Teardown: Box of Pain (Gom Jabbar Sold Separately)

I immediately felt uncomfortable when I realized this thing is called the “Breo iPalm520 Acupressure Hand Massager”. You’re supposed to stick your hand into it, and through unknown machinations it performs some kind of pressure massage complete with heating action. It’s like one of those pain boxes from Dune. It’s all the more disturbing when you realize the red button on the thing is an emergency release. That’s right, once your hand is in this contraption you can’t take it out until the thing has had its way with you or you tap out.

Press to administer the Gom Jabbar

At least once a week I try to get to the local thrift store to look for interesting things. I’d like to be more specific than “interesting things”, but truth be told, I never really know what I’m looking for until I see it. Sure there’s the normal consumer electronics kind of stuff, but I’ve also found some very nice laboratory equipment, computer parts, software, technical books, etc. You just have to go regularly and keep an eye out for the occasional needle amongst the hay.

I want you to know, Dear Readers, that I did briefly summon the courage to put my hand into this thing and turn it on. Now I am not what one might call an overly brave man, and perhaps that might explain my personal experience. But when it started to hum and heat up, constricting around my hand to the point I couldn’t move my fingers, I screamed like a child and mashed the emergency button as if I was a pilot trying to eject from a mortally wounded aircraft. As far as Frank Herbert is concerned, I’m no human at all.

In an effort to better understand this torture device, lets open it up and see what lurks beneath that futuristic exterior.

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Changing Color Under Pressure

When you saw the picture for this article, did you think of a peacock’s feather? These fibers are not harvested from birds, and in fact, the colors come from transparent rubber. As with peacock feathers, they come from the way light reflects off layers of differing materials, this is known as optical interference, and it is the same effect seen on oil slicks. The benefit to using transparent rubber is that the final product is flexible and when drawn, the interference shifts. In short, they change color when stretched.

Most of the sensors we see and feature are electromechanical, which has the drawback that we cannot read them without some form of interface. Something like a microcontroller, gauge, or a slew of 555 timers. Reading a single strain gauge on a torque wrench is not too tricky, but simultaneously reading a dozen gauges spread across a more complex machine such as a quadcopter will probably require graphing software to generate a heat map. With this innovation it could now be done with an on-board camera in real-time. Couple that with machine learning and perhaps you could launch Skynet. Or build a better copter.

The current proof-of-concept weaves the fibers into next-generation bandages to give an intuitive sense of how tightly a dressing should be applied. For the average first-aid responder, the rule is being able to slide a finger between the fabric and skin. That’s an easy indicator, but it only works after the fact whereas saying that the dressing should be orange while wrapping gives constant feedback.

DIY Barometer: It’s For Your Health!

[Taciuc Marius] and his colleague noticed that days with low atmospheric pressure plus caffeine in their system meant a spike in blood pressure. Considering how this might impact his cardiovascular health, he decided to make a relative pressure barometer out of a jar to help him decide whether he should really have another cup of coffee.

Aside from a 3D printer, you’ll need to assemble a small jar with a lid, some screws, lock washers, nuts, and a flexible membrane — a piece of a rubber glove or balloon will do nicely. [Marius] details the build process on his project page, advising others to print the parts at 0.2 resolution — potentially even upping the extrusion multiplier to 1.1 — to prevent gaps in the print that would compromise the airtight seal needed for the barometer to work properly.

Additionally, thick glue or epoxy is recommended for the rest of the assembly process — it doesn’t have to be pretty, but it does need to be sealed! The final product can be easily tested by simply holding the jar.

While this barometer helps one make healthy choices, not all are created equal. This one tells you flat out how you should consider getting to work, while others have been tricked into behaving like touch sensors.

Electronics That Can Handle The Pressure

Deep-sea exploration is considered as a relatively new area of research and the electronics involved has to be special in order to survive some of the deepest parts of the ocean. Pressure Tolerant Electronics is a new subject and has its own challenges as explained by [Nic Bingham] of the Schmidt Ocean Institute.

[Nic Bingham] was one of the speakers at the Supplyframe office for ‘The Hardware Developers Didactic Galactic’ held April 20th 2017. His talks was based on his experience with ambient-pressure electronics and autonomous solar-diesel power plants at the Antarctic plateau. Due to high pressures at large depths, the selection of components becomes critical. Low density components such as electrolytic capacitors have either air or fluids which are susceptible to compression under water and prone to damage. Since pressure tolerance is not part of most datasheet figures, component selection becomes difficult and subject to prior testing.

There are other challenges as well as [Nic Bingham] explains that revolve around the procurement of special parts as well as spare for older components. In his whitepaper, [Nic Bingham] chalks out everything from the development process to different testing methodologies and even component selection for such applications.

A video of his talk is worth a watch along with the nice writeup by [Chris Gammell] on his first hand experience of the lecture. For those who are looking for something on a budget, the underwater glider project is a good start. Continue reading “Electronics That Can Handle The Pressure”

Soft-legged Robot Handles Rough Terrain with Ease

Whether it’s wheels, tracks, feet, or even a roly-poly body like BB-8, most robots have to deal with an essential problem: dirt and grit can get into the moving bits and cause problems. Some researchers from UCSD have come up with a clever way around this: pneumatically actuated soft-legged robots that adapt to rough terrain.

At a top speed of 20 mm per second, [Michael Tolley]’s squishy little robot won’t set any land speed records. But for applications like search and rescue or placing sensors in inhospitable or inaccessible locations, slow and steady might just win the race. The quadrupedal robot’s running gear can be completely 3D-printed on any commercial printer capable of using a soft filament. The legs each contain three parallel air chambers within a bellowed outer skin; alternating how the chambers are inflated controls how they move. The soft legs adapt to unstructured terrain and are completely sealed, eliminating intrusion problems. The video below shows how the bot gets around just fine over rocks and sand.

The legs remind us a little of our [Joshua Vazquez]’s tentacle mechanism, but with fewer parts. Right now, the soft robot is tethered to its air supply, but the team is working on a miniaturized pump to make the whole thing mobile. At which point we bet it’ll even be able to swim.

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Scissor Lift Shoes May Be OSHA Compliant

It’s been said that necessity is the mother of all invention. This was probably the fundamental principle behind the show “Inspector Gadget”, a story about a police agent who has literally any technology at his grasp whenever he needs it. Although the Inspector’s gadgets get him into trouble more often than not (his niece Penny usually solves the actual crimes), the Inspector-inspired shoes that [Make it Extreme] built are a little bit more useful than whatever the Inspector happens to have up his sleeve (or pant leg, as the case may be).

If a fabrication tour de force, [Make it Extreme] built their own “Go Go Gadget Legs”, a set of pneumatically controlled stilts that allow the wearer to increase their height significantly at the push of a button. We often see drywall contractors wearing stilts of a similar height, but haven’t seen any that are able to raise and lower the wearer at will. The team built the legs from scratch, machining almost every component (including the air pistons) from stock metal. After some controls were added and some testing was done, the team found that raising one foot at a time was the safer route, although both can be raised for a more impressive-looking demonstration that is likely to throw the wearer off balance.

The quality of this build and the polish of the final product are incredibly high. If you have your own machine shop at home this sort of project might be within your reach (pun intended). If all you have on hand is a welder, though, you might be able to put together one of [Make it Extreme]’s other famous builds: a beer gun.

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Simple Fuel Pressure Alarm Averts Diesel Disaster

If you could spend a couple of bucks on a simple project that might prevent a $2000 repair bill on your vehicle, you’d probably build it, right? That’s the idea behind this simple low-pressure alarm for a diesel fuel system, and it’s so simple it makes you wonder why the OEM didn’t do it.

We normally see [Bob Johnson] coming up with nifty projects (like this claw or this camera slider) that more often than not combine woodworking and electronics. But no tree carcasses were harmed in the making of this project. [Bob]’s goal is just to sound a warning and flash a light if the output of a pressure switch goes to ground. That indicates the lift pump in his Dodge Ram’s fuel tank has failed, which could lead to the sudden failure of the downstream injector pump for lack of lubrication by the fuel itself. His simple ATtiny85 circuit lives on a small perfboard in a 3D printed case and taps into a $30 fuel pressure switch. The microcontroller code enables a short delay to prevent nuisance alarms, and if the pressure drops below 5 PSI, [Bob] gets a chance to shut down the engine and disappoint his mechanic to the tune of $2000.

Maybe it’s planned obsolescence on the OEM’s part, or maybe it’s not. But kudos to [Bob] for a simple hack that averts a potentially expensive problem.

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