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Adding Electronics to e-NABLE Prosthetics: What's it all about?


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Posted · Adding Electronics to e-NABLE Prosthetics: What's it all about?

OK, I'm going to begin with the notion that you understand a bit about us at e-NABLE and what we do. If you're not familiar with e-NABLE then I suggest you go to this website where you can get up to speed and even get involved if you feel so motivated. This topic is laser-beam focused on one category of e-NABLE which is the addition of electronics to the hands as part of the "Phone Home" effort. Other electronics efforts do exist as well, this is the one I started and several people have made contributions along the way".

So what is "Phone Home"? Isn't that what the alien who crash landed on Earth said he needed to do in the movie E.T.? Yep, he had to build a radio transmitter or some such gizmo in his technology to send a message back to his home planet as to where he was so they could save him from the sickness he was developing by being on Earth. In the same sense, minus the sickness bit, our mission with the Phone Home project is to send messages via the internet from the prosthetic device back to the cloud server at e-NABLE.

When I had some success playing with the amazing and game-changing chips called ESP8266, designed in China for IoT (Internet of Things) use, I was excited for sure! I had done very little internet programming and here, by following Adafruit tutorials and using Adafruit software on the Adafruit hardware that I had purchased (did I say Adafruit enought times? OK, you get the picture, this project relies heavily on Adafruit at least in it's current form), I managed to get an actual chip by itself to communicate with my phone via website interactions. Like wow man that's techie stuff!

So being all excited and trying to imagine ways that I could show and tell it with my friends, I naturally went to the e-NABLE google group and showed a photo of myself holding my phone and the bulky but functional wrist wearable device I had constructed to do local network scans. It was not yet an e-NABLE project but was about to become one. It occurred to me to add a comment that if we put these things on e-NABLE prosthetics, they could "Phone Home" with their usage data, to tell us how much the prosthetic is used, or mainly if it were still used at all over the passing of time.

The response was very supportive of continuing R&D exploration in that direction! This I found very exciting so I said I would work further on the project which I have done, off and on, for the past six months since I think around November of 2015 I think maybe? Or thereabouts. Anyway, I have not worked on it much lately and I think another e-NABLE volunteer has made some progress since my latest progress, and I need to catch up with him, Ro Ortiz who is like a super monstrously amazing e-NABLE engineer in my book. More on Ro and his contribution later, let's wrap up this post and I'll get back to telling more of the tale of Phone Home, e-NABLE style soon enough!

Your comments, questions, and really any positive input you have to contribute are quite welcome!


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Posted · Adding Electronics to e-NABLE Prosthetics: What's it all about?

Cool! What kind of data would you be able to collect / want to have from the e-NABLE prosthetics? I imagine that for the deeper stuff you'd also need to wire up separate sensors to all the moving parts to get real usage data, and that might make the design a lot more bulky?

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Posted · Adding Electronics to e-NABLE Prosthetics: What's it all about?

Hi Guy, thanks for your interest. Well, our initial goal is to work only with the minimum possible platform, at the suggestion of e-NABLE's founder and spokesperson - John Schull. So with Jon's direction I chose to make the device report it's own battery voltage up to the cloud server that Ro created just for this purpose. So that's for starters.

Then after that are the super hero powers. OK that takes some explanation. You see, at e-NABLE we have noticed an amazing phenomenon which goes like this... Our recipients are mostly kids with limb differences, most notably a disorder which causes one in 2,000 kids to have no fingers on one or both of their hands. These kids have been teased into depression and sadness by their peers for being different. Well, when they get a hand or arm from e-NABLE, it's a real cybernetic device attached directly to this limb difference.

To the kids this is major coolness. All the other kids want to know about their peer with the robotic device. Suddenly the kid goes from being unpopular to being the most popular kid in the class! This works wonders for their self esteem. Well, multiplying this effect is the fact that super heroes are so popular today. We have learned that making the hands have superhero themes really helps to further amplify this effect of popularity. Everyone wants to meet the kid with the superhero cybernetic hand!

Well about a year ago I was thinking of this whole phenomenon and we were just beginning to make prosthetic devices that LOOKED like superhero themed appendages - superman, batman, wonder woman, all that jive. I got to thinking and it occurred to me: "We're engineers, technicians, fabricators, designers, CAD operators, and every aspect of technology pretty much is represented by our e-NABLE members, so why not utilize all that talent into making the hands REALLY do superhero stuff? Starting with electronics, and possibly later getting into mechanical stuff, I made an effort that I called "Spidey Sense" which gave the hands super directional hearing.

Then I kind of left e-NABLE for a while to pursue a water project because I thought it was an opportunity to do the greater good, so Jon asked me to summarize my work in an Instructables article which I did. Then after some months I came back to e-NABLE and sometime after that I became enamored with the amazing game-changing IoT WiFi chip from China called the ESP8266. I made a wearable network scanner just for fun and being so excited about it I wanted to share with my friends at e-NABLE.

That's when I posted a cheezy photo of me with the scanner. Well, in the process I mentioned that we could make the prosthetics "Phone Home" and I think it was Jon who asked how small one of these chips could be and how much would they cost? Then the project went from there. I started doing the engineering of the thing and don't you know the work was fast, easy, and fun.

Sometimes in our work efforts it's like an uphill climb and other times it's smooth sailing. This was the latter, as if it were something that was meant to be. Well anyway, some folks like Chuck and Vikram and others made contributions and a guy named Ro who works with our servers made a simple cloud server at my request. We have since upgraded this server into an MQTT cloud instance.

Well I have news of our meeting last night but that will have to wait a bit because someone is messaging me on Skype. I'll tell more of this tale and better answer your question, Guy, in a while.


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