Hackaday Prize 2023: An Anti-Tremor Handle, With No Electronics

Many of us will have seen the various active assistive devices which have appeared over the last few years to help people with a hand tremor. Probably the best known was a fork with a set of servos and an accelerometer, that kept the end of the utensil steady despite the owner’s hand movements. It’s a field which has the potential to help many people, but it’s undeniable that such technology comes with a cost.

What if the same effect could be achieved passively, without all those electronics? It’s something [Jacob] is investigating with his mechanical anti-tremor cup handle. It’s a university project completed as part of his studies so it’s very much a work-in-progress which if we’re being fair isn’t quite there yet, but we think the potential in this idea of bringing a useful assistive device at least bears further attention.

The write-up is available as a Norwegian PDF file so takes a little bit of Google Translate cut and pasting for an Anglophone. Sadly due to what must be report format requirements set by the university it’s long on procedure and shorter on engineering calculations than we’d like, but there’s an attempt to calculate the properties of the helical springs in each of the joints to match the likely forces. Our intuition is that the design as shown would require significantly more mass on the end of it than that of the mug and beverage alone to achieve some form of stability, but despite that as we said it’s an interesting enough idea that it deserves more thought.

Hand tremor assistive devices have appeared more than once on these pages before, here’s one for soldering that enlists the aid of a camera gimbal.

Feed Your Fasteners In Line, With A Bowl Feeder

If you spend much time around industrial processes, you may have seen a vibrating bowl feeder at work. It’s a clever but simple machine that takes an unruly pile of screws or nuts and bolts, and delivers them in a line the correct way up. They do this by shaking the pile of fasteners in a specific way — a spiral motion which encourages them to work to the edge of the pile and align themselves on a spiral track which leads to a dispenser. It’s a machine [Fraens] has made from 3D printed parts, and as he explains in the video below the break, there’s more to this than meets the eye.

The basic form of the machine has a weighted base and an upper bowl on three angled springs. Between the two is an electromagnet, which provides the force for the vibration. The electromagnet needed to be driven with a sine wave which he makes with an Arduino and delivers as PWM via an H-bridge, but the meat of this project comes in balancing the force and frequency with the stiffness of the springs. He shows us the enormous pile of test prints made before the final result was achieved, and it’s a testament to the amount of work put into this project. The final sequence of a variety of objects making the march round the spiral is pure theatre, but we can see his evident satisfaction in a job well done.

Oddly this isn’t the first bowl feeder we’ve seen, though it may be one of the most accomplished. We particularly like this tiny example for SMD parts.

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Hands-Free Compass Uses Haptic Feedback

If you’ve never experienced it before, getting turned around on a cloudy day in the woods or getting lost during an event like a snowstorm can be extremely disorienting and stressful — not to mention dangerous. In situations where travel goes outside the beaten path, it’s a good idea to have some survival gear around, including a good compass. But if you need your hands for other things, or simply don’t want to have to stop often to check a compass, you might want to try out something like this belt-mounted haptic feedback compass.

The compass is based around a Raspberry Pi Pico microcontroller and uses a ULN2803a transistor array chip to control a series of motors. The motors are mounted all along a belt using custom 3D printed clips with wires woven to each through the holes in the belt. The firmware running on the belt communicates with an Android app via USB to control each of the motor’s vibration based on the direction the wearer is traveling and their desired heading. With certain patterns, the wearer can get their correct heading based on the vibrations they feel through the belt.

While it does rely on having a functioning phone, a modern smartphone’s built-in compass doesn’t require a signal to work. We would still recommend having a good simple compass in your pack as backup if you’re going to be far off the beaten path, though. There are other ways of navigation besides by compass, map, or GPS too. Have a shot at inertial navigation if you want a challenge.

Thanks to [Peter] for the tip!

Testing An Inexpensive CNC Spindle

The old saying “you get what you pay for” is a cautionary cliché, but is directly contrary to several other common sayings. In the case of [Spikee]’s planned CNC machine build, he took the more adventurous idiom of “no risk, no reward” to heart when he purchased these spindles for the machine from AliExpress. While the delivered product seemed fine, there were some problems that needed investigations.

Upon delivery of the spindle, everything seemed to work correctly out-of-the-box. Even the variable frequency drive, which was programmed at the factory, was working properly. But at around 8000 rpm the machine would begin shaking. The suspected part causing the vibration was the tool holder, so after checking the machine’s runout and also using a specialized vibration sensor this was confirmed to be the case.

Luckily [Spikee] was able to get a refund on the tool holders since they were out of spec, but still has a quite capable spindle on his hands for an excellent price. Without some skills in troubleshooting he might have returned the entire machine unnecessarily. If you are looking for some other ideas in setting up an inexpensive CNC machine, you might also like to look at BLDC motors from a remote control vehicle.

Balancing A Motor With An Oscilloscope

With all things in life, one must seek to achieve balance. That may sound a little like New Age woo-woo, but if you think it’s not literally true, just try tolerating a washing machine with a single comforter on spin cycle, or driving a few miles on unbalanced tires.

Anything that rotates can quickly spin itself into shrapnel if it’s not properly balanced, and the DIY power tools in [Matthias Wandel]’s shop are no exception. Recent upgrades to his jointer have left the tool a bit noisy, so he’s exploring machine vibrations with this simple but clever setup. Using nothing but a cheap loudspeaker and an oscilloscope, [Matthias] was able to characterize vibrations in a small squirrel-cage blower — he wisely chose to start small to validate his method before diving into the potentially dangerous jointer. There was quite a lot to be learned from the complex waveforms coming back from the transducer, analysis of which was greatly helped by the scope’s spectrum analyzer function. The video below shows the process of probing various parts of the blower, differentiating spectral peaks due to electrical noise rather than vibration, and actually using the setup to dynamically balance the fan.

We’d rate this as yet another handy shop tip from [Matthias], and we’ll be looking out for the analysis of his jointer. Want to do the same but you don’t have an oscilloscope? No problem — an earbud and Audacity might be all you need.

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Does This Lead Make My Car Look Fat?

When looking at the performance of a vehicle, weight is one of the most important factors in the equation. Heavier vehicles take more energy to accelerate and are harder to stop. They’re also more difficult to control through the corners. Overall, anything that makes a vehicle heavier typically comes with a load of drawbacks to both performance and efficiency. You want your racecar as light as possible.

However, now and then, automakers have found reason to intentionally add large weights to vehicles. We’ll look at a couple of key examples, and discuss why this strange design decision can sometimes be just what the engineers ordered.

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With A Big Enough Laser, The World Is Your Sensor

It’s difficult to tell with our dull human senses, but everything around us is vibrating. Sure it takes more energy to get big objects like bridges and houses humming compared to a telephone pole or mailbox, but make no mistake, they’ve all got a little buzz going on. With their new automated laser, the team behind VibroSight++ believes they can exploit this fact to make city-scale sensing far cheaper and easier than ever before.

The key to the system is a turret mounted Class 3B infrared laser and photodetector that can systematically scan for and identity reflective surfaces within visual range. Now you might think that such a setup wouldn’t get much of a signal from the urban landscape, but as it so happens, the average city block is packed with retroreflectors. From street signs to road studs and license plates, the team estimates dense urban areas have approximately 7,000 reflectors per square kilometer. On top of those existing data points, additional reflectors could easily be added to particularly interesting devices that city planners might want to monitor.

Once VibroSight++ has identified its targets, the next step is to bounce the laser off of them and detect the minute perturbations in the returned signal caused by vibrations in the reflector. In the video below you can see how this basic concept could be put to practical use in the field, from counting how many cars pass over a certain stretch of road to seeing how popular a specific mailbox is. There’s a whole world of information out there just waiting to be collected, all without having to install anything more exotic than the occasional piece of reflective tape.

If this technology seems oddly familiar, it’s probably because we covered the team’s earlier work that focused (no pun intended) on using reflected laser beams for home automation in 2018. Back then they were aiming a much smaller laser at blenders and refrigerators instead of license plates and street signs, but the concept is otherwise the same. While we’ll admit the technology does give off a distinctive Orwellian vibe, it’s hard not to be intrigued by the “Big Data” possibilities afforded by the team’s upgraded hardware and software.

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