Inputs Of Interest: Ears To Communication For Everyone

Welcome back to Inputs of Interest! If you haven’t heard, I am all ears when it comes to new ways of talking to computers and machines. And speaking of ears, did you know they can do useful tricks? If you squeeze your eyes shut tightly and/or yawn widely, you might hear a low-level rumbling sound like distant thunder. A decent percentage of people are able to move theirs voluntarily, but not everyone. Maybe you already knew you could rumble, and have used it to entertain yourself, or dampen the unpleasant sounds of life.

No, you can’t reach your tensor tympani with a Q-tip. Image via Research Gate

That rumbling is caused by a muscle in your middle ear stretching out. It’s called the tensor tympani, and its purpose is to shield your ears from loud sounds like chewing, and oddly enough, thunder. When the tensor tympani are activated, they pull the eardrums taut to keep them from vibrating and getting damaged. Unfortunately, they don’t react quickly enough to protect us from sudden sounds like gunshots.

Nick G is able to rumble on command, and wanted to see if he could somehow use it as an input mechanism that he calls Earswitch. He got a cheap USB otoscope camera and figured out that the tensor tympani’s stretching movement shows up well enough to trigger motion detection software. So far, [Nick] has been able to demonstrate control of a few things, like the Windows on-screen keyboard, Grid3 assistive software, and a head tracking utility.

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Open-Source Medical Devices Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, January 29 at noon Pacific for the Open-Source Medical Devices Hack Chat with Tarek Loubani!

In most of the developed world, when people go to see a doctor, they’re used to seeing the latest instruments and devices used. Most exam rooms have fancy blood pressure cuffs, trays of shiny stainless steel instruments, and a comfortable exam table covered by a fresh piece of crisp, white paper. Exams and procedures are conducted in clean, quiet places, with results recorded on a dedicated PC or tablet.

Such genteel medical experiences are far from universal, though. Many clinics around the world are located in whatever building is available, if they’re indoors at all. Supplies may be in chronically short supply, and to the extent that the practitioners have the instruments they need to care for patients, they’ll likely be older, lower-quality versions.

Tarek Loubani is well-versed in the practice of medicine under conditions like these, as well as far worse situations. As an emergency physician and researcher in Canada, he’s accustomed to well-appointed facilities and ample supplies. But he’s also involved in humanitarian relief, taking his medical skills and limited supplies to places like Gaza. He has seen first-hand how lack of the correct tools can lead to poor outcomes for patients, and chose to fight back by designing a range of medical devices and instruments that can be 3D-printed. His Glia Project┬áhas free plans for a high-quality stethoscope that can be built for a couple of dollars, otoscopes and pulse oximeters, and a range of surgical tooling to make the practice of medicine under austere conditions a little easier. Continue reading “Open-Source Medical Devices Hack Chat”