Rapidly Prototyping Prosthetics, Braille, and Wheelchairs

We live in an amazing time where the availability of rapid prototyping tools and expertise to use them has expanded faster than at any other time in human history. We now have an amazing ability to quickly bring together creative solutions — perfect examples of this are the designs for specialized arm prosthetics, Braille printing, and custom wheelchair builds that came together last week.

Earlier this month we published details about the S.T.E.A.M. Fabrikarium program taking place at Maker’s Asylum in Mumbai. The five-day event was designed to match up groups of makers with mentors to build assistive devices which help improve the condition of differently-abled people.

The participants were split into eight teams and they came up with some amazing results at the end of the five-day program.

Hands-On: Prosthetic Designs That Go Beyond

Three teams worked on projects based on Bionico – a myoelectric prosthesis

DIY Prosthetic Socket – a Human Machine Interface : [Mahendra Pitav aka Mahen] lost his left arm during the series of train bomb blasts in Mumbai in 2006, which killed 200 and injured over 700 commuters. He uses a prosthetic arm which is essentially a three-pronged claw that is cable activated using his other good arm. While it is useful, the limited functionality restricted him from doing many simple things. The DIY Prosthetic socket team worked with [Mahen] and [Nico Huchet] from MyHumanKit (who lost his right arm in an accident 16 years back), and fabricated a prosthetic forearm for [Mahen] with a modular, 3D printed accessory socket. Embedded within the arm is a rechargeable power source that provides 5V USB output at the socket end to power the devices that are plugged in. It also provides a second port to help recharge mobile phones. Also embedded in the arm was an IR reflective sensor that can be used to sense muscle movements and help trigger specific functions of add-on circuits, for example servos.

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S.T.E.A.M. Fabrikarium Builds Assistive Tech in Mumbai

Starting this weekend, a group of 65 invited Maker’s from various disciplines, along with 20 awesome Mentors, will gather at the Maker’s Asylum in Mumbai for the five day S.T.E.A.M. Fabrikarium program. The aim is to improve the capabilities of the differently-abled by building and expanding upon existing open source projects. At the same time, the teams will learn more about rapid prototyping techniques.

Among the participants will be at least 15 differently-abled people who will be a part of the whole process of learning as well as providing their inputs on the problems being tackled. Participants have an opportunity to understand how design thinking works and work on improving the existing designs.

Participants will team up and choose from five existing open source projects:

  • Bionico – a myoelectric prosthesis
  • Braille rap – using a 3D printer as a braille embosser.
  • e-Trotti – a low-cost, removable electrical assistance for wheelchair use, made from electric scooter parts.
  • Project Shiva – customized and beautiful upper limb prosthetics.
  • Flying Wheelchair – a wheelchair specially adapted for use while paragliding.

The Asylum’s fully-fledged workshop facilities offer a wood shop, a laser cutter, a CNC, several 3D printers, electronics tools and instruments and an infectious environment that will allow the participants to learn a lot during the five short days. While working on prototyping their projects, all teams will have constant access to a team of mentors and industry experts who will help solve their problems and give guidance when necessary.

The Maker’s Asylum includes fully-fledged workshop facilities for the build process, and the team succeeded in bringing onboard a slew of industrial partners and supporters to ensure that the program can be offered to the participants for free. That is a great way to bring makerspaces, makers, and the industry together in a symbiotic program that benefits society. The program was developed in collaboration with My Human Kit, a company from France who selected the five open-source projects mentioned above. The Fabrikarium is made possible via Bonjour-India, which fosters Indo-French partnerships and exchanges.

Hackaday is proud to be a part of this program and will be present to help document all of the awesome projects. Participants will share their progress on Hackaday.io, so watch for updates over the coming week. To get an idea of what to expect at the S.T.E.A.M. Fabrikarium 2018, check out the video from an earlier version embedded below.

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Retractable Console Allows Wheelchair User to Get up Close and Personal

[Rhonda] has multiple sclerosis (MS), a disease that limits her ability to walk and use her arms. She and the other residents of The Boston Home, an extended care facility for people with MS and other neuromuscular diseases, rely on their wheelchairs for mobility. [Rhonda]’s chair comes with a control console that swings out of the way to allow her to come up close to tables and counters, but she has problems applying enough force to manually position it.

Sadly, [Rhonda]’s insurance doesn’t cover a commercial solution to her problem. But The Boston Home has a fully equipped shop to extend and enhance residents’ wheelchairs, and they got together with students from MIT’s Principles and Practices of Assistive Technology (PPAT) course to hack a solution that’s not only useful for [Rhonda] but should be generally applicable to other chairs. The students analyzed the problem, measured the forces needed and the clearances required, and built a prototype pantograph mount for the control console. They’ve made the device simple to replicate and kept the BOM as inexpensive as possible since patients are often out-of-pocket for enhancements like these. The video below shows a little about the problem and the solution.

Wheelchair hacks are pretty common, like the 2015 Hackaday Prize-winning Eyedrivomatic. We’ve also covered totally open-source wheelchairs, both manual and electric.

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Introducing The Mobility Unlimited Challenge

If you take a walk across the centre of your city, you will find it to be a straightforward experience with few inconveniences. The occasional hold-up at a pedestrian crossing perhaps, or maybe a crowd of people in a busy shopping area. If however you take the same walk in the company of a wheelchair user you are likely to encounter an entirely different experience. The streets become a nightmare of obstacles to avoid and inaccessible areas requiring a detour, and suddenly what had been a pleasurable experience becomes a significant effort. Despite building and planning code updates to improve the situation, and millions of dollars invested in ramps, lifts, and other improvements, there remain so many problems to be addressed. Meanwhile legislators and the general public imagine that something has been done, the accessibility box has been ticked, and they can move on to the next thing that captures their attention.

The paralympian athlete [Tatyana McFadden] is an ambassador for the Toyota Mobility Foundation’s Mobility Unlimited Challenge, a global competition with the aim of improving mobility for people with disabilities. She’s written a piece introducing the challenge from her informed point of view as a wheelchair user, and makes the point that the basic design of a chair has not significantly changed since the 1930s. Her sentence: “There may be more hype around Bitcoin, but innovators could have far more impact if they turned their attention to how they can make the freedom to move available to all.” is one to make those of us with an interest in technology stop and think. To introduce the challenge they’ve released a glossy video, and we’ve placed it below the break.

As part of this year’s Hackaday Prize, we had an Assistive Technologies section that attracted some fantastic entries. That demonstrates that our community has plenty of people with the required skills, experience, and ideas to make a difference, and we hope that some of them might be among the entries for the Mobility Unlimited competition. If it excites your interest, we’d like to urge you to give it a second look.

A word of warning though – take care to avoid the Engineer Saviour Trap.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Wheelchair User Pressure Relief Indicator System

It is difficult to put yourself as an able-bodied person into the experiences of a person with a physical disability. Able-bodied people are quick with phrases such as “Confined to a wheelchair” with little idea of what that really means, and might be surprised to meet wheelchair users who would point out that far from being a prison their chair might, in fact, be their tool of liberation.

It is also difficult for an able-bodied person to understand some of the physical effects of using a wheelchair. In particular, some wheelchair users with paralysis can suffer from dangerous pressure sores without being aware of them due to their loss of feeling. Such people, therefore, have a regime of exercises designed to relieve the pressure that causes the sores, and these exercises must be completed as often as every half hour. They can be inconvenient and difficult to perform, so in an effort to help people in that position there is a Hackaday Prize entry that provides feedback on how effectively the exercise regime has been performed.

The project puts an array of force-sensitive resistors on the bed of the chair underneath its cushion and monitors them with an Arduino before giving a feedback to the user via a set of LEDs. So far they have created a first prototype, and are awaiting parts and recruiting users for testing a second.

It would be nice to think that this project would have a positive impact on the lives of the people it aims to help. It’s not the first time the Hackaday Prize has ventured into this field, as the 2015 winner demonstrates.

Hackaday Prize Entry: TooWheels, The Open Source Wheelchair

The Assistive Technology challenge of the Hackaday Prize received a large number of projects addressing many socially relevant problems. Mobility and transportation needs are a big challenge for those with limb disabilities. Not every country has proper, state-subsidised health care systems, and for many people in third world countries, devices such as wheel chairs are just not affordable. [Alessio Fabrizio] and his team developed TooWheels — an Open Source DIY wheelchair which can be customized and built using low-cost, local materials around the world and is one of the winners of the Assistive Technologies challenge round.

Originally conceived as a sport wheelchair, it has now evolved to answer different needs, due to feedback from the users and the community involved in the project. [Alessio] designed the project to be built from materials and resources easily available to any DIY maker at today’s Fab Labs and Makerspaces. The team have provided a detailed BOM to help procure all the required materials, instruction manual and drawings for assembly, and all the CAD files with customization instructions. Already, teams in Ecuador, India and Italy have replicated and built their own version of the TooWheel wheelchair. This confirms that the project is well documented and allows anyone around the world to download the plans and follow instructions to build their own wheelchair.

The wheelchair is built from CNC cut plywood sheets, aluminum pipes and bicycle parts and wheels. This makes it substantially cheaper compared to commercial wheelchairs, making it especially relevant for people in third world areas or where health care is not subsidised. The ease of customization allows fabrication of different wheelchair designs for sports, off-road or city use. The team is looking to bring this low-cost design to people around the world and are keen to collaborate with teams around the world to make it happen.

Simulating VR Obstacles with Wheelchair Brakes

[Joey Campbell] is studying for his PhD at the Bristol Interaction and Graphics Lab, focusing on the interplay between real and virtual objects within the realm of exergaming–“gamercising” where physical motion and effort drives the game. The goal is to make the physical effort seem to correspond with what’s seen on the headset.

[Joey] set up a test rig where an exercise bike’s gears were adjusted based on the terrain encountered, seeking to find out if that realism inspired a greater feeling of immersion. He also provided some test subjects a HUD with their heart rate and other stats, to see if that encouraged gamers to exercise more.

In his current project, [Joey] has equipped a wheelchair with a pair of Arduino-controlled servos that squeeze the brakes to simulate an obstacle. In the VR realm, a player pushes the wheelchair toward a virtual block and the brakes engage, requiring the player push harder to bypass the obstacle.

One imagines the possibilities of games designed for specifically for wheelchairs. The Eyedrivomatic wheelchair that won the 2015 Hackaday Prize sounds perfect for the job!

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