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A Humanitarian Engineering Problem 385

zrosener asks: "A have a friend who has ALS (Stephen Hawking's ailment), a particularly nasty disease in which her motor neurons deteriorate over time, slowly waylaying her. She is in pretty bad shape now, and her movement is restricted to moving her eyes, and very limited (1 inch in each direction) hand movement. She has very light bell that she uses to wake up her husband when she needs assistance, but as her strength wanes it is becoming less and less effective. She is afraid at night now that if something were to go wrong she would not be able to rouse her husband. My challenge to you is to design a noise-making-husband-alerting device cheaply and quickly assembled from strip mall parts (Radioshack, Walmart, etc.) that she could use with her extremely restricted movement. Buttons are out of the questions, as are anything that requires gripping. Analog answers are encouraged too! Please email all suggestions or post them."
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A Humanitarian Engineering Problem

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  • Sort-of button idea (Score:5, Informative)

    by Xunker ( 6905 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2002 @06:48PM (#4029032) Homepage Journal
    Oi! Oi! The first cool Askslashdot question in a long time!

    An idea, that is sort of like a button but not quite is to use those touch-sensetive lightswitch panels (the on/off kind, not dimmer kind) so you only need a very light touch to trigger the switch.
    • Some thoughts... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by GAPeach3 ( 597766 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2002 @07:01PM (#4029154)
      Would she be able to use a light switch panel that has the large, flat switch (as opposed to a regular light switch)?

      Also, a sensitive motion detector? It might be able to pick up blinking or other movements she could make moving an object like a pencil.

      How about a handicapped-helper dog?

      Another idea is a button she could bite on that triggers a noisemaker.

      Advice: I hope you find something. Be creative. Use functions of her body which are not affected by ALS, i.e. respiration or heart rate. If either vital signs drop or accelerate to a certain point, a simple breathing monitor or heart monitor would make noise.
      • by DJPsychoChild ( 581154 ) <purplefire@h[ ]ail.com ['otm' in gap]> on Wednesday August 07, 2002 @07:39PM (#4029396)
        I think a really good idea would be a breathing monitor. Assuming she has control of her breathing (which it is possible she doesn't), she could speed her breath up rapidly to set it off, or hold her breath to set it off, or something like that.

        Good luck! I hope your friend finds something to help!
        • MacGuyver! (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Phybersyk0 ( 513618 )
          I was thinking that you could break open a mouse (mechanical, not optical) and connect the y-axis to a series of small gears to a tiny fan blade (from a discarded laptop perhaps) the diameter of which being about the size of an US Quarter-dollar coin. Mount the fan into a near-size pvc tube. you'll just need the blades, becuase it a basic rotor, so that when she inhales, it turns the gears, moving the cursor UP, and when she exhales, it moves the cursor down...
          mount the assembly on a telescopic-boom (like a $20 microphone stand)

          If you felt so inclined, you could mount a second pipe for the other axis and increase your options...

          set up a simple pc that runs a dedicated macromedia flash file, and now when the cursor moves you can communicate basic wants/needs that are setup as onmouseover routines...
          inhaling makes the cursor move up. exhaling makes the cursor move down.

          also depending on her skill with the device you could set up chorded strings of commands... like
          I Want...(y-axis) Water...(x-axis)
          perhaps you could come up with some time-out function that would automatically re-center the cursor so that she doesn't frustrate herself with all the blowing...

          this does depend on her ability to control her breathing, however.. you may want to try two commands first, like "water" or "bathroom" then you could advance to "good morning" or "I love you"...

      • by Local Loop ( 55555 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2002 @10:07PM (#4030115)

        I suggest a portable biofeedback monitor. My GF uses one for muscle problems. They have a light, relatively small sensor that can be taped to the skin. When the muscle underneath is tensed, the alarm goes off - and the trigger level is widely adjustable.

        The device she uses is walkman sized and cost about $500 from a company in Canada. The brand name is Myotrac.

        Any working muscle will do and the thing is very sensitive, with gain as well as level controls. And very easy to use. Google turns up lots of hits, here's the manufacturers URL: http://www.thoughttechnology.com/myotrac.htm [thoughttechnology.com]

        As a bonus, the engineers answer the phone and will gladly discuss your intended use.

    • by wuzoe ( 28694 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2002 @07:09PM (#4029220)
      I found such a component on digikey yesterday acutally. I haven't had a chance to use it yet, but it seems quite nice.

      "QProx(tm) QT110/QT110H Charge-Transfer Touch Sensor"
      datasheet [digikey.com]
      related products [digikey.com]

      Digi-Key part number 427-1006-ND. Available in single units for 2.53USD. 8-]
    • by payotr ( 578409 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2002 @07:17PM (#4029282)
      I have seen those buttons often in elevators here in Europe, they don't need any pressure, just touching them makes a difference of potential, between the button and ground and activates a very simple circuit with an Operational Amplifier and a transistor. The only drawback is that they don't work with globes or with dielectric matherials. (Skin is obviously ok). So I think those are cheap and easy to get. In order to be useful: a buzzer should be attached to the switch ( a domestic buzzer will do ) or to a electrical switch if the buzzer exceeds the amperage of the presureless switch. I think it would be interesting to make it able to use a battery just in case the lights go off and she has to call for assistance. Assembling the parts shouldn't be difficult. I hope it helps. Pedro Larroy
      • Good suggestion about using a battery. I heard power outages aren't uncommon in the US. And anyway, you shouldn't run the risk, even is the power is extremely reliable.
    • How about using a laptop style touchpad mouse? If the pointer is moved back and forth several times, it sets off an alarm.

      Strap the pad to said woman's hand in such a way that the finger tip rests at the centre of the touchable area, and then plug the pad into a cheap/free PC (perhaps something that boots from a floppy running a single disk distro?).

      No HDD sounds, just the power supply (you could leave the CPU fan off if it was a 386). Keep the PC just outside the bedroom.

      I haven't read the other ideas yet, so I'm sure there's better ideas out there.

    • Since her movement abilities are gradually being restricted to her eyes, it would be very logical to design something around the most mobile part of her body. My suggestion would be a motion detecting mechanism that responds to sudden repeated movements of the eyes, such as three rapid blinks, etc. As her ability to move any other body part is gradually lost, so will be her ability to use any device designed specifically for that region.

  • by sporty ( 27564 )
    Have something that can read the presense and absence of a retina. Now have it be able to read morse code. Then it's a matter of blinking a bunch of times. :)

  • Breath Button (Score:5, Informative)

    by Student_Tech ( 66719 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2002 @06:52PM (#4029061) Journal
    I have seen this before, just set it up so there is an air tube that the person can blow some of their breath through to activate a button that could sound something.

    I know some people do morse code this way because they can't move their hands or legs.
    • a Simple sip/puff stick would be sufficient
    • That's fine if you are in a chair, but what about waking up at like 2am? I don't know much about her sleeping habits, but she probably cannot do anything other than turn her head by a few degrees. How is she supposed to reach an air tube? You could have it affixed above her near her lips, but that would probably be annoying while she slept.

      My reccomendation is to find out how the prosthetic arms work. Take whatever sensor they use and attach it to a muscle that still works. Hook it into a big-assed buzzer. All you need is something that will close a circuit, on demand, for a fraction of a seond. Even (relatively)cheap Piezo-Eletric devices could be used to detect slight motion.

    • Re:Breath Button (Score:4, Informative)

      by no_opinion ( 148098 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2002 @09:29PM (#4029944)
      It's called a Sip & Puff switch. There are a bunch of different kinds (like this [neatinfo.net]) and they're not that expensive. Do a google search to find some vendors. The companies that sell this kind of product also have other items that may be of interest, such as tongue switches or P switches that detect very small muscle movements.
  • by endoboy ( 560088 )
    1) how's her breath control? If it's good, you could set up something that she could blow on-- say, a sustained puff of greater than 1 second could trigger the bell. You'd need a room with relatively still air, but it's otherwise a straigt-forward problem

    2) perhaps a more intrusive than she'd accept, but something based on jaw clench is possible

    3) voice recognition... not a radio shack problem, i'm afraid tho
  • by Chirs ( 87576 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2002 @06:55PM (#4029089)

    Simple. Get a small lightbulb and arrange it to shine on a photodetector. Hook it up so that a buzzer will sound if the detector output drops.

    Then all she has to do is move her hand to cover the detector and the buzzer will sound.

    For slightly more technical than Rat Shack, use an IR LED with corresponding detector.

    • On a similar note, probably marginally more expensive, those IR systems they have by the doors that trigger when someone walks across them would probably work well to.

      Another possibility I thought of is a slider switch like they sell for dimmer lights. You can get some that actuate very smoothly with a small range of motion.
  • by puto ( 533470 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2002 @06:55PM (#4029090) Homepage
    Two metal plates that are only several inches apart and near her hand. Her hand alwas rests on one plate with her fingers just shy of the second plate.

    When she needs help she moves that tiny distance and her hand touches both plates and completes the circut which is then wired to any bell and whistle you might choose.

    Simple but effective and easy.


    • by RollingThunder ( 88952 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2002 @06:57PM (#4029111)
      Possibly even easier, depending on teh reliability of her muscle control, is a pair of finger cymbals. Each is connected to one side of the wire - tap them together, on it goes.
      • by Sawbones ( 176430 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2002 @07:14PM (#4029249)
        Similar theme is used in an incredibly annoying singing reindeer in my house. Battery powered the device has two small metal contacts about 1/2 a cm apart on the bottom of the device. when it's held in the palm the skin creates a path for just enough electricity to flow through to start the annoying jingle. It's got no moving parts so there is no physical resistance and so long as she can make contact with both nodes at the same time with the same finger/palm/whatever it will sound.

        you could work in some extra circuitry to make certian very quick brushes don't trigger the sound, but that's optional.

        • Yep... (warning, will robinson, Electronics 12 and far too long since then being brought into play) probably a capacitor on the line to require a minimum connection time, and a locking transistor-based gate (or even a relay, if you're into things that go click) to hold it on after it's been held for the minimum amount of time.
          • Yep... (warning, will robinson, Electronics 12 and far too long since then being brought into play) probably a capacitor on the line to require a minimum connection time, and a locking transistor-based gate (or even a relay, if you're into things that go click) to hold it on after it's been held for the minimum amount

            Exactly. Minimal distance between the contacts for a lower amperage power supply (I don't think a standard battery will connect through 4-5 inches of human skin, but 1/2 cm obviously works). a cap in parallel with whatever you want to go off (alarm or relay) after the contacts will give you a small delay as the cap charges to keep quick brushes from setting it off.

            I'd love to do an ascii circuit diagram but the lameness filter will have none of that :)

      • Two wires/contact points on her fingertips, the wires go to the watch on her wrist, and set the watch alarm off when she touches her fingers together.
    • That's funny. I posted the exact same thing. I guess I'm not original ;)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Infra-red camera that detects heat from exhaled breath. Hold your breath for a certain amount of time (or die) and the monitoring system triggers an alarm that drops a load of bells onto the husband from a trapdoor above his bed.

  • two ideas (Score:2, Redundant)

    by Sebastopol ( 189276 )

    1. inductive switch -- the "touch" pads at home depot, or like in lamps where you touch the base (sorry, don't know the circuit, but i'm sure a few google searches would turn something up).

    2. air operated switch -- blow into a small rubber tube; i've seen this used by teams who launch devices into stormclouds to force lightening strikes. it provides complete decoupling from the circutry (that's why they like it) and only requires a breath to flip the switch.

  • by MBCook ( 132727 ) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Wednesday August 07, 2002 @06:57PM (#4029105) Homepage
    It shouldn't be too hard to make a simple little light beam on a stick type thing. It would simply shine into a small opening (I'd use IR light) and have a small buzzer go off when the light beam is broken. You could make it so you had to keep the beam broken for a second or two to avoid accidental tripping. This was, as long as she is able to move some part of her (other than her eyes), you can use this device to alert her husband.

    Of course, you'd need a second one to signal when the first one's batteries go out.

    And and third to do that for the second.

    And a fourth to do that for the third.

    She has an infinite number of fingers right? That will solve this. If not, I guess you should just build one.

    • Actually, I don't think it would be that hard to build in auto battery detection. Have a meter on the side that shows the batteries charges. If the charge falls below a certain point (signalling failing batteries), set off an alarm (the same or a different one...) to signal that batteries need to be changed soon. They have a detection system like this in many digital battery devices: portable CD players (even cheap ones), handhelds, etc. etc. What do you think?
  • biofeedback device? (Score:3, Informative)

    by brulman ( 183184 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2002 @06:57PM (#4029106)
    I recall as a kid buying cheap little biofeedback devices from radio shack. Straps to a finger if I remember correctly and works based on some galvinic skin response increasing conductivity (or I may be entirely confused.) Interesting thing is, one can train oneself to elicit the feedback response, and innately they function well in registering stress. Perhaps this could be used as a trigger for some other alarm to wake the husband? Just a thought, hope you are able to figure something out to help your friend.

    • And as an added bonus, you can also rid yourself of thetans and save the $50,000 cleansing fee, or whatever it is that the Church of Scientology charges for hooking up a multimeter to your skin...
  • Can she move her neck? Her mouth? Her tongue?

    My first thought would be a whistle attached to a standard orthodontics face-brace. She could talk or breath as normal, or pucker her lips and blow through a whistle located at the corner of her mouth.

    Or how about two wires close together that she can touch with the tip of her tongue to close the circuit and sound a buzzer? Or similar but with a light-sensitive sensor.

    - JoeShmoe

  • heart rate monitor (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Laplace ( 143876 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2002 @06:57PM (#4029117)
    When the wife becomes nervous her heart rate probably goes up. Get a heart rate monitor that has an upper target rate alarm. Set it to a reasonable value through trial and error.
  • by mkettler ( 6309 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2002 @06:58PM (#4029118)
    Why not have a small IR beam sensor (you can buy the parts at most ratshacks) and have that set off a buzzer/siren. Position the beam sensor pair within range of motion of her hand so all she needs to to is interrupt the beam with her fingertip.

    Ratshack even used to sell a larger-scale version of this as a door entry bell. You placed the unit and a reflector on either side of a doorway and anytime someone walks through the beam a chime sounds. Most ratshacks had these set up and operating to alert the salespeople to incoming customers during off-hours.

    You might be able to find a pre-made version of this device on a small scale for detecting cabinet openings, or as a small portable "hotel room alarm" but most of these kinds of devices will not use this mode of sensing. (most cabinet alarms sense the light pouring in from the room into the cabinet, and most hotel alarms hang on the doorknob and sense being rocked around with a mercury switch.)
  • You might want to consider a automotive micro switch (the kind used for nitrous oxide systems). They have virtually to resistance to being depressed.
    Hook one of these up to a relay switch and then to the power supply of a noise maker and you may have a solution

    Good Luck.
  • Could she take a very deep breath? A flexible strap around her chest could activate an electronic alarm.

    Perhaps a little more information about what her capabilites are would be helpful.
  • can she move her mouth i.e. chew?

    make something that fits into a mouth peice that would require a sequence of bite-downs. not just one cuz she probably will bite on it during sleep.

    make it like the football mouthpeices with the btreathing hole in the center - so as not to suffocate.

    then it could be used to communicate more than just at night....

    make it have an outer guard that prevents it from going into her mouth all the way - and maybe a little elastic strap so as to prevent it from falling out during rest.

    she could learn some sort of oral morris code that would allow for her to communicate much more effectively - and would probably be a much cheaper solution to develope than Hawkings rig....
  • If she can't push a button, maybe you could attach a string to her finger and have her pull on it, and that could actuate a lever that crosses a light beam to set off an alarm. You could probably reduce the effort required to sound this sort of alarm quite a bit. Other than that, you're looking at some smart goggles that watch her pupils, which is not a cheap solution.
  • Well... (Score:3, Funny)

    by A Rabid Tibetan Yak ( 525649 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2002 @06:59PM (#4029136)
    ...there's always this [theonion.com].
  • You can pick up bend meters from Jameco that are intended for PowerGlove sort of VR usages. From there, you'd want to use it to drive a Darlington transistor array or something similar (i.e. device that triggers on once a certain amount of power passes through the collector) to run a Radio Shack buzzer. You'd want a trim-pot to control when the buzzer triggers.

    Note -- I'm a digital boy and I'm designing this in my head, so I could be very wrong.

    So, for the trouble of one mail order part, you have a buzzer that trigers when a strip is straightened. Very very little force required to move it.

    Either that, or just attach a lever arm attached to a pot set just close enough that a small movement will trigger the transistor on the buzzer so that she can push down on a paddle with minimal force.
  • ...what about reacting to her eyebrow and cheek movements? Can she 'wince'? It might be possible that she could 'wince' an SOS...?

    I really wish I understood this condition better.
  • skin is conductive (Score:3, Insightful)

    by NMerriam ( 15122 ) <NMerriam@artboy.org> on Wednesday August 07, 2002 @07:00PM (#4029146) Homepage
    If the motion is that severaly limited, something simple would be a circuit that is completed by her putting a finger on top of two contacts -- maybe a millimeter away from where her finger is supposed to rest.

    Or some lightweight convex surface with the contacts mounted underneath -- much lower resistance than a mechanical button or switch but less likely to go off accidentally. You could use the material from a small speaker dome and put conductive traces on the inside. Along with a cheap piezo buzzer and a 9V battery.
  • Get a cordless doorbell kit or kits and rig up a larger strike plate in place of, or on top of, the doorbell button. An 8" circle of moderately rigid plastic (such as from a plastic picnic plate) Krazy Glued to the doorbell button would probably work. The doorbells could be anywhere needed (by the bed, on the wheel chair, etc.) and the chimes could be in every room (have to make sure they're on the same frequency). Some low density foam trimmed to fit could help prevent the strike plate from snapping off while not preventing the ringing of the chime.
  • Hair trigger alarm (Score:2, Interesting)

    by fdiv(1,0) ( 68151 )
    As long as she has limited hand movement, build on it. Someone else here suggested buying one of those loud annoying "I'm being mugged" alarms...by default these are designed so that when contact is made, the alarm is silent, but when contact is broken (by yanking a pin/headphone jack from a plastic housing), it is loud as hell. Break apart the device and instead of breaking contact when a pin is janked from the housing, solder a couple wires to the contacts on the alarm, and have the wires barely held together (probably vertically), so that if she moves her hand, it causes them to seperate, and thus open the circuit and trigger the alarm.

    Just my $0.02 USD.
  • by marcgul ( 239050 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2002 @07:02PM (#4029160)
    I used to work at Dynavox [dynavoxsys.com] -- they make augmentative communication devices for people who have ALS among other ailments.
    While most people accessed the devices (made them talk) by touching the touch panel, some people used sip/puff or optical switches (among other types of switches) to activate the devices.

    The tash mercury switch bottom of this page [tashinc.com] might be an option, also look into proximity switches.
  • by dlleigh ( 313922 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2002 @07:02PM (#4029162)
    The capacitive sensor circuit described in here [merl.com] is easy and cheap to make, and is sensitive enough to be used as a proximity sensor.

    We've been able to sense a finger from several inches away with one of these that has been adjusted correctly. If a person can move a finger up to an inch, even without being able to apply pressure with it, a sensor like this will have no problem detecting that.

    (Yes, this is a tech report about the Mitsubishi Electric "Smart Drinking Glass" that was reported earlier [slashdot.org] on slashdot.)

  • hmm, suppose the husband has a computer. now, suppose he is asleep, so the computer is not doing much (seti and whatnot aside). now suppose the wife has a wireless mouse. suppose, now, software (screensaver-like thingy) is running on the computer so that when there is a slight movement of the mouse, it pops up, plays your favorite mp3 (or least favorite, if you want the poor guy to actually get up)

    so, if the guy has a computer, he only needs to get a wireless mouse (or a long enough wire, perhaps would also work...) if he has that, then all he needs is this software, which i'm sure could be written by any number of people on here very easily and quickly.


  • But how about a whistle?? I mean I don't know how much arm movement she has, but I'm sure she can breath. If not a whistle how about a switch that is controlled by blowing into a straw of some kind. Sometimes you have to think outside the box. Obviously a button would be nice, but doesn't make much sense, but if she can make a semi-air-tight seal around a whistle, I'm thinking a $.50 trip to the toy section of your local department store will do the trick. If getting to the whistle is a problem you could affix it to her chest or shoulder with a headgear mounting. Kinda like a hat with a whistle hanging down on the front of it. Basically I can see this done with a little under $5.00.

    Or you could make some type of eye gesture recognition linux box thing ... hehehehe I think the whistle could even be gpl'd if you wanted it to be. hehehe ... speaking of gpl ... all ideas are officially free to the public ... hence why I posted them to a public forum ... clever monkey eh? :-)

  • Naturally you are looking for a motion detector with a narrow spread that you could aim at her hands. If it goes off say, 3 times, then trigger your alert. You can tweek it as you see fit. Probably have some you can even get connected to your computer.
  • Check out http://www.brainfingers.com/technical.htm,
    http://www.qualilife.com/products.cfm?cat_ID=11&li ngua=en, or http://www.eyecan.ca/
    OTOH, I am guessing you guys are well aware
    of these options and are asking specifically
    for a cheap alternative. That's much tougher.
  • Simple Solutions (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Milo_Mindbender ( 138493 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2002 @07:08PM (#4029205) Homepage
    Take a piezo buzzer or Sonaralert (if you want something LOUD) and wire it to a standard-issue microswitch. You can get microswitches with actuators that are a short piece of metal about the size of a ball-point-pen clip. Actuation force can be VERY tiny (grams) with motion as little as 1/8 to 1/4 inch.

    Some versions with cat-whisker actuators are also avaiable, just a bit of wire sticking straight up that you give a push in any direction. You can build something similar out of a couple of paper clips if you want REAL cheap.

    You could add a latch/time circuit so you wouldn't have to keep the switch depressed, ie: a quick press would sound the alarm for some set period of time.

    There are also preassembled photosensors with a light source and sensor and a gap between the two, stick a finger between them and it triggers, zero force required.

    I've also seen the microswitch thing work as a blink/squint sensor. You stick the wire actuator to the skin above/below the eye and a good squint will trigger it.

    One last idea, shine a low-power IR led at the corner of the eye, read the reflection brightness with a photocell. Now looking to that side causes the colored part of the eye to reduce the reflected light, triggering the sensor.

    The biggest problem with running something off the eyebrow or eye look/blink is usually preventing it from going off by accident, or if the person goes to sleep.

    There are also devices that actuate by sucking/blowing on a straw or pushing with the toung or chin...though these don't work so well if you're on a respirator.
  • by PD ( 9577 )
    See this article [bbc.co.uk]for the source of my inspiration.
  • I have this coaster with a football logo (University of TN if you're nosy). The slightest bit of pressure causes the horrid device to spew forth music from rocky top at a very, very high volume. Louder than my alarm clock, and by far more annoying.
  • You know, reading this plea made me stop and think about something. I'd like to take a moment and throw this out there.

    When I read about people who are pretty much trapped in their bodies because of severe illnesses, I wonder what joys they have in their lives. I have a relative with MD and a good friend with MS. For both of them, a good portion of their life is spent with media. Watching TV, watching movies, reading books (although it is difficult unless there is a way to turn pages).

    Which brings me to my point/question...why don't these people have simple and easy access to media? Doesn't their life seem filled with enough hardship? Shouldn't we as a society do something for them? If all they have left in their live is audio/visual stimulation, why can't they be free to enjoy it?

    We, the society, give copyrights. So why can't we, the society, grant people like this a free pass to copyrighted works. What I'm saying is, why can't people who are unlucky enough to be born/develop these illnesses be given access to a society-sponsored "Universal Jukebox".

    Is it really fair to ask these people to pay full price for works the same way people who can earn a wage and will be around 40-50 years to get a sufficient return on their payment? Is it really fair to ask these people to burden themselves or family with constant errands to get new media? Most likely, these people have their hands full with the daily care of the individuals.

    At the same time, the creation of a giant Universal Jukebox would be a the ultimate glove to throw down in front of the media companies. How could they possibly protest? On what grounds could they possibly resist this cause?

    I think that some Senator or Congressman should propose a law offering anyone "sufficiently incapable of supporting themselves" just this. And I think the law should provide for the infrastructure to build such a Universal Jukebox. We could start with the Library of Congress. Once the Universal Jukebox is there, we can then talk about what else we can do with it (expand this to include schools, libraries for starters).

    But seriously...why couldn't it happen?

    - JoeShmoe


  • breath switch (Score:2, Informative)

    by rfischer ( 95276 )
    A breath switch is something that would typically be used here, but don't build it if you can buy it. I saw one here for approx. $80: http://www.enablingdevices.com/
  • Use a small slider to control the pitch on a circuit which generates a continuous sound tone. The sound is cut off unless there is a change in the sider control. With pitch control, she and her husband could work out some simple signals based on pitch changes for various messages ("hurting", "hello", "love you", "help", etc.)

    - James
  • You could design a circuit with a battery and a noisemaker/speaker. Keep the circuit as a 'U' from the side of a finger to her palm, then back up to the opposing side of the next finger over. Have two metal plates on the inside of the fingers so that she could touch the sides of her fingers to complete the loop. Once the loop was complete, you have voltage and the buzzer goes off. You might have to play around with some resistors so that you don't drain the battery too fast.

    Hope this helps. Good luck!
  • You seem to be oriented to electric devices. If power supply is required, think about making it reliable. Murphy says it will ran out or blackout in the worst moment.
  • by TinCanFury ( 131752 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2002 @07:32PM (#4029363)
    this is what came to my mind...

    get one of the touchpad light switches. all they require is human contact to complete the circuit. No force required. Connect this to a FM transmitter that will send a signal to a device her husband can keep next to him to wake him up. The beauty of this is she can be anywhere within the transmission range and the husband can still be alerted. Plus they could have extra receivers if they wanted.
  • One option you could use it a sort of cheap-ass retina tracker. I'm seeing something like this:

    A small IR laser and detector combo are mounted on an arm somewhere just above her normal field of vision. The IR laser is set to pulse in maybe 1/10th second internals. The reflection properties of her eyelids and sclera (the white part I believe) are going to be different from the pupil. Light at the right frequencies will bounce off the skin and sclera but pass through the pupil. A relatively simple logic chip can detect and count any changes in reflectivity.

    The point of the device would be for her to star into the laser emitter (a very very very weak laser) for a number of seconds and an alarm buzzer would go off. It is something that will work light or dark and rely only on the movement of her eyes which as you said is about all the mobility she has right now. Staring at the little emitter for say 3 seconds would be enough to have the alarm sound until someone woke up and turned it off or checked to see what was the matter. As long as she can open her eyes and move them a little she would have the ability to signal for help. All these components could be purchased from Radio Shack. It is basically just a break-beam detection system with some subtle changes in functionality. You can learn just about everything you need to build such a system yourself from two books available at Radio Shack. THey're both Engineer's Mini Notebooks written by Forrest M. Mims III. The first is entitled "Electronic Sensor Circuits & Projects" and the second is "Timer, Op Amp & Optoelectronic Circuits & Projects".

    In the Electronic Sensors books check out the pulsed beam projects on pages 132 and 133, they are in essence what I'm suggesting. In the Timer Op Amp book the dark activated alerter on page 65 would be another component in the system. The sensor housing could be attached to an arm held on her wheelchair or a headband or something so the sensor would remain pretty much out of her field of view but easy enough to focus on when she needed to. Even if this idea is retarded check out those two books from Radio Shack, they're easy as can be to understand and have a good number of projects you might be able to adapt in your own system or someone else's.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    All the parts can be had at your local Radio Shack store... including a buzzer that you can hook-up to the relay.


    Here's some more quick and easy circuit ideas... http://www.commlinx.com.au/schematics.htm
  • Slingshot armbrace? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by photon317 ( 208409 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2002 @07:41PM (#4029401)
    Both conductive touch sensors and tripping light beams are good ideas, mentioned multiply above. In both cases all parts can be had at radio shack, and check out the Mini Engineer's Notebooks by Forrest Mims for circuit designs for both (also sold at Radio Shack). They used to come as seperate small thin booklets, but I think recently they've compiled them all into one larger book.

    In either case you'll probably want to mount the device to her hand/arm so that her finger/wrist movement (whichever is still available) is always in range of the touch/light sensor. If you're doing it on the cheap, you might look around the sporting goods section of walmart (or a sports store like Oshmans or whatever) for mounting hardware. One thing that comes to mind is the professional-style slinghots that have a brace going back over the forearm, I'm sure there's lots more material to work from around there like medical wrist supports with the metal band that goes up under the wrist and whatnot.

    If you're worried about your device failing on her, and both hands work - you could build two devices, mount one on each arm, and encourage her to alternate using them so she knows they both work. You could take redundancy a step further by making one of them light-based and the other touch-based, in case one or the other designs fails in some wierd circumstance.
  • Clarification (Score:4, Informative)

    by cr@ckwhore ( 165454 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2002 @07:45PM (#4029425) Homepage
    ALS is commonly known as "Lou Gehrig's Disease", not "Stephen Hawking's Ailment".
    • Re:Clarification (Score:2, Informative)

      Actually, ALS is "Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis". If you aren't going to call it that, what the hell does it matter if you name it in reference to one person or another? At least Stephen Hawking is a still-living example of someone with the disease.
  • Clearly, the author said that buttons and anything that requires gripping is out of the question. I'd say about a quarter of the responses here fail on this account.

    I think you should get out your yellow pages and look under the "Accessability" section, and get in contact with some people that know what they're talking about. (Surely she's already got some specialized equipment for her condition so I'm sure this has already happened.)

    Having said that, it makes an interesting Ask Slashdot, so here's my take. I like the puff/sip tube ideas, but if that isn't practical I would look into somehow signaling with eye movement or blinks. Again I'm sure they sell such things but since the question was how to do it on a shoestring budget (?!) I'll bite.

    I would first find some sort of non-toxic paint that glows under a blacklight. A common yellow highligher would do, but there are others that glow with more contrast. Paint dots (or some other symbol) on the eyelids. Mount a small fluorescent blacklight somewhere near the headboard so that the dots glow brightly. Mount a cheap webcam somewhere in the line of sight of the wife. Now rig some software to recognise some pattern of blinks.

    The idea is that if she is in trouble, she looks directly into the webcam (probably mounted on the ceiling, or otherwise in her line of sight) and blinks a pattern. The paint on the eyelids should provide enough contrast with the blacklight so that it's easy to signal process -- there would be high contrast with the rest of the scene, and the unique hue should be easy to spot. If she can open and close the eyelids fully (i.e., blink) it should provide a pretty good signal. The rest is dorking around with software and processing, but hey, this is Slashdot right?
  • If she can use her fingers well enough to touch thumb to another finger, she can touch the conductive material (aluminum foil if nothing else) together to short them out... then the buzzer goes off. This sort of device is available at Radio Shack stores plus the 'net. Cheap. Easy. The only downside is if she accidentally touches, then hubby wakes up for no good reason.

    The upside to this is that by actually learning morse code (presuming she is able to learn) she could actually communicate using this device.
  • Heart rate. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Rip!ey ( 599235 )
    Breaking light beams and retinal scans all rely on movement to some degree. The problem is that movement is what she is losing. So how about heart rate monitoring?

    Since she is *very* sedentary, her heart rate should be reasonably stable, within a small tolerence. The point is, it it possible to ones alter heart through thought process alone. As an example, if she starts to stress, it should rise. You could even set up the volume of a bell proportional to the magnitude of the rate, or the rate of change itself.

    I'm thinking along the lines of those sensors they clip on a finger in hospital as a pickup, then a bit of signal processing. It's also the sort of thing you should be able to buy, instead of hacking together a cheap gadget.
  • This isn't exactly an answer, but my $0.02..

    I'm assuming she can move both her hands minimally. So take two different working suggestions or ideas you come up with, and have them setup on both hands. This way if for some reason one of them fails, the other has a high chance of still working. Using two different ideas also increases the chances incase the reason the one isn't working is a defect that another one would also share. I'm assuming this isn't life-or-death is it?
  • by dr_canak ( 593415 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2002 @08:14PM (#4029605)
    I work on a spinal cord injury unit at a VA hospital. We work with people of all levels of disability, including advanced ALS patients.

    Can she move her tounge? There are simple switching devices that can be placed in a person's mouth that can be tripped with a tounge movement.

    Can she breathe (i.e. not on a ventilator). There are all kind of "sip-and-puff" devices out there that can generate several signals based on whether or not the person is sipping or blowing.

    You said she can see, and has some eye movement. We have patients who are trained using eye gaze computers.

    A search on google for adaptive devices, adaptive technology, a call to a local rehab hospital should all be able to provide you with information with regard to devices already available. Even if this person can't afford these things, it may give you ideas as to what you can build for her. I'm sorry I can't provide specific info, as our rehab staff/prosthetics department takes care of actual building and ordering.

    When you work with people with a serious impairment, in a rehab setting, its truly remarkable what can be built/developed to take advantage of even the slightest behavior a person can elicit.

    • by Jerf ( 17166 ) on Thursday August 08, 2002 @12:02AM (#4030616) Journal
      May I suggest that while Slashdot may enjoy playing "adaptive device technology developer", because it is kind of fun, you should absolutely do what the parent of this post suggested. This situation is too critical to use anything but proven technology. If you try to kludge something together and it fails, you may end up in a situation you will never forgive yourself for, not to mention anyone else who cares about this woman.

      I myself kinda think the idea of biofeedback is neat... but this isn't the time to experiment. Go to the experts and do what they say. Neither you nor the rest of Slashdot put together can possibly match the experiences of the entire community built around supporting these people.

      On a more prosaic note, I would be very deeply concerned about the potential legal liability of creating your own solution to this problem. You may find that your best friends are ir(?)rational enough to sue for damages if your homegrown device fails. (On reflection, perhaps that would be perfectly rational behavior, for some definitions of rational. Surprisingly deep philosophical question.)
      • I don't mean to be cold but... damages? What damages? She's already terminal, for God's sake. In fact, I have to wonder.. even if there is something wrong and she can alert her husband, what is he going to do?
        On the other hand, I'm assuming the requirements are not the poster's, but the husband's. Maybe he needs something cheap because he cannot afford the fancy equipment. Not everybody is insured.
  • I'm at a loss to recall the name of the product, but there is a standalone version of those grey pads that are mouse replacements on laptops.

    Rubbing your finger on these things, even lightly, causes a mouse to move, and tapping the pad is like clicking the left button.

    I seem to recall the sensitivity can be set very high, so you wouldn't need much motion or pressure.

    Good luck.

  • Warning: This *IS* far-fetched, but ALS is not a common illness, and uncommon illness would require extra-ordinary solutions as well.

    premise: the motor skill will dwindle from even today, to un-measureabe values in the future. i suspect this will eventually affect her ability to press buttons, let alone speak / make noise, maybe even move her eyes.

    the only solution left, then is:

    1) the easy way out: hire a nurse. i mean... really now. taking care of an ALS patient is not something just one husband is capable of.

    2) the geeky way. wire up a brain signal detector that she would wear at night, or, if you can tune a *really* sensitive antenna, it can be mounted at the top of the bed. while her motor skill is not completely gone, let her train to think of a pattern and allow the computer to capture this data, match it, and sound an alarm / buzz / cattle prod connected to the husband's you-know-what (if he is a heavy sleeper).

    this will probabbly work better than "low pressure buttons" and what not. reliability may become an issue, but if programmed correctly it should be sufficiently reliable that it's not a big problem.

    p.s. an easier version of this is a blood pressure detector -- when people want something (her to wake up her husband) and cannot get it, the blood pressure inevitably rises, and that pattern too can be used to trip a switch.

    there will be false alarms, though... REM sleep is quite full of challenges. but hey, if you can't / don't want to hire a nurse, and she can't do nothing...

    last point. camera (infrared, prefabbly) can be connected to look at her eyes. alarm only trips if they are open. (or trip an alarm if she blinks a certain pattern, whatever. but our premesis is that she can't do much of that either... so...

    the possibilities are out there. just gotta find 'em
  • This has been an interesting read. It is interesting to see how techie/engineer types would look at the solution to this problem. I could suggest a solution but I'd be cheating.

    My wife is a Speech & Language Pathologist who is also a Assistive Technology Practitioner. This basically means she is certified in AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) & AT (Assistive Technology). This problem is the very thing covered by this field. They work with anyone who's verbal communication skills are lacking for what ever reason, no matter the physical or cognitive handicap.

    I've seen the devices created for such problems both with children and the elderly. It usually involves foam, some wires and a battery operated device. Simple, easy to use and just as important, cheap. Many of the suggestions posted thus far have been over engineered.

    Now, on the tech side of things. This profession could use some help with small devices (PDA size) and a free OS (you choose). There is a device on the market that allows a patient to select pictures to form sentences (or phrases). Currently they are in the thousands of dollars and insurances don't always cover the cost. Typically for children the parents sue the school district and the district is forced to make the purchase with next year's funds (read: higher taxes). It would be nice if cheaper alternatives were available.

  • Another ALS sufferer is Jason Becker. He was an awesome guitarist until this crippling disease struck him down. You might want to consider trying to get in touch with him: http://www.jasonbecker.com/. Good luck.
  • Suggestions:
    Hook up a touch or contact switch (this has already been mentioned to death in here) to some sort of wireless remote. The receiver can then be worn by the husband allowing contact while not physically in the room. At night the husband can put it on a bedside table or something.
    Better is to use a pair of (cheap) walkie talkies, that have a morse code option. This still allows the husband mobility, and he can actually respond to his wife without being physically present. This can allow some very simple but effective "Yes, No, I don't know, Help" conversations, as the husband can ask questions, while say, doing stuff in the back yard or garage, and can easily respond to allieve his wife's fears (eg: "I'll be there in a minute", "I'm coming!", etc). The only issue might be one of frequency use (by kids and so on), but you could always go to some of the commerical variants that have their own band/use digital transmission to avoid interference, or maybe modify the walkie talkies to use a different frenquency.
    If you give her 3 or 4 touch sensors, then she can (technically) type easily. Remember how you enter your name in a video arcade game? Exactly the same idea. You could also use multiple buttons to scroll between pre-canned answers or words, such as "drink", "help", etc. You could even combine this with some sort of voice synthesis program to generate speech. And there is no reason you couldn't integrate this with the walkie talkie idea, so that she and her husband can communicate over a distance. Hell, she could send SMS's this way, use a phone, or even web browse, use e-mail or perhaps IRC. Might help her relieve some of the (potential) boredom in her life, that being so limtied in mobility would probably create. There are a number of easy ways to interface input into a PC, such as the joystick, parallel or serial ports, and lots of documentation. There are also a fairly large number of devices that will convert serial input into PS/2 keyboard or USB keyboard input, which allows use of a PC in a somewhat normal manner.
    If you do go for something complicated (eg: a PC System), ALWAYS have a backup (preferrably battery operated) like the walkie talkie idea. Systems fail, the power goes off, etc, and the last thing you want is it to fail when she needs it most.

    Good luck!
  • Sorry if this has been posted before - I'm running way behind schedual on stuff and don't really have time to read slashdot of late.

    First idea - a induction switch, like some lamps have. You tap the metal of the lamp, and it turns on or off. In this case, it could be a metal plate that she just touches. Her body triggers the switch, and it's perfectly safe if built correctly (which is easy). It's a typical electronics projects for kids - I built a few, back when I was building crystal radios and the like.

    Second, a motion sensor from X10 mounted in a box that she merely has to pass her hand though. They operate off of lithium CR320? batteries (I don't recall them off the top of my head - the standard kind), and will run off the battery for quite a long time. When triggered, they can perform any action in the X10 system, including set off an X10 alarm, dial out, or if hooked up to a computer, peform any action the computer can do.

    The nice thing about the latter solution is that you can do it with three pieces of cheap off the shelf equipment, probably for under $40 (much less without the dialout module). Otherwise, the first is the best - a simple tap of her skin to the plate triggers a switch, no pressure or significant motion is required.

    Evan (no reference - must get back to work now)

  • by Anonymous Coward
    but I used to volunteer at a center that made enabling devices for those who aren't so able.

    (By the way, Bernie, rest in peace. Bernie Bourdon was the man who made the place possible.)

    The simplest device is a stick on a fulcrum, hung vertically. On the bottom end, tie a string, and tie that string to her bell. Her one inch of hand movement should easily be able to actuate it.

    Going more high-tech, get a joystick (The old-school analog 2-button Commodore 64 kind. You can find them all over the place and Radio Shack may even still carry them) and use all direction sensors on the thing as a switch to close a circuit on a noisemaker.

    Just remember to check the batteries.
  • Sensor ideas (Score:5, Informative)

    by Cef ( 28324 ) on Wednesday August 07, 2002 @09:56PM (#4030082)
    Having done some work with the disabled, here are some suggestions for sensors.

    Touch (Capactive switches)
    Beam (light, ultrasound, IR triggers)
    Magentic (Reed switches)
    Tilt (Mercury switches)

    I'll only touch on Magnetic and Tilt switches, as the others have adequately been covered by a number of people.

    Magnetic switches are easily and cheaply bought anywhere you can get house alarm parts. They are very simple, last a lifetime, and work really well. Using a tiny magnet strapped to a finger allows you to use a number of reed switches so there is a choice of "what to do".

    Tilt switches are easily worn on the finger, or on the head. Some care must be taken to encase the deadly mercury as the glass container may be easily broken, and mercury is poisonous. The way I would encase such switches would be by first finding a glue that is capable of sticking to GLASS and plastic, and coating the glass covered mercury switch in it. This way, if the glass cracks, the pieces will usually stay together. Let it dry, then dip it in hot plastic a number of times. You can then put it inside a piece of dense foam rubber (use a glue that sticks to rubber and plastic to keep it in place). The goal is that if you accidently stand on it, it won't break.

    I've used both methods before to provide something that a disabled child can use, usually to encourage them to make some sort of movement. One Example: Mercury tilt sensor attached to a head strap with velcro (for position adjustment), to encourage the child to 'lift' their head (helps build up the neck muscles and train the brain). The mercury switch was usually wired into a radio or tape deck, switching it on or off. It also provided some real insight into what sort of music some of the kids liked, as after a little training, they would drop their head when something they didn't like would come on, and then every now and then raise their head to "check" what was playing now.

    Good luck.
  • Take about a 5" spring and mount it vertically on a mounting plate. Attach a tilt switch to the top of the spring to create a normally open switch. Attach the switch in a way that jostling the spring closes the switch. Attach the switch leads to a normal door bell. If you want high tech use a wireless doorbell (Disassemble the switch, add the tilt switch, and put the whole thing on the spring. Mercury switches are great for this but the mecury is obiviously dangerous. I have seen tilt switches the consist of a metal marble in a cage of wires which also would work.

  • While MUCH more exotic than you were looking for, but for more long term use, the Nikon F5 has eye tracking. I don't know (I'm sure somebody does, though) who makes the eye-tracker, but something like that could be stripped, and interfaced through a computer.

    She could learn Morse code (a good idea for someone who may lose the ability to speak even if you don't build this thing), and use the computer to decode to speech, perhaps even control the computer at some point.
  • I realize this is getting off-topic, but does your friend happen to know any possible causes of her ALS? (By this, I mean, is it possible it was hereditary - or is it pretty much a mystery?)

    I just ask because I had an uncle that died of ALS, a number of years ago. His condition deteriorated very rapidly, unfortunately. He started off complaining of some numbing in his arms and legs. Before long, he was having trouble walking and struggled to drive. His work tried to offer some assistance, but it was only a matter of months before he couldn't even get out of bed - and finally, he simply stopped breathing.

    There was no history of ALS or anything similar in his family. The only suspicious factor is that he worked as a chemist at DuPont. There's no telling what he might have come into contact with that could have triggered the condition....
  • A cheap battery operated door bell will be battery operated. If its one of the cheap RF operated ones, the puhsbutton can be replaced by just about any two bits of metal that can be forced to touch each other. All it takes is two strips of metal and if its done right it will take less energy than some of the touch swtiches need.
  • I know the following sounds a little undignified, but unfortunately, that's the nature of her disease.

    Can she control her breathing?

    If so, some sort of a whistle pressed into the nostril, perhaps fitted with a silicon mold (places that do custom ear plugs or hearing aids could probably do this) would seem cheap and natural. Then she only need blow to rouse her husband.

"Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." -- Will Rogers