When I first got my Printrbot Metal Plus 3D printer I had lots of difficulty getting the prints to stick to the build plate. I didn’t want to use blue painter’s tape because I already had Kapton tape on the plate and I wasn’t sure if perhaps I would someday be needing to print ABS which requires the heated bed. I didn’t think that would work very well with painter’s tape.
As it turned out I’ve never used ABS. I’ve only been printing with PLA and occasionally T-Glaze. I’ve been getting pretty good adhesion by using Elmer’s glue stick on top of the Kapton tape and heating the bed to 70°C. But before I came up with that solution I invested in a “zebra plate” from PrintInZ. This is a plastic print bed insertion that offers great adhesion with no tape and no heat for PLA. It is supposed to be good for ABS as well with heat. I purchased one of their plates at approximately 10 x 10″ which is the size of my bed. Unfortunately I didn’t realize that the way that the Printrbot bed is mounted there’s no way to use those large springy document clips to hold the plate in place as seen in this screen grab from a PrintInZ YouTube video.
The rails on which the print bed slides are located all the way to the very edge on each side of the print bed. There is an aluminum plate at the front and back of the print bed but even if you can get a clip over the edge of it, it would not clear the frame of the printer when the bed was all the way forwards are all the way backwards. There simply was no good way to get the plate to stick.
The company has a new product called a PrintInZ Skin which has an adhesive back on it. But one of the nice features of the plate is that if a part sticks too well, you can remove the plate and give it a slight warp and the part will pop off. Also the plate has a core consisting of a thin sheet of copper that will trigger the capacitance proximity sensor on the bed leveling system. The skin does not have a copper core and is probably too thick for the proximity sensor to be triggered on the metal bed beneath it. They do not recommend using it for that type of bed leveling.
Although I was getting reasonably good results with Elmer’s glue stick, it was a pain to have to reapply it and to clean it up after every print. I kept seeing more and more great reviews for the PrintInZ Plate so I finally had to come up with some system to easily mount and easily remove the plate.
We inspected the underneath side of the black aluminum plates at the front and back of the build plate. We determined that if we avoided the slide rails on each side and avoided the belt on the left side that we would be able to safely drill into the aluminum and bolt in some brackets that would hold the plate in place.
This photo shows the rear of the build plate where we put in some 1/4 – 20 screws with a spacer on top and a washer. You need to drill a hole slightly smaller than the 1/4 inch diameter and then use 1/4 inch thread tap to cut threads into the aluminum. That way you do not need a nut on the other end. You can screw directly into the aluminum plate.
The screw on the left side of the machine (shown on the right here from the back) is halfway between the mounting rail and the belt. The screw on the other side is just inside the rail but we probably should have moved it a little farther towards the center. There is a microswitch inside the machine that limits the Y-axis travel and if the screw is too long it will hit that switch. You also of course need to make sure that the screws do not go so deep that they catch on the lip of the frame of the machine. As long as the power is turned off, you can manually slide the build plate forwards and backwards to ensure that the screws do not catch on the edge of the frame.
We accidentally drilled the rear holes too close to the build plate so that the spacer would not fit. We had to grind a flat side on the spacer to get it to go in. If you drill your holes out a tiny bit from the build plate and use a slightly larger washer you can avoid that problem.
On the front we could’ve done the same thing but we wanted to make it easy to remove the plate in case we needed to warp it to remove a piece. Instead we took some scrap sheet metal (actually we cut up an old license plate) and fashioned some brackets. We drilled the holes very close to the front edge of the black aluminum plate that is at the front of the build plate. The brackets have slotted holes. We used 1/4″ – 20 wing screws to hold the brackets down. The brackets have a slot in them so that you could loosen the wing screws about one turn and slide the brackets forwards away from the build plate. Again on the left side we are halfway between the left rail and the drive belt.
One problem is that when the printer does the automatic bed leveling procedure, it touches down in three far corners of the build plate. It starts with the back left and then goes to the front left and finally the front right. We had hoped that the brackets were small enough that it would clear everything when it did the Z probe sampling. Unfortunately on the left side, the probe barely touched the left bracket. If we had drilled that hole just a couple of millimeters to the right or had put it to the right of the belt completely then it would’ve hopped over the bracket as it traveled from the left front corner to the right front corner. On the right side, the nozzle and the Z probe cleared the bracket but a tiny corner of the fan shroud touched the bracket. Again had we move the entire thing a fraction of an inch to the left it would’ve cleared.
There is a possibility that depending on the height of the screws and washers in the back, that the fan shroud might also clip them. You need to ensure that anything you print doesn’t come close to the far corners of the build plate. It reduces the size of your printable area but it is rare that you would have to build something that reaches all the way to the four corners of the plate.
Rather than re-drill and re-tap the holes we decide to fix it with software. We decided to only limit the front edge because the automated bed leveling required it. We did not artificially adjust the software to clear the back edge. We will just be careful never to print anything back that far. There are two places that you need to adjust the software. You need to adjust the firmware in the Printrbot itself. And then you also need to adjust the printing software you are using to tell it that your build plate is slightly smaller than expected. We use both Cura 15.04 and Simplify 3D software to drive the printer. We will describe what needs to be changed.
First to adjust the firmware we loaded Cura and called up the control panel. There are G-code commands that you need to type into the control panel. First type the command “M501” which will give you a printout of the current settings. You might want to drag your mouse across them and do a cut-and-paste and save the values just in case you accidentally mess something up. Here are the values that I had.
Note you can click on any of these images for larger versions.
We are only interested in the last two items. The value “M211” is the maximum position and we will want to reduce the Y value to 244 instead of 254. Type in the commands…
The first command changes the value. The “M500” saves the value. And then the “M501” displays the results again to verify it.
The other thing we need to change is the bed probe offset value M212. As you can see I had my Z value set at -0.70. This value sets how high off the print bed your first layer is set. I wasn’t sure how the Z probe would measure the copper plate embedded in the PrintInZ compared to the plain print bed with a Kapton tape over it. So I sent the value higher to about -0.30 and printed the small 3 mm test piece. I then lowered the value a couple of tenths at a time until the print looks good. As it turns out my original value of -0.70 was okay but there was no guarantee that it would’ve been. I suggest you do the recalibration. As before you would type
The other commands save and re-display the values.
Now you need to tell Cura that your print bed is smaller. On the menu at the top click on “Machine-> Machine settings…”. Change the Maximum Depth from 250 down to 240. I would’ve expected these values to be 254 rather than 250 but these are the recommended settings from Printrbot.
I also use Simplify 3D for printing. To adjust the settings click on the “Edit Process Settings” and under the tab labeled “G-Code” change the “Build Volume” in the Y-Axis from 254 down to 244. The default 254 makes more sense to me than the 250 in Cura. On the other hand one time I tried to print an object extremely close to the maximum X-Axis value and when it was drawing the rim before the print it reached the limits and the machine made a grinding noise. So you might want to think about changing all of these values to 250, 240, 250. After change in the value, click okay.
I’ve been able to successfully print using either printing software and I’m extremely satisfied with the PrintInZ Plate build plate. It really works very well as advertised. I highly recommend it.
Here is my appearance on the Adafruit Google+ Show and Tell on Wednesday, January 4, 2017 to describe this project.
In this installmenpurposet we will cover the third week of working on the new wheelchair. We work on 3-D printing parts for the joystick and waiting on word from the wheelchair people about my programming glitch.
I called this installment “Groundhog Week” after the movie “Groundhog Day” in which Bill Murray repeats the same day over and over again. I sort of feel like this week is a repeat of the previous week. Better cliché title for this week is the abbreviation “S.S.D.W.” There is a common saying that people often abbreviate using the letters SSDD. It stands for “Same Shit, Different Day” and is used as a way to say one’s life is boring and monotonous and not particularly satisfying. When I went to write the opening paragraph for this installment of the blog I started by editing the intro from the previous installment. I realized that all I needed to do to make it accurate was to edit the words “second week” so it would read “third week”. So the title of this segment is “Same Shit, Different Week”.
To recap where we left off, the wheelchair is stuck in the state where only the attendant controls will work. Also I cannot get it into programming mode to undo whatever I did wrong. Meanwhile I’m redesigning the joystick mount because the one that the vendor provided will not stay steady enough around my neck. I had already designed a swing away crossbar that would go across the front of the U-shaped rod that hangs around my neck. Now I need to design something that will fastened to that and will hold the upright piece to which the joystick is mounted. I spent all day Sunday April 10th watching NASCAR and designing and printing parts.
In the image below the long cylindrical piece and clamp on the right were pieces I had already designed. The clamp on the right holds the actual joystick. The piece I worked on Sunday was the clamp on the left which will attach the entire assembly to the crossbar. It turned out I could just copy the clamp on the right and resize it. As always you can click any of the images here to see a larger version.
On Monday April 11 we were supposed to take the wheelchair into the shop to have them reprogram it. Unfortunately my caregiver had to cancel and dad had to get me dressed. She has had a lot of things going on in her life lately. She has a young daughter with recurring ear infections, the transmission went out on her car so she has to borrow a friend’s car or get a friend to actually drive her to my house. She had been working for me for about three weeks and still had not worked the entire week without missing at least one day. She does absolutely wonderful job when she’s here. Fortunately she seems to have since gotten things worked out and has not missed a day since then.
I had had second thoughts about taking the wheelchair in for repair in the first place. I kind of wanted to be there while they were working on it so I decided to not take it in but to have them come to me. They had told me they can send someone on Thursday the 13th. I had tried to get them to hold that appointment for me in case I couldn’t make it on Monday because I knew my caregiver girl was a little bit unreliable lately. They had said I could just call and reschedule. They would not hold the date for me. When I called them back they said the Thursday appointment had been filled. The soonest they can get here would be Monday the 18th. Like I said… S.S.D.W. I spent the rest of Monday working on an installment of this blog.
All Printed up and Nowhere to Go
On Tuesday I finally finished all of my 3-D printing parts and we assembled the joystick mount. Here are some photos of the completed project.
This shows the latching mechanism and how it swings open so that you can fit the device around my neck.
Here’s what the device looks like when I wear it. Note in the background the calendar behind my head and it looks like Michonne from The Walking Dead is trying to chop off the top of my head.
The only problem I have now was the wheelchair would only work using the attendant controls because the software was glitched. I was all dressed up… or rather all 3-D printed up… and nowhere to go.
Also on Tuesday I had my monthly visit from the nurse from my home health agency. They send someone out once a month just to take my blood pressure, temperature, and see how things are doing in general. Also on the same day by coincidence I had my quarterly visit from my caseworker from CICOA (Central Indiana Council On Aging). She helps me wade through all of my Medicaid issues and she does my case management to get Medicaid to pay for the home health aide. I was able to show them the new wheelchair but I couldn’t really show off driving it which was a disappointment. I spent the rest of the day doing some Internet research to try to better understand what might be going wrong with the programming and other issues.
Going on Tilt
When playing poker and you get a bad beat, it rattles you emotionally and sometimes you start playing badly. In poker parlance this is called being “on tilt”. With all the ups and downs I’ve had in trying to get the wheelchair to work right I felt like I was permanently “on tilt”. Alternative title for this section could’ve been “Tilting at Windmills” considering we seem to be on a hopeless quixotic quest and getting a working wheelchair was an “impossible dream”.
Clever clichés aside, the next topic actually did have to do with tilting. Most wheelchairs have some sort of little “wheelie bar” out the back of the chair to keep it from tipping over backwards. My old chair had a bar on each side with a tiny wheel perhaps the size of a skateboard wheel. The bars were easily removable and that was one of the first things that I did when I got the old chair. By removing them, it is possible to have someone tilt my chair backwards to go up a small step or a curb.
Only twice in my life do I ever recall coming close to tipping over backwards in the chair. There was one particular ramp at Market Square Arena that was way steeper than the others. Trying to go up it one time I was a little bit worried the front end of my chair was getting a little bit light. There was another time my mom was driving me up a small wooden ramp up a step at a retreat center in Culver Indiana. Halfway up the ramp she accidentally jerked the joystick a tiny bit and my front wheels raised. Fortunately she stopped quickly before I tipped over backwards. The only time I actually tipped over backwards was the day that my van lift fell and I tipped over and landed on top of my friend Judy. That’s a story for another day.
I do know that even on level ground it is technically possible to get my old wheelchair to tip over. You would have to put it in high-speed, drive it backwards at full speed, and then slam it into forward at full speed. You could get it to tip backwards that way. But even when I had much better use of my hands, I was never driving it that way to begin with. Once my arms started giving out it was physically impossible for me to make such an abrupt maneuver.
A popular design for new wheelchairs these days is what they call “mid wheel drive”. The chair essentially has drive wheels that are fat tires perhaps 10 or 12 inches in diameter in the middle of the chair and then it has caster wheels in both the front and the rear. The photo on the right is a Quickie Series 7 chair (mine is a 6). Essentially the chair has six wheels. It has a strange suspension system that keeps all six wheels on the ground as you go over rough terrain. And if you have a rounded curb or an obstacle like a speedbump it will climb up or down that very easily. But to go up a square step have someone attempt to tip your wheelchair backwards for you, there’s no way to do it. That’s why I didn’t get the Series 7 and got the rearwheel drive Series 6.
Although my new chair has rear wheels behind the drive wheels, they normally sit about a half inch off the ground. They are only to be used as an anti-tip mechanism. They have a strange retraction mechanism that appears to be spring-loaded. There is a cable running from each of the rear wheel assemblies to some sort of motor or actuator in the front of the chair underneath the seat. When we had the demo chair we couldn’t figure out how it worked but we figured we would be removing these anti-tip wheels anyway. Sadly the wheelchair salesman wasn’t sure how they worked either.
We did have some concern that if I was reclined, the chair I buy back might be at risk of tipping over backwards and we might need to keep them in place. We were going to have to do some experimenting before we actually removed them. As you can see in the side-by-side images below, the center of the rear wheels of my old chair were probably six or 8 inches backwards from the position of my back. But in the new chair because the wheels are smaller diameter and the way it is constructed, the center of the rear wheels is almost directly below the point where my back hits. While this new chair is heavier and the weight of the equipment is further forward under the seat than my old chair, the actual tipping point is a little more dangerous.
The other issue that concerns us about these rear wheels is that the chair might not fit on the wheelchair lift on my van. When we had the demo chair, I did not ride it on to my wheelchair lift but dad did try rolling it up on the lift without me. He thought that the chair would not fit with those anti-tip wheels sticking out the back. There is a metal flap that folds up behind the rear wheels to keep me from rolling off. Dad thought that the only way to get that chair to fit would be to put the flap in the space between the anti-tip wheels and the drive wheels. That would definitely be awkward and yet another reason why to remove these unnecessary wheels. The photo below shows my wheelchair sitting on the lift platform with the anti-tip wheels in front of the flap. It turned out that when we actually put me on the lift with me sitting in the chair and did some experimenting that I would fit with the anti-tip wheels in front of the flap. Unfortunately to get into that position we had to roll me so far forward that my feet would hit the bumper of the car. I actually had to slide my feet backwards on the foot rests. When sitting in my old chair I was that lower and thus my foot rest was lower and my feet would fit under the bumper when I rolled forward. Anyway even though I would fit on the lift, it was going to be a complicated process.
One of the things we couldn’t figure out was why there was such a complicated mechanism on these wheels. It looks as though there some sort of spring-loaded suspension system and then there was this cable that runs to the front of the chair and some sort of actuator. But we couldn’t figure out what activated it. We couldn’t find anything of the user manual that explained it in the dealer had not been able to explain it.
>So I got online to my new favorite go to place for all things wheelchairs, an online discussion forum at wheelchairdriver.com. I asked them if they thought it was safe to remove these wheels and what was the complicated mechanism all about. You can click here to read the thread but the gist of it is that they didn’t think I should remove them. Of course these are people who are a lot more active than I am riding their chairs around on rough ground. If I have this chair when I was in my teens it was a bit of a different story. It was also interesting that the members of the forum got into a heated debate on whether or not the Quickie Series 6 was actually “rearwheel drive”. One guy said it’s a compromise between a mid wheel and a rearwheel with all of the disadvantages of both. I guess he wasn’t a fan.
The bottom line is that these wheels are supposed to be able to flex upwards so that you can go up and down curbs and ramps. However if you recline the wheelchair, that mechanism gets locked in the down position keep you from tipping while reclined. Some people said that their anti-tip wheels were constantly touching the ground while most people said that like mine they were slightly off the ground. One guy said that his dealer made a modification with a wedge-shaped part that would adjust the height of the down position. A few days later going through some paperwork we found an addendum that explained this little extra block could be inserted but it didn’t make it very clear what that little block would do for you.
Need Knowledge… Do an Experiment
When the experts can’t agree and the instruction manual doesn’t instruct there’s only one thing to do… actually experiment. Over Wednesday and Thursday of that week we tried a number of different things. We got me on and off the van lift and I rode up and down and actually got in the van. More on that later. We drove me out to my front curb. Our curb is about 6 inches tall and is very rounded however when I was younger and rode around the neighborhood a lot I used to have trouble getting up and down it so dad poured a small concrete ramp in the center. We drove me down the ramp okay and then we tried driving up the rounded part of the curb. It had the power to get the front wheels climb up the slope but because the rear anti-tip wheels would not retract it was lifting the drive wheels off the ground. When we went back to drive up the ramp we almost couldn’t get me to go. The chair would roll down the ramp okay whether the drive wheels were touching or not. When we tried to drive up again, we realized that the drive wheels were barely coming off the ground. It was just enough to lose traction. We had to get a bit of a running start to get me up curb even with the ramp. We had hoped that once the full weight of the chair was on the anti-tip wheels that they would retract a tiny bit. Unfortunately they did not. Something weird was going on because they should retract as long as I wasn’t reclined any.
it was clearer than ever that the wheels were going to be in the way and severely limit my ability to go up and down even small ramps if they were sufficiently steep. We still didn’t know just how tippy this chair would be because anytime we tried to tip it, the wheels would hit. It wasn’t until the next day that I came up with another idea. We went back outside and parked the wheelchair on the front porch which is up about a 4 or 5 inch step from the driveway. We parked me with the anti-tip wheels hanging off of the edge of the porch into the driveway. This would allow dad to try to tip the wheelchair in a controlled manner. He tried tipping the chair back with me sitting at my normal seating position as if he were trying to take me up a curb. It seemed to him the chair was no more or less tippy than my old chair was.
Then we gave it a real test. We reclined and tilted the wheelchair all the way back and he tried to see if it would tip. He could put a lot of weight on the rear of the chair and make it tip but it didn’t seem like there was any way it was going to tip by itself. Keep in mind I would not be driving the chair anywhere or be driven anywhere while in that reclined position. I wouldn’t do it on uneven ground.
“Never Start 2 New Foods at Once”
The above quote is a proverb that my mom always used. She always said that when you are trying to get a baby to eat solid food or different kinds of baby food that you should only try one thing at a time. If you try 2 new foods at once and the baby has a bad reaction to it, you don’t know which one was responsible. It’s been a philosophy that has served me well in dozens of situations whether it was building gadgets or troubleshooting software. If you make 2 changes at once and something goes wrong then you are clueless. So even though we had come to the conclusion that it was safe to remove the rear wheels, we were not going to do it right away. I was concerned that messing with it might trigger some sort of safety mechanism and shut the chair down completely. We had already gotten in trouble when I messed with the programming. I wanted to wait until we solved the programming problems before we made any new changes to the chair. Unfortunately a few days later we did not heed the “2 new foods” rule and it got us into more trouble. But that’s another story.
More Comfort Issues
Other activities of this week included padding and reupholstering the armrests. The armrests that came with the chair were very hard rubber with little or no cushioning in them. They also had a concave shape on the top surface which would be great to keep your arm in place if you lay your arm absolutely parallel with the length of the armrests. However I like to keep my arm sometimes at somewhat of an angle and so the edges of the concave shape dig into your arms. I had been referring to them as “an armrest only a quadriplegic could love”. We had been putting a pillow under my arm but then as an experiment we cut a piece of foam and put it on the armrest with duct tape. After a few days I decided that was the right height for a permanent solution. Dad went out to the fabric store in Avon and purchased a few square yards of dark blue Naugahyde upholstery material and made covers for the foam.
We also came up with a temporary solution for had to mount my ultimate remote control and my iPhone. I used to have a gadget that was an aluminum bar that would fastened to the upright portion of my armrest. We had two of them in fact. One of them held an easel on which I can put books or papers. I would use it if I was giving a speech somewhere and didn’t have a table in front of me. I had used it at Enneagram seminars and some RCIA classes. I also had a similar manner for my video camera when I used to hang out at the Speedway and shoot video in the garage area. I no longer had used for either of these so we repurposed the swingarm part of it by cutting a slot in the end that would hold my iPhone bracket from the other chair. The upright pipe on the armrest is a different diameter so dad had to do some cutting and grinding but we got it to work. The iPhone bracket itself will probably get redesigned into a simpler form that will probably hold the iPhone a tiny bit higher but for now it’s good enough. We are thinking about possibly moving the LCD display from the right arm rest of the wheelchair onto this adapted swingarm. The display currently is not in a very useful position and I can’t really see it where it’s at. Anyway it was great to be able to use my TV remote and my iPhone again.
After being so frustrated with the wheelchair, I needed to take a break so I took a day off from working on it to play with a raspberry pi. I mentioned in a previous post that I was replacing an old raspberry pi model 1 B with a newer model 2 and giving the old one to my friend Buz who lives in Michigan. Fortunately getting the old one running for him went much smoother than setting up the new one for me. After getting it ready here, I mailed it to him and the following week we got together on Skype and I talked him through how to set it up. It was a lot of fun connecting with an old friend. We will probably do more Skype in the near future.
Saturday I planned to go to church and as we had not yet gotten a hold down straps installed in the van I had to sit in the old wheelchair. I couldn’t believe how uncomfortable I was all day long. The new chair really had me spoiled.
On Sunday the 17th I spent the day watching NASCAR and IndyCar and working on the blog. Hopefully next week would be a both better week. The repair man was scheduled to come on Monday. That would also be my dad’s 81st birthday. Hopefully it would be a really good day.
There is one other incident during the week on Thursday April 14 that I need to blog about but it doesn’t really have anything to do with the wheelchair. It was something of a more personal nature which belongs on my personal blog rather than my technology blog (even though technology is very personal for me). You can read the story on my personal blog here. So that wraps up the third week after my new wheelchair arrived.
In this installment we will cover the second week of working on the new wheelchair. We work on 3-D printing parts for the joystick and waiting on word from the wheelchair people about my programming glitch.
That’s Why They Call It Immediate Care
After taking off for the weekend and not working on the wheelchair I was anxious to get back to work on it first thing Monday April 4. I was also hopeful I would hear from my wheelchair technician about my technical problems. Unfortunately my body had different plans. I woke up about 3 AM Monday morning with a very nasty earache. While I had been eating my bedtime snack Sunday night consisting of chewy chocolate chip cookies and a bottle of chocolate Ensure, I think I swallowed funny and some of the liquid went up the tubes that connect the back of your throat to your inner ear. I normally have tinnitus which is a ringing in your ear and it is normally equal in both ears and at a level that doesn’t really bother me. But when I woke up my left ear was ringing very loudly and hurt terribly. It was like there was a lot of pressure built up. I tried swallowing and yawning to clear the pressure and it felt like the tube was clicking open but it also felt very irritated and it didn’t relieve the pressure. I called dad and had him roll me over in bed and took some liquid Tylenol. I told him that we would call the ear doctor first thing in the morning and try to get me an appointment. If I wasn’t successful I warned him I might have to go to the ER. It was definitely the worst earache I’d ever had.
Dad came back in about 8:30 AM to see if I still wanted to call the doctor. The pain had subsided considerably and although there was still ringing more than usual it wasn’t excessive. I told him we would wait and see how I was when I got dressed. My caregiver arrived as usual about 10 AM and began giving me my bed bath. When she washed my ears there was blood in my right ear. That was strange because I had no symptoms in the right ear… only left one. When she washed the left one there was some white gunk coming out of that one.
I decided I needed to see a doctor after all even though the pain and pressure was much less. My ear, nose, and throat doctor has the strange name of Dr. Youkillus and is pronounced you-kill-us just like it’s spelled. Every time I say his name I think of the ventriloquist Jeff Dunham and his character “Achmed the Dead Terrorist” whose catchphrase is “I kill you!”. Fortunately the doctor is a really nice guy and I feel safe with him. Anyway he was off duty that day and all of his partners were busy. The soonest I could get into see someone would be Tuesday afternoon. After I got up and dressed I decided I didn’t want to wait that long to have someone look at the ear and get me started on antibiotic. I made the decision we would go to either the ER or an immediate care center.
Dad said there was a new immediate care center on Main Street in Speedway so I decided we would try it out. Because we didn’t have tiedowns for the van I would have to use the old chair for the day. We got in and out of the immediate care fairly quickly. I saw a nurse practitioner who said I definitely had something going on in the left ear but it didn’t look like I had broken my eardrum and the wax wasn’t too bad. I never did figure out what was wrong with the right ear. She gave me a prescription for an antibiotic.
When I checked my email on Monday I did have a reply from Patrick the wheelchair guy saying that he would be in touch with his technical support people and try to get a solution for my inoperative joystick. About the only other event of the day was I ended up losing the bid on eBay for the wheelchair programmer I had been bidding on all weekend.
On Tuesday I began working on 3-D printing parts for the joystick mount.
When designing shapes for 3-D printing, many times you really don’t care the precise measurements of an object. But when parts have to fit together especially with non-3-D printed objects you need to take careful measurements and create your parts to fit precisely. Even though in 3-D printer might be accurate to within a few hundredths of a millimeter, by the time the plastic squeezes out of the nozzle and hardens into position the objects tend to be slightly larger than the advertised size. That also means that any hole in a 3-D printed object is going to be smaller than you intended it because the plastic intrudes into the hole. The tolerances on each kind of 3-D printer, the plastic you are using, the temperature of the nozzle, and even the print speed can affect the tolerances of the finished product. Because I was going to be making parts that needed to slide up and down on the stainless steel rods, I needed to print some test parts to see what diameter hole would give me a snug fit.
The CAD programs that you use for designing pieces to be 3-D printed have the option to do measurements in inches or millimeters. Because most 3-D printers work in millimeters we set things up in metric mode. Each layer of plastic is about 0.2 mm thick. The nozzle that extrudes the plastic is 0.4 mm wide. The stainless steel rod that we were going to hang around my neck to hold the joystick is precisely 1/4 inch in diameter. Converted to metric that is 6.35 mm. The image below shows the CAD drawing of my test piece.
The hole in the left is exactly 6.35 mm and each hole extending to the right is a few tenths of a millimeter larger. I put a tapered section like a counter sink on each hole so that it would be easier to get the rod started going thru the hole. After printing the piece we determined that the one on the far right which was 6.8 mm in diameter was a nice snug fit. This is a pretty typical fudge factor in my experience at least on my printer. I sort of wonder if it has to do with the fact that my nozzle is 0.4 mm in diameter. Perhaps the software is measuring from the center of the nozzle on one side of the part to the center of the nozzle on the other side of the part. But the actual part comes at 0.2 mm bigger on each side because of the radius of the nozzle. I would think the slicing software could compensate for this. Maybe it has nothing at all to do with the nozzle diameter. Maybe it’s just the way the plastic oozes out.
Dad and I spent some more time bending the stainless steel rod to get it to fit better around my neck. He also worked on some final adjustments to lower my right foot rest. On Tuesday I also got another email from Patrick saying that he was working on my problem but still hadn’t heard back from his people. At least he was staying in touch day by day. Many times while corresponding with him about ordering the equipment he wasn’t at all prompt about answering his emails.
Inventing the Slider
On Wednesday the 6th I continued designing 3-D parts. The metal rod of the bib is an upside down U-shaped rod that hangs around my neck. We needed to create 3-D printed parts that would connect the two ends of the “U” with a crossbar to which we will eventually mount the rest of the joystick holder. That crossbar will pivot on the right side and we need a latch to fasten it on the left side. A small sliding piece will latch it into place as you can see in these CAD drawings. The first one shows the crossbar in the closed position. You can click on images for larger versions.
This one shows the sliding latch in the raised position.
In the final image you can see the crossbar rotated out of the way. This allows me to easily take the bib off and on my neck.
It took two or three attempts to design that little sliding piece. Printing tiny pieces on a 3-D printer is in many ways more challenging than printing large ones. To successfully print a piece, it needs to stick to the build plate firmly. Small pieces don’t have much surface area on the bottom. Also the plastic from one layer needs to cool down before the next layer is extruded onto it. For most reasonably sized pieces by the time it finishes printing one layer the first part of that layer has cooled sufficiently that you could put another one down. But because small pieces print so quickly the plastic needs time to cool. If the previous layer has not cooled, the entire object tends to sag or bulge. Fortunately the printing software has a parameter that you can set the minimum amount of time for a layer to print. It will slow down the printing or even retract the printhead and pause for several seconds if necessary to wait for the plastic to cool.
You also have to orient the part on the build plate so there is a flat surface at the bottom. The sliding piece as shown in the CAD diagrams has a pointy tab at the bottom so you have to turn the piece upside down to get it to print on a flat surface. When I loaded the part into the printer software and rotated it to the proper position, much to my surprise my little tab slider looks like a toilet. I suppose it’s appropriate that a piece called a “slider” should remind you of a toilet since if you eat too many White Castle sliders that’s where you end up.
On Thursday, I worked on the piece that would mount on to the crossbar that would hold the remainder of the joystick mount. I also wanted it to be able to slide left or right along the length of the crossbar because I wasn’t exactly sure where it would go. I wanted it to be a tight fit but still able to move if I wanted it to. If it came out too loose I had plans to put a set screw in it that could be loosened or tightened to reposition it. The two pieces shown in the image below will wraparound crossbar and fastened together with a couple of #4-40 machine screws.
This is the final version after making some minor tweaks to an original design. We managed to get the fit just right and I had to make some extra room on the flange for the screws to fit. The original was a little tight.
“Who You Gonna Call?”
I didn’t hear anything back from the wheelchair guy on Wednesday so I sent him another email on Thursday. He replied and said he had been out of the office Wednesday on some personal matters but would be at his desk all day and would definitely be able to get in touch with his supplier’s tech people. When I checked my email on Friday April 8, I had three emails from him with attachments. I couldn’t wait to see what he had sent me.
It was three pages full of information that someday I would find very useful. One was a procedure for resetting things to the factory defaults. The people on the wheelchair support group that I was reading online had said a factory reset was not advisable but this technical note from the manufacturer said it was specifically for people who wanted to undo something that they had inadvertently changed. The tone was that it was safe to use. The other two pages consisted of a map of all of the menu options in programming mode. It told you which features were in which submenu. That would make it easy to figure out where you needed to go when changing the settings. When I was playing with it before, I had to keep browsing around to find what I was looking for. So this would be very useful information… someday.
But today it was totally useless. Everything he had sent me told me what to do once I was in programming mode. It totally ignored the fact that my major problem was I could no longer get into programming mode. I had waited an entire week for a response only to see that despite the fact I had described in detail my problems including the fact that I could not initiate programming mode, his reply indicated he was totally clueless as to the nature of my problem. It was like he hadn’t read the email.
To describe this situation as a pet peeve of mine is a gross understatement. I really can’t think of anything that pisses me off more than asking someone a technical question and getting an answer that proves they weren’t paying attention to the question I actually asked. It has happened to me many times in online support forums and it angers me then. This time was especially rough. I specifically had sent him email rather than just a phone message so that he would have my questions right in front of him and could reread them. The timestamp on the email was 12:45 AM. Whatever work and personal issues he’s been going through that forced him to take a day off Wednesday and having making up work in the middle of the night then he has my sympathy but not my patience.
I left him a very harshly worded email and phone message. But that didn’t get it out of my system. It was obvious he was calling someone at Sunrise Medical who makes the Quickie Brand wheelchairs. I looked up the number for their technical support and I called them directly. The guy I spoke to was intelligent and courteous and obviously was listening to what I was saying. When I explained to him that I cannot get into programming mode he was right up front with me saying that there wasn’t anything he could tell me that was going to resolve that. I would indeed need a dealer’s handheld programmer or some kind of device to get it unstuck. I explained to him that the dealer I’ve been working with was unable to help me. I asked him what other dealers were available in the Indianapolis area. They recommended a place called NuMotion http://www.numotion.com/ They are located near 79th and Moeller Road. I thanked him and put in a call to NuMotion.
When I called them I got through to the repair department and I explained to the guy my problem. I told him I’d been working with a different dealer and that they were unable to help me. I explained I know that since I purchased the wheelchair from the other company it was their responsibility to fix it but I was fed up with their incompetence. I asked him if Medicare/Medicaid would pay for such repairs. He explained that even though I had not purchased the chair through them, unless I needed replacement parts there would be no cost. I couldn’t believe they were so nice about the whole thing. Unfortunately they seem to be a busy place because the soonest Wednesday April 13th. They took some personal information about me and I thanked them. He asked me who the other company was that I had been working with. I was reluctant to badmouth them but I told him anyway. The bottom line was I would have to wait again to get service.
About an hour later NuMotion called me back. Apparently they felt bad about stealing a customer away from National Seating and Mobility. I felt bad about firing these people as well even though it is not been a very satisfying customer experience. Anyway they had called the other place and probably said something along the lines of “Hey friend… if you don’t take better care of your customers they’re going to keep coming to us”. At any rate they said that National Seating would be calling me within the hour and if I didn’t hear from them I should call National Seating. I can understand that they didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes. And I didn’t want them to have to. I just wanted the damn thing fixed as quickly as possible.
Shortly after that phone call I got an email from my guy saying “I got your message”. I don’t know if he meant the nasty email, the nasty voicemail, or the message that was figuratively sent when I called his competition :-). At any rate he said he would try to get me someone who had the right kind of programming gadget.
Shortly after the email from my usual guy, I did get a phone call from someone at the National Seating and Mobility office. I didn’t catch his name but I later learned he was the office manager. After explaining the problem he said something to the effect of “When can you bring the chair in for us to look at?” I almost hung up on him right there. Everything that I had been told by the other technicians when I asked about repairs was that they always come to the client. You never need to bring anything in. The bottom line was this was Friday. I could bring the chair to him Monday morning and he said he would have people at the office who could work on it. If I wanted them to come to me I would have to wait until Thursday April 14th. I explained I wasn’t sure if I could come on Monday. I wanted to go ahead and schedule the Thursday afternoon appointment for them to come to me and then if I could come on Monday we would cancel it. He said if you can’t come on Monday, just call us and we will schedule something at that time. He didn’t want to hold open the Thursday appointment for me. That turned out to be a mistake.
Another Break in the Action
I had been on such an emotional roller coaster on Friday that I couldn’t wrap my head around working on the joystick mount or anything else related to the wheelchair. I needed a different project to distract me.
I had a raspberry pi model 2 sitting in its box unopened. I had been swapping some emails with my friend Buz about using the raspberry pi as a media player. I was going to replace the model 1 that I had connected to it the TV on my kitchen counter. I would get the new model 2 and I would give Buz my old hand-me-down model 1. He did not have an HDTV and the model 1 works better with old analog TVs then the new model 2. So I spent the rest of the day Friday trying to load OSMC media player software onto the new raspberry pi. Apparently the Wi-Fi dongle that I was using wasn’t fully compatible with the newer model. It took me all afternoon to get the Wi-Fi working. I had hoped that playing with my other toys would reduce my frustration level but it turned out to just replace one frustration with a different one.
I finally got rid of all my stress on Saturday by spending the day with my friends Rich and Kathy Logan to go see “Batman vs. Superman” in IMAX 3-D. Even that wasn’t without its frustrations. We normally go to the IMAX on 86th and I-465 at Traders Point. Unfortunately they have weird schedules when it comes to IMAX 3-D. The 12 noon, 6 PM, and 9 PM showings were all IMAX 3-D but the 3 PM showing that we wanted to attend was in ordinary IMAX not 3-D. We had to drive all the way to the south side to the other IMAX to see it in 3-D at a reasonable time of day. I loved the movie a lot. Better than the most recent Superman movie. Rich and I are both huge comic book fans. We were both embarrassed that we had never realized that both Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne had a mother named Martha. That was a particularly important plot point in the movie. I told Rich “If I was a cartoon character, my head would’ve literally exploded.”
That wraps up the entire second week of working on my new wheelchair. While of the comfort adjustments had been finally completed and I was very much enjoying sitting in it, I still wasn’t able to drive it. Sorry for the spoiler but yet another week after this would pass and I still couldn’t drive it. That’s a story for the next installment.
In my previous installment I described the events leading up to the delivery of my new wheelchair and the arrival itself. In this installment we will talk about what happened over the next day or two as I try to adapt everything to my needs.
Finally I NEED a 3-D Printer
When the prices of 3-D printers began to get reasonable, I began lusting for one almost uncontrollably. The only thing that held me back with the concept that no matter how much I wanted one I didn’t really have any use for one. I think that’s the dilemma most 3-D printer owners face. They are cool gadgets that you just want to own. You can do lots of neat things with them. But do you really “need” one? Finally my wants outweighed my lack of needs and I indulged myself as a 60th birthday present and bought one. While I have made some useful plastic boxes for my electronics projects and made some fun toys and Christmas ornaments, I still really didn’t “need” a 3-D printer until right now.
In the previous post I showed that the bib mount for the joystick was designed for chin use and not mouth use like I had planned. No amount of adjusting it was going to get the joystick up to my mouth. I was going to need to build a new bracket to reposition it. The 3-D printer with the perfect solution to this task.
After the wheelchair technicians left, we had supper and then I went straight to my office to begin designing the new bracket. As you can see in the image below, the joystick is sitting in a round socket. It is held there by a small set screw. I can remove the joystick from the socket, build a new support that fits there. Then I can mount the joystick in a new socket on top of the bracket. I also need it to be able to tilt up or down to adjust the position and angle of the joystick.
Here is what the part looks like in my CAD design program called Blender 3-D. The bracket is in two pieces. There is a long cylinder object that will fit into the socket where the joystick used to be. On top of that is a new socket to hold the joystick. It can pivot forwards and backwards and will be held to the long piece with a screw. The new socket can be tightened with a screw as well so it will grip the joystick.
I got the design pretty much done the evening of the day the chair arrived but I didn’t have time to print it. I ate my usual snack and went to bed. But it was nearly impossible to sleep thinking about all the modifications we needed to do on the chair.
“Evening came and morning followed. The first day.” Genesis 1:5
Dad and I Do Our Thing
It’s now Tuesday March 29 and Dad and I sort of got into our “Liam Neeson in Taken” mode. To paraphrase the movie “we are men with a particular set of skills”. For my part that means putting the final touches on the CAD design for my new bracket. For dad it means getting out his power sawzall and power drill and getting to work shortening my foot rests. Because he was going to be working on the chair and we still didn’t completely have the headrest and other comfort items adjusted properly, I spent the day in my old wheelchair.
When printing objects on a 3-D printer. It’s best if you have a flat surface on the bottom. So the cylindrical parts of the bracket couldn’t lie down on their side or they would have a flat side and they would not come out very cleanly. So the tall part of the bracket has to stick straight up in the air. It’s about four and half inches long. I had never printed a tall skinny piece like this before. I was worried it would come unstuck and fall over. Fortunately it printed just fine as you can see here.
When I completed it, dad took a break and assembled my creation. Like always, you occasionally have to do a little filing or scraping objects to get them to fit together precisely but it wasn’t too hard to assemble. I had made a small test piece to get the tolerances right. Here is a photo of the device assembled just like I had planned it. And below that are photos of the device sitting around my neck.
It was everything I intended to be. There was just one problem… It didn’t work. Oh my bracket worked just fine. But every time I tried to move the joystick with my mouth, the entire device would wobble around. You recall from the earlier post that I had done a test drive with a bib mount that was made of a stiff metal rod that bent around my neck. It would hold the joystick very steady. This gadget was just hanging from a couple of straps. It even though we had not yet molded it to fit my funny shaped chest, I didn’t have any confidence that that would stabilize it. I had seen a photo on the vendor’s website that showed optional additional straps on the lower corners that went around your back. That might have stabilized it a little bit better but I really didn’t like that idea and I wasn’t sure it would work. So it was completely back to the drawing board. Because the metal bar device which we had tried did not come in a larger version, we would have to fabricate one from scratch. And given that we both have “a particular set of skills”, that would be entirely possible.
Dad completed the work on the foot rests and we spent the rest of the evening catching up on TV.
“Evening came and morning followed. The second day” Genesis 1:8
My new wheelchair has finally arrived! Before I tell you about the day that it arrived and what we have done with it so far, I want to briefly recap the journey thus far.
A Very Long Journey
On Wednesday May 27, 2015 I had my first meeting with a man named Patrick Phillips from a company named National Seating and Mobility to see about getting a new wheelchair. In both this technology blog and my personal blog I’ve chronicled some of the reasons why I need a new wheelchair even beyond the fact that the one I’m using is nearly 30 years old. Here is a link to a collection of blog posts about why I needed new wheelchair and some of my history of previous wheelchairs. It is been a very long and difficult process to find the kinds of specialized wheelchair controls that will allow me to continue to drive my chair myself perhaps even better than I’ve been able to do recently. We have had 2 different loaner wheelchairs and a variety of different specialized controls over the past 9 months. We waited for months at a time to get this demo equipment. And then there were months of paperwork, doctor’s visits, therapist evaluations, and Medicare and Medicaid approvals.
When we started in May of last year I knew it was probably an impossible dream that I might have the chair in time for my 60th birthday party in July. When I saw how long everything was going to take I reset my sites on Christmas. That was just as impossible. Around Christmas and New Year’s I told people that I wasn’t hoping for Valentine’s Day but perhaps by St. Patrick’s Day. Bit by bit I started getting notices that the insurance was approved and at one point they told me the equipment had been ordered. I sent him an email on March 9 and they said that the equipment had actually arrived the day before and all they had to do was assemble the chair before delivering it to me. Patrick suggested it might be ready by that Friday. The next week another email said again by Friday.
My Holy Week Meltdown
One of the things that prompted me to finally get the new wheelchair was an incident at the Easter vigil mass a year ago. That is the night before Easter celebration where the people that I’ve been teaching in RCIA get baptized and receive the sacraments for the first time. The ceremony is 3 hours long so it runs late into the evening which is when my arm is the weakest and I have the most difficulty driving my chair. I have asked one of the ushers to check in with me a couple of times during the ceremony to see if I needed anything. I should’ve had him specifically check with me when it was time for the baptisms. Our baptismal fountain at Saint Gabriel is at the back of the church and I would have to turn around to see what was going on. When I tried to do so, my arm just would not cooperate. Fortunately none of the people in the English-speaking RCIA class that I teach were being baptized. They were being confirmed, receiving First Communion, and making a profession of faith all of which took place at the front of the church. The baptisms were for children or people attending the Spanish language RCIA classes. I still would’ve liked to have been able to see the ceremony. I think this was the final straw that broke the camel’s back and made me decide that I really needed the new chair. As it turned out somewhere in August or September I quit driving my wheelchair and all. Even when my arm was in good shape I could not get it propped up into position to drive. Dad would have to position my hand for me before I could move. Even then sometimes I couldn’t drive once I was in position. So it was easier to just have dad push me around the house. Had I known this whole process was going to take nearly a year I might have started everything much sooner.
So when Holy Week rolled around and I realized that I still did not yet have my wheelchair, I got very emotional. I wrote Patrick an extremely nasty email saying that I realized that much of the delay was not his fault. But the fact that my wheelchair had been sitting in his office collecting dust for two weeks and my emotions about Easter coming and still no wheelchair. It was just too much. Fortunately I somehow got the courage to delete the email before I sent it. Instead I want one titled “I’m out of patience” and I started out by telling him that I had written a nasty email and then deleting it. The one that I did send was only marginally civil. But I told him “If you think this is terse you should’ve seen the one I didn’t send :-)”
The next day we received a phone call saying that the chair would be delivered on Monday March 28 which was the day after Easter. I probably wasn’t going to go to the Easter vigil anyway because I’ve had problems with a sore shoulder that makes it difficult for me to sit in one position for a long time. And I have retired from teaching RCIA (another emotional issue complicating matters). On Good Friday I received an email from Patrick saying that he would check with the office to see when it would be delivered. Apparently he was unaware that I had received a phone call. He was apologetic and explained that the office is in transition. I wasn’t sure what that meant. Transition into bankruptcy perhaps? Transition such as Bruce Jenner? At one point I was angry enough to transition someone by cutting their parts off :-). I later learned that the recent delays have surrounded the fact that National Seating and Mobility is apparently consolidating 2 Indianapolis offices into one location. I just got caught in the chaos of that move. Anyway over the Easter weekend I told people I would believe the wheelchair when I saw it.
IT’S FINALLY HERE!!
TARDIS from the sci-fi series Doctor Who
Early Monday afternoon March 28 it finally arrived.
A technician named Aaron arrived with the chair and said that Patrick was not far behind. He arrived a few minutes later. The first thing that I noticed when it came through the door was that it was all black. That was okay. I had asked for it to be blue. If you’ve been following my Facebook posts you notice someone asked me if I was going to have a wheelchair that was a TARDIS. That’s a big blue box that sci-fi character Doctor Who uses as a time machine/spaceship. My reply was no, but it was going to be TARDIS blue in color. Although I had told Patrick that I wanted blue, I had not made a big deal about it and I was worried he had forgotten. When I saw black come through the door that was okay. Then on closer inspection I realized that the lower frame was indeed blue and I recalled that looking at it on the website when it showed color selections it was only that lower frame that was painted a different color. So I did get my TARDIS blue after all.
The next thing that I noticed was the foot rests. The first demo wheelchair that I had tried included power elevated foot rests. I wanted the entire chair to be able to power tilt and recline but I was a little bit afraid of having some machine move my legs because my knees are very sensitive and my legs do not straighten out but a few degrees beyond the normal sitting position. The second demo chair that I saw did tilt and recline but did not have power leg rests. That’s what I thought I was getting. My new chair has power leg rests. I will just have to be careful with it and make sure that I don’t accidentally move them. And there may in fact be times when raising or lowering the foot rest a few degrees might make my legs more comfortable. If it gets to be a problem we can always disconnect or disable them. It kind of pissed me off that Medicare/Medicaid was paying thousands of dollars for a feature I didn’t particularly need or want. I had seen a parts list before it was ordered but it wasn’t immediately apparent from the description that it was going to have power leg rests. I should’ve gone over the list with Patrick in more detail. My bad. Sorry taxpayers.
Patrick explained that when he orders a chair, he sends them all of my measurements and they are supposed to have it pre-adjusted to those dimensions. For the most part it was pre-adjusted to the right size. However one item that definitely needed some attention was the foot rests themselves. They were definitely too long and my feet would not have reached no matter what the angle was. Patrick and Aaron went to work with a variety of wrenches to shorten the adjustable leg rests. There was also a side pad where your leg goes and a back pad where your calf rests when the chair reclines. Those had to be loosened and pushed up and then push up on the foot rest to shorten it. Each of them had three or four bolts that needed undone and redone. Even when they had adjusted everything, it was still too short. For the time being we decided to put a pillow under my feet. In addition to the foot rests we also adjusted the armrest height for the left arm because I like to keep it much higher than most people would use. Again it was not able to be adjusted as high as I wanted it. We’re going to get some padding to put on top of the armrest to raise it up. It also needs padding because it is a very hard surface.
Taking My Seat for the First Time
It was finally time for me to sit in my new wheelchair. Dad bought out the Hoyer lift and picked me up and set me in the new chair. I looked at the clock to memorialize the moment. My butt hit the seat at 3:12 PM, March 28 2016.
We strapped me in with the new lap belts that came with the chair. I also use a chest strap to keep it steady. We had a spare chest strap ready to go and we got that fitted around me.
We then turned our attention to the headrest. They had about three different kinds available and we finally found one that would work on a temporary basis. Dad and I are probably going to have to redesign something different at some point. The headrest I currently use was something that we built ourselves years ago. I think we will be able to take the parts they gave us and make something more permanent that will do everything I needed to do but for the time being we had my head propped up in a good enough position on a temporary basis.
No Joy for the Joystick
We now turn to the joystick controls. I had tried a variety of different control systems. We waited for months to get a demo of one that turned out to be totally useless. The one that we finally decided on is something called a bib mount. It hangs around your neck like a bib and holds the joystick in front of your face. I then move the end of the stick by pushing it around with my lip. Some people use the same kind of mount to move the stick with their chin. These are typically spinal cord injury quadriplegics who still have movement in their neck muscles but my neck doesn’t move because the muscles are too weak to even hold my head up. The photo below shows the device that I tried. This is not me in the photo.
You can see a video of me test driving the demo wheelchair in this blog post. This system worked really well however it was too narrow to fit around my neck. The bar going across the bottom that actually holds the joystick can unsnap from one side and you spread the bar apart to lift it over your head. But when I tried to put it around my fat neck it wouldn’t fit. We had to force it together to get the clamp to hold. Patrick told me he thought that the device came in 2 sizes and that he would order the larger size. So I was expecting to see a larger version of the same device when he arrived. Unfortunately he said that it doesn’t come in a larger size after all. Instead he ordered a similar device shown here.
This one consists of a hard plastic plate that hangs around your neck with an adjustable strap. Because my chest has a weird shape to it because of my back brace, we were going to have to bend the plate to fit the contour of my chest better. The instructions say that you can heated up with a heat gun or even a high-powered hairdryer and mold it to whatever shape we needed. However when I tried it on, it was obvious that there was no way I can adjust it to reach my mouth. See the image below. As I explained earlier, many people use a bib to move the joystick with their chin. I would have to design a new bracket and create it with my 3-D printer. I was confident that I could do that. More on that later.
When “NO” Doesn’t Mean “No”
In order to operate the recline and tilt features of the wheelchair you have to shift it out of driving mode into seat adjustment mode. You can also cycle through various driving profiles with labels such as Indoor or Outdoor. These different profiles adjust the sensitivity of the joystick and sort of modifies the power curve for whether you are a working with a smooth flat surface or running over rough ground. So in addition to the joystick you need a button called a “user button”. We haven’t quite figured out how I’m going to do that yet because I already have three pushbuttons in my right hand that I use to control my ultimate universal remote. I described that remote in this previous blog post. Basically it can control every TV, cable box, DVD player, computer mouse and keyboard via infrared remote and additionally has a Bluetooth connection to my iPhone to control it without having to use the touchscreen. Patrick brought with him a couple of different pushbuttons that I was going to try. There’s a slim possibility that I can hold it in my left hand. When he tried to plug it in, it would turn the power off and on but would not change the mode.
We figured out how to get the display panel into “program mode” but we couldn’t figure out what we needed to change to get it to recognize the button. There are 2 ports that you can plug things into. We tried switching from port 1 to port 2. There was a setting that said the mode button was set to “NO” which we figured meant “no switch”. When we tried to change it to “YES” instead of saying “YES” it said “NC” which they interpreted to mean “not connected”. We ended up calling tech support from the place that actually manufactures and sells the wheelchairs. They talked us through how to get the proper settings. It turns out that “NO” and “NC” means “normally open” and “normally closed” describing what type of pushbutton you have. Some buttons which are normally open when you push them it closes the circuit. You might want to use a normally closed button because the wheelchair can then detect if the button has accidentally been pulled loose from its socket. It would see any brief disconnection as the normal pushing of the button but a very long open circuit would mean that something that had gone wrong. Anyway we got the button to work but I didn’t play with it at that time. I just wanted to make sure it would work for me to play with it later.
Don’t Forget the Paperwork
I now it was about 4:30 PM. Aaron had another client he needed to see briefly before the end of the day so the guys had to hit the road. Patrick said that he would bring me some adjustable blocks to put on the foot rest so that they would fit my feet. He is also supposed to bring me some armrest padding to try out. There was one more thing we needed to do. Sign the paperwork. We told them a funny story about the first power wheelchair that I purchased when I was a senior in high school. I had been given a power wheelchair when I was in fifth grade but it belonged to Roberts School and they just let me use it as long as I maintained it in good shape. When I was a senior in high school and was about to graduate, we needed a new wheelchair. We purchased it from a company called Baker Brothers. When it arrived, dad and I went to their showroom to pick it up. The guy brought the chair out and then he went on dealing with another customer and doing things in the back room. Dad decided to go ahead and blow the wheelchair into the van while we waited on him come back. We waited maybe 20 minutes after that and finally dad said “To hell with this let’s go.” I agreed and we left. We had just gotten back in the door at home when the phone rang and they said “You had some paperwork you were supposed to sign”. We told them that they should have not made us stand around all day. They brought the paperwork to us and we signed it. Things certainly have changed in the 43 years since then. This time dad signed the paperwork using a stylus on an iPad and they emailed us a copy afterwards. These days the paperwork is paperless.
After the guys left, we took a couple of photos of me sitting in the chair and I posted them to Facebook. Those first photos are the ones shown earlier in this post. In the next installment of this blog I will describe what we did that evening and the next day to work out some of the issues that still needed to be resolved.
I’ve just completed building a new piece of adaptive technology that includes infrared TV remote, infrared mouse control, and Bluetooth switch control of my iPhone. It’s the combination of a project that has been in development nearly 3 years. Here’s the story of the solutions I had before I built this remote, why they no longer serve me, and how the new device solves a variety of problems. It all started with a simple wooden stick…
The History of the Stick
In many of my previous blog posts I’ve discussed how I built custom TV/cable remote controls so that I can watch TV and use my laptop computer in bed. However I’ve not discussed how I use these devices when I’m not in bed. That process has recently had to evolve significantly so I thought I would chronicle the history of my use of remote controls while sitting in my wheelchair.
Of course when I had good use of my hands, I would just pick up a remote and push the buttons like anyone else. But at some point, I don’t recall when years ago, my dad built a little aluminum bracket that mounts on the front of my wheelchair control box. We attach a regular universal learning remote to the bracket with some Velcro. I would then push the buttons using a stick in my mouth. That particular stick system has gone through evolutions of its own.
Johnny Carson used to have a comedy routine called “Dickie the stick”. It was a commercial for a toy that had 1000 uses. In fact it was just a wooden broom handle. He would say with a little imagination you could make it into anything. He would throw it across the stage and say “look it’s an airplane”. His pitch man character made it sound like it was the greatest toy ever made but it was just a stick. Actually that commercial wasn’t far off for me. For almost my whole life I’ve carried around a tool that was nothing more than a big long stick. I used it to push elevator buttons, open doors, and grab things that I couldn’t reach. Someday I’ll do a blog just about my big stick. But for this particular blog will just talk about the small wooden stick that I used for typing and pushing buttons. This particular stick has been a wonderful piece of adaptive equipment for me. As you will see it’s been a big challenge to deal with the fact that I can no longer use it (oops… that was a spoiler).
Over the years my disability has progressed. I used to have pretty good use of my hands so I could type on the computer, handle books and papers, even feed myself. I lost most of that in my early twenties. When I could no longer type on a keyboard using my hands I discovered an alternative way to type. I would prop up the computer keyboard on an easel so that the keys were facing me. I used a very long pencil or dowel rod in my right hand, put my elbow up on the armrest or control box, and I would poke at the keys. In the early days of 8-bit computers I would wire in in a couple of extra pushbuttons on the end of a long wire connected to the Shift and Control keys. I would hold those buttons in my left hand. By the time we got to MS-DOS and later Windows they had a built-in feature called “sticky keys”. Many people think that’s what you get from watching too much Internet porn but this is something different. It is a software driver that turns your Shift, Control and Alt keys into toggle keys. For example you push shift and the next key that you type will be shifted. If you push shift twice it holds the shift key down. Everything remains shifted until you hit it again to unlock it. Here is an old photo of me typing on the keyboard this way.
Me checking my stock portfolio using stick it keyboard on easel. Circa 2000
The photo shows a keyboard that was very near and dear to me. It was made by Gateway Computers and was called the “Gateway Any-Key 124 keyboard”. It had 2 sets of function keys, the traditional ones across the top and an identical set down the left side. It also had a special built in hardware keyboard remapping function. You could reprogram any of the 124 keys to send any remapped keypress that you wanted. It also would allow you to create macros so that one keypress would generate a string of multiple keystrokes. Because it was difficult for me to reach the arrow keys way off to the right side of the keyboard, I reprogrammed the top row of function keys into arrow keys. If I needed a function key I would use the ones down the left side of the keyboard.
You will also notice in the photo just above the keys is a mini trackball. It was the only way that I could operate the mouse. That particular model was small enough that it was handy to just mount on the keyboard with some Velcro. I could poke at it with my stick to operate it. The great thing about that particular model was that it included not only a right-click and a left-click button but it included a drag button. It was sort of like “sticky keys” for mouse buttons. You would toggle it off and on if you needed to drag. It would not right-click drag but you rarely have to do that. The problem with that particular trackball was it would wear out eventually. In the end I ended up buying three or four of them at once for about $50 each and keeping them in my closet just in case. The original Gateway keyboard had a 9 pin D serial connector. I was able to later purchase them with a round PS/2 style serial connector but they never did make one with USB. Fortunately I found some serial to USB adapter devices and was able to continue to do use this keyboard many years beyond its normal life expectancy.
When using a laptop, sometimes I was able to prop up the entire laptop on an easel so that the keys were facing me. I had to be careful when purchasing a new laptop because some of them do not allow the display to open a full 180°. Had I tried to prop up one of those, the display would’ve been facing the floor not to mention how difficult it would be to keep it on the easel. Even when I did put it up on the easel, it was very precarious. Eventually I started using the special Gateway keyboard on the laptop as well by just plugging it into the serial port or USB port with adapter later on. Because the keyboard had been discontinued and I was worried it might break, I even stocked up on those by purchasing a spare on eBay. I see here that they are still being sold on eBay. I still have a couple of them in the closet today. Maybe I should get rid of the old keyboards and make some money.
Vintage Gateway 2000 programmable 124 key keyboard available on eBay.
Enter the Dragon
At some point I supplemented all of this by using speech recognition software. I began using Dragon NaturallySpeaking when it was at version 7. I don’t remember what year that was. The current version is 14. Typically I would use my stick for most of what I did but if I had something long to type like a long email or a blog entry I would use the dictation. I didn’t realize that over a period of a couple of years I began using the Dragon more and more and would use the stick less. I recall one weekend we went to the cabin at Cordry Lake and although I had packed my laptop and extra keyboard, I had forgotten to pack the easel to stand up keyboard. So I had to just use Dragon alone the entire weekend. I was surprised to realize I didn’t really miss using the keyboard and trackball. It was soon after that that I resigned himself to using speech recognition exclusively.
Initially the stick in my hand was only used for typing. When I wasn’t at the computer typing on something, I would let go of the stick and leave it somewhere by the computer. Then one day back in the late 1980s as I was driving my wheelchair into my office, my hand slipped off of the joystick of the wheelchair and I crashed into a bookcase. Over the days that followed I begin to discover my arm had weakened to the point where I could no longer keep it steady on the joystick. After a little experimenting, I came up with a system where I would put the stick in my mouth. I would also hold that in my hand and the joystick as well. The mouth stick would steady my hand on the joystick of the wheelchair. Here is my typical driving position.
My typical driving position using the stick in my mouth to steady my hand on the wheelchair joystick. June 2015.
Can’t Touch This
Eventually I expanded my remote bracket on the wheelchair to make room for an iPod touch. If you’re not familiar with it, the iPod touch is sort of like an iPhone without the phone part. It plays music, video, games, and does Wi-Fi Internet access. I started out with the iPod touch model 1 shortly after it came out. The problem was the stick that I was using was a wooden dowel rod with a glob of silicone rubber on the tip so that it would not slip. Even if I turn the stick around and use the wood end, the iPod uses a capacitive touch system. The wooden stick would not activate it. I needed something metallic. After much experimenting I discovered that the metallic piece had to be a reasonable diameter rather than a sharp point. For example we tried just touching a key or a metal knitting needle but that didn’t work. It had to be flat and make flat contact with the screen. That was a problem because as you reach to the top or the bottom of the screen, the stick makes contact at a different angle. So we had to come up with something flexible.
We finally came up with a piece of foam rubber with a hole in it so that you could put the stick into it. On the front of it we glued a small flat piece of metal. I would’ve thought that would be sufficient but it still wasn’t enough electrical capacitance. We attached a very thin ground wire to the metal tip and it worked fine. Having a wire attached to it also had other positive effects. For one if I dropped it, it didn’t go anywhere because it was tethered to the bracket. Also I can hold on to the wire in my right hand to steady the stick as I drag across the touch screen. Here is a photo of me using the stick to operate an android phone that later replaced the iPod touch. If you look closely you can see the thin red ground wire that I’m holding my hand.
Operating a smartphone and TV remote using a stick in my mouth.
We built a little receptacle on the side of the mounting bracket to hold the tip when I wasn’t using it as seen in this photo.
Small receptacle on the side of the mounting bracket holds the foam rubber tip when not in use.
Years ago I had upgraded the iPod touch version 1 to a version 4 but eventually it became obsolete. It would not run the latest version of iOS. Although there was an iPod version 5, the iPhone was already up to version 6 and I knew the minute I bought an iPod version 5 they would come out with 6. I waited and waited for various Apple product announcements. All of the rumor websites kept predicting that an iPod 6 was coming soon but it still hasn’t. A Google search on the phrase “android alternative to iPod touch” led to several articles suggested purchasing a cheap unlocked android phone. If you did not activate it, you could still use it for apps, Wi-Fi, games, music video etc. So that’s when I did. The image above shows the Motorola Moto G second-generation that I purchased. It is unlocked GSM phone which runs the latest version of android. It only cost about $180 and was a really good deal. I wasn’t sure I really needed a phone but once I was to the point where I couldn’t drive my wheelchair anymore, I could not drive up to get to the land line speakerphone that I usually use. I ended up activating it after all. I got a really cheap pay-as-you-go plan from ting.com that is costing me $12-$15 per month.
One of the problems with the android phone is it is larger than the old iPod touch. That means that as I reach from the top to the bottom of the screen, the angle of the stick varies more. It was more difficult to get a little flat metal tip to keep in contact with the surface. I came up with an interesting adaptation to solve that problem. We took a small piece of conductive foam such as used to protect IC chips from static electricity. We cut it in a little rounded hemispherical shape and glued it on to the little metal plate on the end of the stick. So no matter what angle I used, there was still sufficient surface touching the screen. Here is a photo comparing the size of the new android phone on the left and the iPod touch 4 on the right.
My comparatively tiny iPod touch 4 next to my newer Moto G android phone.
Here is a close-up showing the flat tip on the right that I used for the iPod and the one on the left is the new rounded tip use for the android phone.
That whole system worked really well for several years. It got me through hundreds of levels of Angry Birds and above level 1000 on Candy Crush as well as allowed me to look up countless facts on IMDb, post to Facebook, and check the weather radar anytime I felt like it.
I.R. An Expert
The stick isn’t the only piece of adaptive technology relevant to the story. A lot of what I do is assisted by infrared remote control such as the ones used by TV, cable, DVD etc. It was about three years ago that I got back into tinkering with electronics when I purchased my first Arduino microcontroller. I became interested in infrared remote controls and that led to the building of the TV/cable remote that I use in bed. The whole journey was documented elsewhere in this blog. I came up with another use for the Arduino when they introduced the Arduino Leonardo model. It is capable of emulating a mouse or keyboard when plugged into the USB port on the computer. So I built a little box that would pick up signals from my TV remote and it would create mouse movements as well as some keystrokes most specifically the arrow keys. I could switch back and forth between mouse mode and keyboard mode. Because I don’t have a cable box in my office, I use various codes from the cable box to control this device. However when I built another one for my laptop that I often use in the bedroom, I had to pick a different set of codes for that one so that it didn’t change channels. The one for the laptop used code from my Blu-ray player. I never use the laptop in the living room while watching Blu-ray so that was okay.
While Dragon dictation software does have mouse controls, they are not very flexible. For example you cannot use the mouse scroll wheel, it is difficult to shift drag and you cannot right-click drag at all. But pushing the TV remote with my stick, I can do all of that and more with the Arduino Leonardo and an IR receiver.
My infrared remotes are based on a library of code written by a guy named Ken Shirriff which I later rewrote to make a little more flexible. I published the code on GitHub and on this blog. My version has been so popular, I’m considered somewhat of an expert on IR remotes. It has been really satisfying to get emails from other people who have built their own IR remotes for their elderly or disabled friends and family. One guy build a remote for his nearly blind grandfather using my code. His version has very large pushbuttons and plays back soundbites when you push the button. It includes specialized buttons that automatically jump to some of his grandfather’s favorite channels such as news or sports. The guy just recorded his own voice to play back but I think it would’ve been better to have James Earl Jones say “THIS is CNN!” or the ESPN Sports Center jingle “Duh da dant, duh da dant”.
RIP The Stick
It’s kind of interesting that the stick saved me from two separate situations where I was very emotional over lost ability. When I couldn’t type anymore using my hands I thought it meant the end of using the computer altogether. The stick let me keep typing. Then when I couldn’t drive my wheelchair anymore, the stick let me keep driving. It also had other uses such as pushing TV remote buttons and operating an iPod or touchscreen smartphone. Unfortunately I met another one of those crossroads moments where I can’t do what I used to do. The stick is not going to bail me out. In fact because I could no longer get the stick into position that I needed, I’m not able to use it to operate the remote, the phone, or to assist me with driving. Here’s a brief video that shows how difficult it was for me recently to be able to get the stick into position.
That video was recorded back in June 2015. As I write this in January 2016 things have gotten worse. For the past couple of months I haven’t driven my wheelchair all. I couldn’t get the stick into position without help, so anytime I wanted to go somewhere, dad would have to get into position and even once I was there sometimes it was too difficult to drive. So in recent weeks he just pushes me everywhere. The new wheelchair I’ll be getting should resolve some of that. You can see other videos and blog entries about my quest to get new wheelchair.
Arduino to the Rescue
Now that I am no longer able to use the stick, I had to come up with something else. I had been anticipating this problem for many years especially when it came to using the TV remote. After using my specialized Arduino powered remote in bed with just a few pushbuttons, I realized it was much easier to use than pushing the buttons with my stick while sitting in the wheelchair. This latest remote that I purchased has very tiny buttons and unless you get the tip of the stick in exactly the right place they would not push. So over two years ago, I began working on building an Arduino powered TV remote to replace my usual universal remote.
I started out with an Arduino Leonardo and a 4 x 20 character LCD screen. This was going to be the ultimate remote that not only would control the TV and the computer mouse, it might also be used as a wireless infrared keyboard. That’s why I needed the bigger display. I decided I would put four or five pushbuttons on it to scroll through the menus. I would still using my mouth stick but I would have the options of attaching micro switches that I would hold in my hand. We actually built an early prototype of the device and it was pretty cool but it was a little bit impractical. It was rather large and heavy to be mounted on bracket that I had been using. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do to provide power to it. Also the various types of pushbuttons that I tried worked very well. If I used micro switches on the end of a wire, I had to put my arm in an awkward position in order to be able to use them. This particular device didn’t go completely unused. I programmed it with special codes for a toy helicopter that used in infrared remote as well as a toy dinosaur. I’ve already documented those projects in other blog posts and videos. I never did get around to using it as a TV remote because I couldn’t come up with the right buttons. Also I didn’t really need it, I could still pushbuttons with the mouth stick. Keep in mind this project started almost 3 years ago when I was in better shape. Here’s a photo of the prototype was a large 4 x 20 LCD display that I never did get fully working.
The Leonardo-based IR remote with 20×4 character LCD. I never finished it.
Here are the 5 micro switches connected to the Arduino Leonardo remote that I could have used as an alternative to the pushbuttons on the device itself. I used these switches to control the helicopter and the toy dinosaur. It turns out that 5 switches were too many. I could not comfortably hold them and I could not hold them if my arm was in a position where I could drive the wheelchair with the joystick. Now that I’m no longer using my hand for the joystick, I found a position where I could comfortably hold 3 of these switches with a little adaptation which I will show you later.
Internet of Things in the Interim
Pinoccio Wi-Fi Development Board
In the interim, I found other ways to control my TVs but this time over the Internet. Using the old Pinoccio Wi-Fi module and a webpage I was able to control the living room cable box from my adjacent office by clicking on a webpage. I have an HDMI splitter connected to the living room cable box. One output goes to the living room TV where my dad watches. The other output goes to a very long HDMI cable that goes through the wall into a TV in my office. There I can watch the same thing as dad is watching the living room. Of course he falls asleep in the recliner when doesn’t fast-forward through the commercials. Being able to control the living room cable box remotely is very useful. I also set up a similar system between the cable box/DVR in my bedroom and ran it into the office although I use RF coaxial cable for that link which makes it standard definition only. Still it’s very useful. I also made the webpage sensitive to keyboard presses which meant that I could use my voice control to operate it. For example if I would say “Press P” using Dragon dictation, the webpage would push the play button. The arrow keys were especially useful when browsing through the on-screen guide. I could simply speak the Dragon command “move right 6” or “page down” and it would scroll around the on-screen program guide.
The Pinoccio platform was unreliable and eventually discontinued. You can read about my love/hate relationship with that elsewhere. I replaced it with the Arduino Yun which not only made it a Wi-Fi compatible Arduino platform but it had a built in advanced processor running a version of Linux that could serve the webpages rather than hosting them on my PC. The Arduino Yun can be reprogrammed by Wi-Fi which is very useful. I can upgrade the software anytime I want. The unit in the living room is stuck underneath an end table next to my dad’s chair. The one in my bedroom is up on a bookshelf. In recent months as I’ve lost the ability to use my regular remote and stick I even added a third Arduino Yun in the office which is only used to turn the office TV off and on and control the volume. Each has its own webpage and creates its own IR codes specific to the devices in that room. I also have webpage control to a Kodi/XBMC media server running on raspberry pi. So I can control 2 different cable boxes, three different televisions, and three different raspberry pi media players all using webpages designed to be compatible with voice control.
Chris helped Christopher. Christopher helps Chris.
I still miss being able to push remote buttons. Once I realized I really do need a cell phone for safety purposes since occasionally dad leaves me alone while doing errands, I had to come up with a way to control the phone again now that I could no longer use my stick to operate the android phone. I could give up playing Angry Birds. You can play Candy Crush on a Facebook webpage. But I really need the phone. Thanks to a young man named Christopher Hills who lives in Australia, I discovered that my move from iOS to android was a mistake. He has cerebral palsy but he doesn’t let it stop him from pursuing his hobby and vocation of making videos. He is somewhat of an expert in adaptive technology. He posted a YouTube video embedded below in which he describes new accessibility features in iOS version 9. It allows you to use one or more pushbuttons to access nearly every function of the phone. Of course it also works for iPad tablets. The pushbuttons are connected to the phone or tablet over a Bluetooth connection.
Seeing that video was a very emotional experience for me. For one it was the realization that I could continue to use a smart phone after all. But he also reminded me of my late friend Christopher Lee. He was a friend who had very severe cerebral palsy. I had built an accessible computer for him back in the early 1980s. My late friend could not push a button but he could make a clicking sound with his tongue. Of course there was no speech recognition back in those days because of eight bit computer just wasn’t powerful enough to do it. I will write a whole other series of blog posts about my friendship with him and the things that we went through to get him computer access. It’s amazing that 30 years ago Chris Young was building accessible computer for a guy with cerebral palsy named Christopher Lee. Now a guy named Christopher Hills with cerebral palsy extremely similar to the severity of my friend Christopher Lee is demonstrating to me how I can continue to access a smartphone. It all came full circle. Here’s a link to the video demonstrating the switch control features of iOS 9.
It’s a bit creepy that the technology that I need, has been developing just in time for me to use it. For example the mouse control via Dragon dictation software is usable but awkward. Once I got into Arduino I wanted to find a way to emulate a mouse or keyboard. While I was investigating various hard ways to do that, they released the new Arduino Leonardo which made it incredibly easy. Just as the Pinoccio platform was shutting down I discovered the Arduino Yun which in the long run was a better solution. And just as I was losing the ability to use a smart phone, iOS 9 was being released with unprecedented powerful switch control features. Then another “just-in-time” technology came along. The electronic supplier that I use, Adafruit Industries, is a phenomenal organization designing and selling maker products around the world. They are where I buy all of my electronic parts and I show off my projects on their weekly video chat “show-and-tell”. They had recently begun slowing various modules for Bluetooth control. The new Bluetooth 4.0 also known as Bluetooth Low Energy or BLE makes it very easy to build gadgets that communicate with computers, tablets, or smart phones via Bluetooth. That was exactly what I needed if I was going to use wireless switch control.
Adaptive equipment suppliers market Bluetooth devices especially made for switch and/or joystick control at a cost of up to $500. There was another model for about $150 that wasn’t nearly as capable but would work with a couple of push buttons. However I could purchase a handful of parts from Adafruit and I could build one for under $75. By building it myself I could customize the software however I wanted. I could incorporate whatever other functions I wanted besides the iOS switch control including making it an infrared remote TV, cable and mouse control.
Step-by-step all of the technology that I needed was appearing exactly when I needed it. They say a coincidence is when God creates a miracle and nobody notices. I was noticing things falling into place.
Goodbye Android… Back to iOS
There was switch control the older versions of iOS however my old iPod touch only worked up to iOS 5 or 6 I forget which. Those earlier versions of switch control left a lot to be desired. Until I saw that Christopher Hills video, I had no idea how capable it had become. Latest android version also introduced switch control but it wasn’t nearly as powerful or useful as iOS 9. It was obvious I was going to have to switch back to iOS.
I recently purchased an iPad for my nephew that he needed for school. Before delivering it to him, I tinkered with it using an Adafruit Bluefruit Micro BLE module and prove that it could communicate with iOS 9. That startled the issue for me. Although it cost me a fortune, I purchased an unlocked iPhone 6. Really didn’t need the 6s or the 6 plus versions. I could still keep my cheap pay-as-you-go plan that’s costing me less than $15 per month. I very rarely am away from Wi-Fi so I don’t need to pay $40 per month for unlimited data. My dad retired his old flip phone and inherited my android phone. He’s having a lot of fun with it learning how to use smartphone features he’s never had before.
Finally the Ultimate Remote “The IRBLE”
Since I was going to be building an electronic device to operate the iPhone, it was time to also incorporate TV/cable remote capability as well. Technology had advanced that things were smaller and more capable than when I first started building the big display Arduino Leonardo remote three years ago. The Arduino Micro BLE has the same ATmega 32u4 processor as the Leonardo. Additionally it has Bluetooth and it is only slightly larger than a USB thumb drive. Instead of the huge LCD display that only display 4 lines of 20 characters, Adafruit now sells an OLED graphic display that is only 1.3 inches across but has 128 x 64 pixels of resolution. Because I no longer had to keep my arm in a particular position to drive the wheelchair, I could place my arm in a position that made it easy to hold the micro switches to activate the device. I now have a 3-D printer which allowed me to make a little gadget that attaches to the micro switches that makes it easier to position them in my hand securely. The only remaining problem was how to get power to device. I had solved that problem a few months ago by designing the Printy Boost battery pack which uses a LiPoly battery, an Adafruit charging module and a 3-D printed case of my own design. Click here to see the tutorial I wrote for the Adafruit Learning System showing you have to make your own Printy Boost battery pack. I had already been using this battery pack to supplement on my android or iPhone. I just needed to run a little cable from the battery pack over to the new remote.
I have decided to call it “IRBLE” (pronounced the same as herbal) which is an combination of IR for infrared and BLE for Bluetooth Energy. Here are a series of photos of the project.
This is me holding three micro switches in my right hand. The orange plastic is a 3-D printed adapter that lets me hold the buttons in the proper orientation.
Here are the Adafruit Micro BLE board, the Adafruit 1.3 inch OLED, and my custom-designed infrared output board that I use for all my projects.
The Adafruit Micro BLE measures about 2″ long.
Here is the 3-D printed case will I made for the new device. Below that are some screen grabs from Blender 3-D when I designed the box.
Here’s the thing all wired up. It looks a mess but it works. Thanks to dad and his excellent wiring skills.
Here are the parts in the case.
Here is the backside of the assembled device showing the infrared LEDs protruding out of the case. These transmit the signals to the TV or cable box.
You can also see the Velcro tabs is to attach it to my bracket on the wheelchair. Between the tabs is a tiny hole which we drilled in the back of the case so I could reach the reset button. A couple of times during the programming I had a glitch and nearly bricked the device. Fortunately if you hit the reset button at just the right moment and initiate and upload it will work again. I was worried I would not be able to recover it After one of the glitches. Believe it or not even though this board was only introduced a few months ago, it has already been replaced by a new model. Adafruit has a new line of development boards called “Feather” that come in a variety of configurations. If I had ruined my board I already had purchased one of the newer Feather models but I would’ve had to redesign the wiring harness and the 3-D printed enclosure. Fortunately I was able to recover it.
Finally here is the final product mounted on my bracket next to my iPhone 6.
You can see on the side of the mounting practice holding the old capacitive touch foam rubber tip for my stick. I probably will never use it again but there is one final thing for which I might use the stick. When playing Candy Crush on a timed level I cannot work the mouse with my voice control or IR remote quickly enough to finish the level. I can only do those levels with the stick in my mouth. But other than that, I won’t be needing the stick anymore.
The TV in my living room, bedroom, and office are all Samsung and use the same codes even though they are different models. The cable box in my bedroom in the living room uses the same codes. In addition to being able to control all of that, and the mouse and arrow keys on my desktop PC, also programmed in the kitchen TV and the surroundsound amplifier in the living room. As I’m writing this, I still need to program in codes for my Blu-ray player. I’m a little bit worried I might run out of space on the Arduino. It is only has 2K of RAM memory and 32 K flash memory. I only have about 150 bytes of RAM remaining and I’ve used 94% of the flash memory. Fortunately Adafruit also has a Feather board that uses ARM Cortex M0 processor. https://www.adafruit.com/products/2995
It runs at 48 MHz, as 256 K of flash memory, and 32 K of RAM memory. I would have to rewrite my infrared code library but I intend to do that anyway.
Among the things I can do besides make phone calls and run most apps, I have an app that gives me remote control of the Kodi media players on my raspberry pi. Of course I could modify the design of the remote to use a Wi-Fi add-on and control the raspberry pi easier than through the phone. Adafruit does not yet make more than has both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth but my guess is by the time I got around that, they will have one. Possibly a Wi-Fi add-on for the Bluetooth board or a Bluetooth add-on for a Wi-Fi board. For now I got a remote do absolutely everything that I need it to do.
We can finally retire my last stick.
Epilog: Recently I was hospitalized and had to be put on a ventilator. The only way I could effectively communicate with doctors and nurses was to use this Bluetooth device to type messages into the notepad application on my iPhone. You can read a multipart blog about my hospital adventure titled “Pray That They Listen to the Man with No Voice“. Also I’ve written a tutorial for the Adafruit Learning System describing how to build a Bluetooth device for iOS switch control. You can read it here.
One more item… After over a year of faithful service my Ultimate Remote gave up the ghost. Here is an article about the replacement unit that I built.
I couldn’t help myself. As a birthday present to myself for my 60th birthday, I bought myself a 3-D printer. Is a Printrbot Metal Plus with a 10 x 10 x 10 build area. It will print PLA or ABS plastic. It has a heated printer bed and a 0.4 mm extruder nozzle.
The first thing you do when you set up the printer is you print a little square piece of plastic about 10 mm on the side and 3 mm thick. Look at the bottom surface of this part to see how it compares with one that was done at the factory. Unfortunately I had tinkered with some settings and did something wrong and on the first attempt to print, the printhead crashed into the print plate and started tearing up the Kapton heat resistant tape that covers the print bed. We peeled it off, salvaged part of the tape that was not damaged, and reapplied it in a strap across the middle. I ordered a new piece of tape that would cover the entire surface but it didn’t get here until several days later and I didn’t get around to applying it until weeks later. I got by because the objects I was printing would still fit on the smaller piece of tape.
For my first real prints, I downloaded some objects from a variety of websites such as Adafruit Learning System and Thingiverse. The first thing that I printed was a little bust of Yoda. Among the varieties of plastic I purchased was a color called slime green. I thought it would look good for Yoda. The original design would’ve taken over two hours to print and I want to see something quicker than that so I scaled it down and it only took a little over an hour.
Here is a YouTube video showing the print. It was posted on July 7, 2015
A few days later on July 12 at my 60th birthday party, I was showing off some of the objects I had printed. My cousin Angie told me that her little boy Jonathan was a huge Star Wars fan. I decided that he would give Yoda a good home so I gave him my inaugural 3-D printed object. Here is a photo from the party of me, Jonathan, and Yoda.
Note: although I uploaded this video on July 7, and I shared it on Facebook and Google Plus, I didn’t get around to writing this blog entry until mid-September. However to keep the sequence of events straight in my blog, I have predated this to July 13 which is the first day I could’ve actually written it if I had done so in a timely manner.