19 year old creator of cheap robotic arm controlled by brainwaves


19-Year-Old Uses 3D Printing to Create Cheap Robotic Arm Controlled by Brainwaves

For Easton LaChappelle, a 19-year-old from Colorado in the United States (U.S.), the difficulty with robotics has never been the technology itself – something he says he managed to master in a matter of months from his bedroom in his parent’s house – but the cost.

The technology used by most robotic arms and hands on the market – and many more of those in development – typically comes with large overheads.

In the last five years, though, learning almost exclusively online in forums and emails, LaChappelle has managed to synthesize a series of robotic hands that could change industries and lives – and most of which cost just a few hundred dollars.

While other developments in countries like Austria and Argentina have pushed the boundaries of prosthetic offerings, helping those missing limbs to start to regain use of them with robotics, LaChappelle has done so using 3D printing.

And he’s made one that he says can read your mind. It’s called Anthromod.

“This reads right about 10 channels of the brain, so it kind of works kind of like a muscle sensor in that it picks up small electric discharges and turns that into something you can actually read within software, and then we actually track patterns and try and convert that into movement. So with this I’m actually able to change grips, grip patterns, based on facial gestures, and then use the raw actual brainwaves and focus to actually close the hand or open the clamp or hand,” he told Reuters Television.

One of the most important aspects of the Anthromod design is the way in which it’s controlled by the software, which LaChappelle says is different from the types of control that exist in other robotic platforms.

While it’s the hand itself that moves, as more advanced controls are created it’s the software that’s doing the heavy lifting, using algorithms that make the arm easier to use.

“A good example is we actually had an amputee use the wireless brainwave headset to control a hand, and he was able to fluently control the robotic hand in right around about 10 minutes, so the learning curve is hardly a learning curve any more,” he said.

The arms themselves might not look polished and ready for the shop floor – but LaChappelle sees them as cutting edge.

His robotic arms are all prototypes, each fulfilling a different need according to their design, with some using a wireless brainwave headset, designed more for prosthetic use. Another of his tele-robotic controlled hands was created with dangerous environments in mind, where human-like robots could be sent to allow people to monitor situations and intervene from afar.

“I really tried to make this as human-like as possible – this is probably about my fifth generation of the full robotic arm, and this is controlled using a full tele-robotic system, so there’s actually a glove that you wear that tracks your hand movements, accelerometers to track your wrist and elbow, and then an IMU sensor as well to track your bicep rotation as well as your shoulder movement, and that gets all translated wirelessly to the robotic arm where it will copy what you do,” he said.

One of the most impressive aspects of the arm is not the hardware itself, or even the software that controls it – but the fact that it can be 3D printed for a fraction of the cost of modern prosthetics.

This allows him to make complex internal structures to the designs which would otherwise be impossible, using not just any 3D printer, but precisely the kind many expect people to have at home in the near future.

“So 3D printing allows you to create something that’s human-like, something that’s extremely customized, again for a very low cost, which for certain applications such as prosthetics, is a really big part of it,” he told Reuters.

“The full robotic arm is actually open source, and so people are now actually able to take this, reproduce it, and adapt it for different situations, applications, and really see what you can do with it,” he added.

The Anthromod itself cost only about 600 dollars to make, LaChappelle said.

His work is documented in the videos he made at home, showing his handiwork – all part of his effort at making the invention open source – which means anyone can take his technology and customize and build on it.

The idea, he said, is not to create something that can solve problems for those with prostheses and other needs for robotic arms like the ones he’s invented – but rather to create a platform that people around the world can use to customize their own versions of to suit their needs.

“A big reason we designed this on the consumer level is because we made this open source, we want someone that has a 3D printer, or very little printing experience, to be able to replicate this, to be able to use this for new applications, to be able to adapt it into new situations, so it’s really exciting to see what people will start doing with something like this,” he said.

“For the actual arm, we designed everything to be modular, meaning all the joints can actually interchange, and there’s a universal bolt pattern. So you can now create something human-like, or you can create a big 20 degree freedom arm for complex filming or even low cost automations. So we really want to make a robotics platform, not so much just a robotics hand from this,” he added.

LaChappelle hopes his efforts will contribute to developments in bomb defusal robots, heavy equipment and heavy industrial automation robotic arms, as well as exoskeletons.


New life for tortoise


GOLDEN, CO - MARCH 25: Cleopatra, a leopard tortoise, whose shell is deformed because of malnutrition, wears a prototype 3-D printed prosthetic shell, March 25, 2015. Cleopatra, who now lives at Canyon Critters Reptile Rescue in Golden, Colo., got the prosthetic shell after a student from Colorado Technical University worked to design it for her. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)

3D printing tech gives tortoise new life, is shaping manufacturing

Cleopatra doesn’t seem impressed with her new coat. But the red plastic shell probably will save the teenage leopard tortoise’s life.

“This is a very good feeling,” said Colorado Technical University design student Roger Henry, who spent 600 hours tweaking software and assembling prototypes of the custom 3-D-printed shell for the malnourished Cleopatra.

Made with a plastic derived from corn, Cleopatra’s new shell will protect her from other tortoises and allow her to right herself if she flips. After years of a protein-heavy diet, the herbivore’s shell had weakened with deep valleys and pyramid-type peaks. Holes had formed that threatened the shell’s ability to protect her from infection.

Rescued by Nico Novelli and his Golden-based Canyon Critters team, student designers at CTU in Colorado Springs working with the 3D Printing Store painstakingly created a solution that could extend Cleopatra’s lettuce-chomping life into her 80s.

The challenge was cajoling the design software — adjusting the influence of gravity in code — to make the plastic “drape like a piece of cloth” over Cleopatra’s ridged shell, Henry said.

“It’s fantastic to know this tortoise is going to be able to recover from its malnutrition,” Henry said.

The promise of 3-D printing goes well beyond rescuing tortoises.

Three-dimensional printers are using the same biodegradable corn-based plastic in Cleopatra’s new shell — a resin known as polylactic acid — to help people.

Doctors have printed a windpipe to help an infant breathe. They are implanting in people tiny beads that dispense antibiotics or cancer-fighting chemicals before dissolving. Designers are crafting custom prosthetics. Dentists are scanning and printing teeth. A 3-D-printed helmet wired to the brain of a paraplegic wearing a robotic exoskeleton enabled the man to kick a soccer ball to open the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, marking a scientific milestone.

GOLDEN, CO - MARCH 25: All attention is on Cleopatra, a leopard tortoise, whose shell is deformed because of malnutrition, as she wears a new prototype 3-D printed prosthetic shell, March 25, 2015. Cleopatra, who now lives at Canyon Critters Reptile Rescue in Golden, Colo., got the prosthetic shell after a student from Colorado Technical University worked to design it for her. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)

“Yes, we can change the world,” said Debra Wilcox, whose four-store 3D Printing Store is bringing 3-D printing to the masses. Her design team scanned Cleopatra, which enabled Henry to engineer the tortoise’s protective shell.

The 3D Printing Store works on just about everything, from tortoise shells and pet lizard legs to secret, intellectually protected products for individuals and large corporations, to random doodads that can’t be found on a store shelf.

“In a single day, I can make something that has never been made before or something that hasn’t been made in 50 years,” Wilcox said.

In two years, the 3-D-printing industry has surged. Wilcox expects even more rapid growth, especially as printers work with materials such as carbon fiber and Kevlar.

“Any estimates you’ve heard about the future for this industry, they are probably low,” she said. “A lot of industries are using a manufacturing process that is 50 years old, that can and will be both cost-effectively and time-effectively replaced by 3-D printing.”

Colorado is at the forefront of the revolution, Wilcox said.

“Colorado is at the precipice of being the premier location for additive manufacturing,” she said, relishing Cleopatra’s new outerwear before heading to the National Renewable Energy Lab to show off lightweight, carbon-fiber equipment she prints in her shop.

The technology behind 3-D printing and its industrial counterpart, additive manufacturing, is riding the coattails of Colorado’s thriving aerospace industry, which has found new efficiencies in 3-D printing. But it’s not just industry that is uncovering new work for 3-D printers. Sales of home desktop 3-D printers are booming, too.

Jeff Moe’s Aleph Objects lab in Loveland has 135 3-D printers working around the clock five days a week, making printers and parts.

He sold $80,000 of parts in 2011, his first year. This year, he says he’s pacing toward $10 million in sales. Aleph is one of the busiest clusters of 3-D printing in the world, Moe said.

And in a rare twist for an in-demand, blossoming business, everyone has access to Aleph’s designs and strategies.

As soon as one of Moe’s engineers discovers something new, it’s on the Web, open for anyone to peruse and use. Every printer part that Aleph sells comes with a list of all the materials, the programming code and the precise drawings required to make the part on a 3-D printer. The company’s trove of data is updated with the latest additions every 30 minutes.

“This has led to a very rapid development of our printers,” said Moe, who offers three lines of printers that have evolved through as many as five versions in the past four years.

When his team struggled to find that perfect material for the very first layer of a 3-D printing, the community of Aleph users sprang to action and quickly determined that a rigid, insulating plastic called PEI worked best. Now, PEI is an essential first element of Aleph’s printing process.

“There is a great relationship between users and the companies when they all have the same amount of information. We are not holding anything back from our users,” Moe said. “Oftentimes, the first time I see some new development here, it’s already been made public.”

With printer sales doubling to tripling every year, Moe sees 3-D printing changing manufacturing, revolutionizing the prosthetic industry, delivering NASA-type technology to homes and, ultimately, changing lives.

He points to videos of an amputee fitted with a 3-D printed prosthetic hand controlled by subtle shoulder movements. Moe said 3-D printers are creating communications technology for hobbyists, allowing them to control antennas connected to satellites.

“It’s hard to keep up with all the amazing things that people are doing,” Moe said. “Three-D printing is really a great enabler. I hope it’s as great an enabler as the Internet has been.”

GOLDEN, CO - MARCH 25: Cleopatra, a leopard tortoise, whose shell is deformed because of malnutrition, wears a new prototype 3-D printed prosthetic shell, March 25, 2015. Nico Novelli, left, owner of Canyon Critters Reptile Rescue where Cleopatra now lives and Roger Henry a student at Colorado Technical University worked to design the prosthetic shell put the prosthetic shell on the tortoise. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)


by Jason Blevins, The Denver Post | 03/25/2015 05:04:00 PM MDT