Open Exosuit Project Helps Physically Challenged Put One Foot In Front Of Another

Humans make walking look simple, but of course that’s an illusion easily shattered by even small injuries. Losing the ability to walk has an enormous impact on every part of your day, so rehabilitative advances are nothing short of life-changing. The Open Exosuit for Differently Abled project is working feverishly on their Hackaday Prize entry to provide a few different layers of help in getting people back on their feet.

We’ve seen a number of exosuit projects in the past, and all of them struggle in a few common places. It’s difficult to incorporate intuitive user control into these builds, and quite important that they stay out of the way of the user’s own balance. This one approaches those issues with the use of a walker that both provides a means of steadying one’s self, and facilitates sending commands to the exosuit. Using the OLED screen and buttons incorporated on the walker, the user can select and control the walking, sitting, and standing modes.

The exoskeleton is meant to provide assistance to people with weakness or lack of control. They still walk and balance for themselves, but the hope is that these devices will be an aid at times when human caregivers are not available and the alternative would be unsteady mobility or complete loss of mobility. Working with the assistive device has the benefit of continuing to make progress in strengthening on the march to recovery.

The team is hard at work on the design, and with less than two weeks left before the entry deadline of the 2020 Hackaday Prize, we’re excited to see where the final push will bring this project!

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RC Strandbeest Is A Head Above The Rest

Prolific maker [Jeremy Cook] recently put the finishing touches (at least, for now) on his impressive ClearCrawler remote controlled Strandbeest, which includes among other things a surprisingly expressive “head” complete with LED matrix eyes. For anyone in the audience who was only mildly terrified of these multi-legged robotic beasties before, you may want to avert your eyes from the video after the break.

The clever locomotive design of [Theo Jansen] known as Strandbeest is a legged walker. What makes it special is that the legs themselves are not independent, but work together for a gliding action more akin to wheeled bots. [Jeremy’s] work with ClearCrawler has taken this to another level of precision and mechanization.

Before installation of the electronics, the ClearCrawler had to be tethered to a bench power supply, and could only move forward and backward. Once the locomotion was working as expected, [Jeremy] was ready to install some brains into the beast.

The robot is controlled by a dual motor driver and an Arduino Nano socketed in an I/O expansion board. Communication between the Nano onboard the walker and the hand-held remote control is provided by of a pair of nRF24L01 modules. The controller itself is a simple affair, comprised of a joystick shield plugged into an Arduino Uno.

The robot’s head is made up of a chunk of clear polycarbonate tube with a 3D printed internal frame to hold the dual 8×8 LED matrices that serve as its animated eyes. This arrangement is mounted on a servo pan and tilt mount, which is controlled by an analog stick on the controller. While the head doesn’t currently serve any practical function, it does give [Jeremy] a chance to emote a bit with his creation; a popular trick when he shows the ClearCrawler off.

A few years ago we covered this robot’s predecessor, the considerably larger ClearWalker. While that machine was surely a beauty to behold, this smaller and more agile iteration of the concept is quite a bit more practical.

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Landbeest, A Single Servo Walking Robot

Walking robots have a rich history both on and off the storied pages of Hackaday, but if you will pardon the expression, theirs is not a field that’s standing still. It’s always pleasing to see new approaches to old problems, and the Landbeest built by [Dejan Ristic] is a great example.

It’s a four-legged walker with a gait dictated by a cam-and-follower mechanism that allows it to perform the full range of leg movement with only one motor. Each cam can control more than one leg in synchronisation, and in his most recent prototype, there are two such mechanisms that work on opposite corners of a four-legged machine. The legs are arranged in such a way that the two corner-to-corner pairs pivot at their centres in a similar manner to a pair of scissors; allowing a servo to steer the robot as it walks.

The result certainly isn’t as graceful as [Theo Janssen]’s Strandbeest, from which it evidently takes inspiration for its name, but it’s no less capable for it. After the break you can see a video he’s posted which clearly illustrates its operation and demonstrates its ability to traverse obstacles.

The only thing that’s missing are the files and software should you wish to create your own. He’s unapologetic about this, pointing out that he’d prefer to wait until he is satisfied with it before letting it go. Since he’s put a lot of work in so far and shows no sign of stopping, we’re sure he’ll reach that point soon enough.

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Crawling PCB ‘Bot Is Flexible Where It Counts

20 years ago, PCB production was expensive and required a multitude of phone calls and emails to a fab with significant minimum order restrictions. Now, it’s cheap and accessible online, which in addition to curtailing the home etching market has created significant new possibilities for home projects. Now that flexible PCBs are also readily available, it’s possible to experiment with some cool concepts – and that’s precisely what [Carl] has been doing.

The aim is to build a walking robot that uses actuators made from flexible PCBs. The flexible PCB is printed with a coil, capable of generating a small magnetic field. This then interacts with a strong permanent magnet, causing the flexible PCB to move when energised.

Initial attempts with four actuators mounted to a 3D printed frame were unsuccessful, but [Carl] has persevered. With a focus on weight saving, the MK II prototype has shown some promise, gently twitching its way across a desk in testing. Future steps will involve building an untethered version. This will replace the 3D printed chassis with a standard fibreglass PCB acting as both control board and the main chassis to minimise weight, similar to PCB quadcopter designs we’ve seen in the past.

We can’t wait to see the next revision, and if you’ve been working on your own walking robots, make sure you let us know.

Move Over Strandbeest, Here’s Strider!

Father-and-son team [Wade] and [Ben Vagle] have developed and extensively tested two great walker designs: TrotBot and the brand-new Strider. But that’s not enough: their website details all of their hard-earned practical experience in simulating and building these critters, on scales ranging from LEGO-Technic to garage-filling (YouTube, embedded below). Their Walker ABC’s page alone is full of tremendously deep insight into the problem, and is a must-read.

These mechanisms were designed to be simpler than the Jansen linkage and smoother than the Klann. In particular, when they’re not taking a stroll down a beach, walker feet often need to clear obstacles, and the [Vagles’] designs lift the toes higher than other designs while also keeping the center of gravity moving at a constant rate and not requiring the feet to slip or slam into the ground. They do some clever things like adding toes to the bots to even out their gaits, and even provide a simulator in Python and in Scratch that’ll help you improve your own designs.

If you wanted a robot that simply moved, you’d use wheels. We like walkers because they look amazing. When we wrote [Wade] saying that one of Trotbot’s gaits looked animal-like, he pointed out that TrotBot got its working name from a horse-style gait (YouTube). Compared to TrotBot, the Strider family don’t have as much personality, but they run smoother, faster, and stronger. There’s already a 3D-printing-friendly TrotBot model out there. Who’s going to work something up for Strider?

How much do we love mechanical walkers? Enough to post about bicycles made with Jansen linkages, remote-controlled toy Strandbeests both with weaponry and without, power-drill-powered walking scooters, and of course basically anything that Theo Jansen is up to.

If a trip to [Wade] and [Ben]’s website doesn’t get you working on a walker project, physical or virtual, we don’t know what will.

(And from the editorial department of deconfusion: the image in the banner is TrotBot, but it was just too cool to not use.)

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Two Leg Robot

If you’re working on your own bipedal robot, you don’t have to start from the ground up anymore. [Ted Huntington]’s Two Leg Robot project aims to be an Open Source platform that’ll give any future humanoid-robot builders a leg up.

While we’ve seen quite a few small two-legged walkers, making a pair of legs for something human-sized is a totally different endeavor. [Ted]’s legs are chock-full of sensors, and there’s a lot of software that processes all of the data. That’s full kinematics and sensor info going back and forth from 3D model to hardware. Very cool. And to top it all off, “Two Leg” uses affordable motors and gearing. This is a full-sized bipedal robot platform that you might someday be to afford!

Will walking robots really change the world? Maybe. Will easily available designs for an affordable bipedal platform give hackers of the future a good base to stand on? We hope so! And that’s why this is a great entry for the Hackaday Prize.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Staircane, A Walker That Takes The Stairs

[Jim]’s aunt has lived in the same house for the last 50 years. She loves it there, and she wants to stay as long as possible. There’s a big problem, though. The house has several staircases, and they are all beginning to disagree with her. Enter Staircane, [Jim]’s elegant solution that adds extendable legs to any standard walker.

Most of the time, walkers serve their purpose quite well. But once you encounter uneven ground or a staircase, they show their limitations. The idea behind Staircane is a simple one: quickly extend the back or front legs of a walker depending on the situation, and do so in unison. Staircane uses one button for each set of legs. Pushing the button engages a thin cable, much like the brake cable on a bicycle. The cable pulls a release trigger, unlocking the notched extensions. When the legs are sufficiently extended, the user simply releases the button to lock them in place. Once on flat ground, the user pushes the button again while pressing down on the walker to even out the leg lengths. Check out the video after the break to see the 3D-printed prototype.

Staircane is a semi-finalist in our Wheels, Wings, and Walkers challenge, which ended a few weeks ago. Did you know that you can enter your project into more than one challenge? Since this project falls squarely into assistive technologies territory, we hope that [Jim] and his team submit Staircane to our Assistive Technologies challenge before the deadline on September 4th. We don’t have many entries so far, so if  you’re thinking about entering, give in to temptation!

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