Building robots can be fun, and remains a popular pastime among many in the hacker and maker set. However the hardware side of things can be daunting. This is particularly the case for those attempting to build something on a larger scale. A great shortcut is to start with a robust mechanical platform from the outset – and using an electric wheelchair is a great way to do so.
[Nikita] started this project way back in 2009, after finding a broken electric wheelchair at a flea market. It was no longer in fit condition for use as a wheelchair, so [Nikita] was able to score it for the low price of just $50. That’s a great price for a package which includes a robust chassis, wheels, motors and the required controllers to drive it all. With the platform in hand, it was time to get hacking.
Thus far, [Nikita] has gone so far as to strip the wheelchair of all extraneous parts, leaving it as a motorized carriage. Radio control has been implemented with the help of an Arduino, and a couple of “eyes” have been added to give it a little personality. It can also still be driven with the original joystick, which has been relocated on the chassis. Future plans involve adding a level of autonomy to allow the ‘bot to navigate waypoints and recognise faces, both tasks which should be significantly easier with 2019 technology. We’re eager to see where it goes next; we’ve seen great applications of wheelchair hardware before, after all. Video after the break.
An electric wheelchair is at the heart of the build. After ripping out its internals, the two motors with gearboxes are directly connected to the two tracks, allowing differential steering. Holding everything together is a solid welded steel frame – essential for years of reliable sieging.
The tracks themselves are simple strips of wood, cut and assembled by hand onto a nylon belt. Meanwhile the track wheels and drive assembly are designed in CAD and cut with a CNC router from some plywood, a great choice for adding some precision to the most mechanically challenging part of the build. As always in [Peter]’s videos, a large portion is dedicated to testing – in this case with a rather large array of fireworks. We certainly wouldn’t want to be in his bad books considering his other souped-up weapons.
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.
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:
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.
[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.
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.
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.