considerably more efficient.

The walls of the adjustable box are four identical 3D-printed parts with captive magnets, and the base of the box is a piece of laser-cut steel sheet upon which the magnetic walls attach. The positioning and polarity of the magnets are such that the box can be assembled in a variety of sizes, and multiple walls can be stacked to make a taller mold. To aid cleanup and help prevent contamination that might interfere with curing, the inner surfaces of each piece are coated in Kapton tape.

The result is a modular box that can be used and re-used, and doesn’t slow down the process of creating and iterating on mold designs. The system as designed is intended for small parts, but [Foaly] feels there is (probably) no reason it can’t be scaled up to some degree. Interested? The design files are available from the project’s GitHub repository, and if you need to brush up a bit on how resin casting works, you can read all about it here.

Guitar With Hot-Swappable Pickups Lights Our Fire

There’s a story that goes something like this: Chet Atkins was playing his guitar when someone remarked, ‘that guitar sounds great!’ Mr. Atkins immediately stopped playing and asked, ‘how does it sound now?’ While it’s true that the sound ultimately comes from you and your attention to expression, we feel that different pickups on the same guitar can sound, well, different from each other.

However, this is merely speculation on our part, because changing pickups is pretty serious surgery, and there’s only one company out there making guitars with hot-swappable pickups. Since their low-end model is out of most people’s price range, [Mike Lyons] took one for the team and decided to build a guitar from scratch to test out various pickups of any size, from lipstick to humbucker. [Mike] can swap them out in under a minute, and doesn’t need any tools to do it.

[Mike] modeled the swapping system on that one company’s way of doing things, because why reinvent the wheel? The pickups are inserted through the back and held in place with magnets and a pair of cleverly-designed printed pieces — one to mount the pickup to, and the other inside the pickup cavity.

As far as actually connecting the things up, [Mike] went with a commercially-available quick-connect pickup solution that uses a mini four-conductor audio plug and jack. The body is based on the Telecaster, while the headstock is more Stratocaster — the perfect visual combination, if you ask us.

We are particularly fond of [Mike]’s list of caveats for this project, especially the requirement that it had to be built using only hand tools and a 3D printer. Although a drill press would have been nice to use, [Mike] did a fantastic job on this guitar. Whether you’re into guitars or not, this is a great story of an awesome build.

What, you don’t even have hand tools? You could just print the whole guitar instead.

Adjustable, Low-Impact Keeb Is About As Comfortable As It Gets

What’s the coolest-looking way to ease the repetitive stress of typing without quitting altogether? Move nothing but your fingers, and move them as little as possible without any stretching or reaching. We’ve been fans of the weirdly wonderful DataHand keyboard since we first laid eyes on one, but [Ben Gruver] has actually been using these out-of-production keyboards for years as a daily driver. And what do we do when we love something scarce? Make our own, improved version like [Ben] has done, with the lalboard.

[Ben] has been using the lalboard for about two years now and has a laundry list of improvements for version two, a project we are proud to host over on IO. Many of the improvements are designed to make this massive undertaking a bit easier to print and put together. Version one uses copper tape traces, but [Ben] is working on a fab-able PCB that will use something other than a pair of Teensy 2.0s, and perhaps QMK firmware.

Something that won’t be changing is the fantastic optical key switch design that uses an IR LED and phototransistor to capture key presses, and tiny square magnets to return the key to the home position and deliver what we’re quite sure is a satisfying clack.

The absolute coolest part of this keyboard is that it’s so adjustable. Every key cluster can be adjusted in 6 directions, which includes the ability to dial in different heights for each finger if that’s what works best. Once that’s all figured out, then it’s time to print some perfect permanent standoffs. Want to make one of these sci-fi clackers for yourself? [Ben] has the BOM, some printing instructions and tips, and a guide to making the copper tape PCBs over on GitHub. Check it out in action after the break as [Ben] rewrites Kafka’s Metamorphosis at 120 WPM.

Interested in learning more about the original DataHand keyboard? Here’s our take.

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PCB Bath Comes From Russia With Love

[Ruvin Kub] likes magnets, a lot. Most of his projects feature some sort of magnet and his PC board agitation bath is no exception. You can see a video about the device, below. We’ll admit our Russian is pretty rusty, but if you ask YouTube nicely it will translate the Russian subtitles into whatever language you like.

One of the things we liked about the video was that he uses hydrogen peroxide, citric acid, and salt as an etchant. We’ve seen the same mix with vinegar or muriatic acid instead of citric acid. We aren’t sure what the actual¬† translation is about why he doesn’t like ferric chloride, but YouTube says, “she’s too gloomy for my light souls.”

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