Oct 10, 2018 | By Thomas

Researchers at the University of Washington have developed 3D printed assistive technology that can track and store how people use them without using batteries or electronics.

While customizable 3D printed devices like prosthetics or “smart” pill bottles can help patients remember to take their daily medications, these plastic parts don’t have electronics and can not be used to monitor how patients are using them.

“We’re interested in making accessible assistive technology with 3-D printing, but we have no easy way to know how people are using it,” said co-author Jennifer Mankoff, a professor in the UW’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. “Could we come up with a circuitless solution that could be printed on consumer-grade, off-the-shelf printers and allow the device itself to collect information? That’s what we showed was possible in this paper.”

The team behind the 3-D printed wireless analytics project. Back row (left to right): Vikram Iyer, Jennifer Mankoff, Ian Culhane; Front row: Shyam Gollakota, Justin Chan.Mark Stone/University of Washington

Previously researchers developed the first 3D printed plastic objects and sensors that can collect useful data and communicate with other WiFi-connected devices entirely on their own. However their devices were able to track movement in one direction, like monitoring laundry detergent levels or measuring wind or water speed. But now they needed to make objects that could monitor bidirectional motion like the opening and closing of a pill bottle.

“Last time, we had a gear that turned in one direction. As liquid flowed through the gear, it would push a switch down to contact the antenna,” said lead author Vikram Iyer, a doctoral student in the UW Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering. “This time we have two antennas, one on top and one on bottom, that can be contacted by a switch attached to a gear. So opening a pill bottle cap moves the gear in one direction, which pushes the switch to contact one of the two antennas. And then closing the pill bottle cap turns the gear in the opposite direction, and the switch hits the other antenna.”

Both of the antennas are identical, so the team found a way to decode which direction the cap was moving.

“The gear’s teeth have a specific sequencing that encodes a message. It’s like Morse code,” said co-author Justin Chan, a doctoral student in the Allen School. “So when you turn the cap in one direction, you see the message going forward. But when you turn the cap in the other direction, you get a reverse message.”

As for storing its usage information while out of Wi-Fi range, researchers chose an insulin pen that could monitor its use and then signal when it was getting low.

“You can still take insulin even if you don’t have a Wi-Fi connection,” Gollakota said. “So we needed a mechanism that stores how many times you used it. Once you’re back in the range, you can upload that stored data into the cloud.”

This method requires a mechanical motion, like the pressing of a button, and stores that information by rolling up a spring inside a ratchet that can only move in one direction. Each time a button is pushed, the spring gets tighter. When the user is back in the range of WiFi, they can release the ratchet and the spring will unwind. It moves a gear that triggers a switch to contact an antenna repeatedly as the gear turns. Each contact is counted to determine how many times the user pressed the button.

The next challenge will be to make these 3D printed devices smaller so that they can be embedded in real pill bottles, prosthetics or insulin pens.

This research was funded by the National Science Foundation and Google Faculty Awards. The UW team will present its findings Oct. 15 at the ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology in Berlin.



Posted in 3D Printing Application

Source: University of Washington


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