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A Humanitarian Engineering Problem

Cliff posted more than 12 years ago | from the someone-in-need dept.

Technology 385

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

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here's the solution (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4029029)

why not a touch pad that plays britney spears hit me baby one more time when any pressure is applied? WHO COULD SLEEP THROUGH THAT????

Touch lamp. (3, Interesting)

dnoyeb (547705) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029196)

Several things come to mind

1. touch lamp technology.
2. motion detector.
3. interrupting the path of a lazer.
4. galvonic (sp?)response, skin voltage detector.

why bother (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4029030)

maybe if you asked us when she first started getting sick, but hell shes almost dead , why should we waste our time.

Sort-of button idea (5, Informative)

Xunker (6905) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029032)

Oi! Oi! The first cool Askslashdot question in a long time!

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

Some thoughts... (5, Insightful)

GAPeach3 (597766) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029154)

Would she be able to use a light switch panel that has the large, flat switch (as opposed to a regular light switch)?

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

How about a handicapped-helper dog?

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

Advice: I hope you find something. Be creative. Use functions of her body which are not affected by ALS, i.e. respiration or heart rate. If either vital signs drop or accelerate to a certain point, a simple breathing monitor or heart monitor would make noise.

Re:Sort-of button idea (1)

matthewn (91381) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029187)

I agree. This is a damn cool topic. It makes me wish I were a smart crafty engineer type of geek, but no, I'm a wannabe coder slash project coordinator type of geek. Color me full of self-loathing. Sigh. I'll just watch the nifty ideas fill the thread and wish I'd majored in something else in college...

Re:Sort-of button idea (5, Informative)

wuzoe (28694) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029220)

I found such a component on digikey yesterday acutally. I haven't had a chance to use it yet, but it seems quite nice.

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

Digi-Key part number 427-1006-ND. Available in single units for 2.53USD. 8-]

First post? (0, Troll)

paploo (238300) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029035)

Without buttons... hmm... that makes it difficult. You need some sort of actuator. And I suppose telepathy is out of the question? :)

Re:First post? (0, Troll)

paploo (238300) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029052)

Follow-up: Dang... someone beat me to it... took too long typing. :)

Telepathy out of the question? (1, Flamebait)

JoshWurzel (320371) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029085)

Dude, she's married. Her husband would be expected to be telepathic even if she could talk.

Good think I don't have any Karma to Burn... (-1, Troll)

JoshWurzel (320371) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029041)

a noise-making-husband-alerting device cheaply and quickly assembled from strip mall parts

I don't know, can you get that lingerie that Jane wore in Naked Gun 33 1/3 in Victoria's Secret?

Retinal device thingy (2, Insightful)

sporty (27564) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029042)

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

Conductive foam (1)

plierhead (570797) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029043)

A good input device might be conductive foam, its used to package chips and prevent ESD damage. Its resistance varies as you squeeze it so it could probably be used to detect almost any weak movements with some kind of simple electronic gadgetry on it.

I guess a better answer will be provided by some else though if there is a commercially available device - this sounds like one situation where traditional slashdot do-it-your-selfery should be abandoned if there is anything already out there that works..

Lunix (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4029046)

I am sure Lunix can solve this problem.

Re:Lunix (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4029097)

I am sure Lunix can solve this problem.

Maybe even Dean Kamen

Re:Lunix (-1)

handybundler (232934) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029158)

message: error rotating logs

any hand movement? (1)

Whafro (193881) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029048)

so the bell is less effective, but that would mean that there needs to be some, even if barely useful, hand motion... to work with just the eyes reminds me of mouse gestures in web browsers... three eye rolls for emergency...

Personal Security devices... (1)

Pfhor (40220) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029050)

One of those really loud alarms, meant for women to carry at night, to draw attention to them, in case of a mugger or something like that.

Take it apart, and solder on a larger button. Or just build your own, from a Piezo electric speaker, a battery and a switch.

I am sorry to hear of her situation, hopefully someone can post a more indepth solution than mine that will be what you are looking for.

Err, correction. no buttons (2)

Pfhor (40220) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029161)

Could she use a button that just needs to be depressed for a second (and then locks into place?). Or a very lose toggle switch, so she can activate the alarm and not have to worry about letting go of something and it turning off.

Re: A Humanitarian Engineering Problem (0, Offtopic)

psi-kat (584526) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029053)

hey, I'll send you the e-mail of the bastard who lives 3 doors down the street from me with the subwoofers than keep waking me up at 3am...(that is, if I don't lynch him first)

Re: A Humanitarian Engineering Problem (0, Offtopic)

Geekboy(Wizard) (87906) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029076)

You must live in Daly City. We'll cordinate on hunting that bastard down. =)

Simple (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4029060)

Let Mother Nature do the work for her:

Beans for dinner. Just toot the old anal horn (with bonus smell) to wake the hubby.

Breath Button (5, Informative)

Student_Tech (66719) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029061)

I have seen this before, just set it up so there is an air tube that the person can blow some of their breath through to activate a button that could sound something.

I know some people do morse code this way because they can't move their hands or legs.

A piece of string (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4029063)

a piece of string tied to a light switch on one end, and to her hand on the other end.

trouble? move your hand less than an inch = light.

bad trouble? fall off the bed = light & sound.

What about something like Palm's Garaffiti 4 Eyes? (1)

cdtoad (14065) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029068)

How hard would it to come up with a fairly inexpensive device that tracts retenal movement and then can convert it to letters or commands? I would have thought that there was something out there like this now.

possible approaches (2, Insightful)

endoboy (560088) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029079)

1) how's her breath control? If it's good, you could set up something that she could blow on-- say, a sustained puff of greater than 1 second could trigger the bell. You'd need a room with relatively still air, but it's otherwise a straigt-forward problem

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

3) voice recognition... not a radio shack problem, i'm afraid tho

Re:possible approaches (1)

JoshWurzel (320371) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029109)

If there were an emergency, which is the point of this exercise, she might not be breathing.

Re:possible approaches (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4029168)

For the breath option, In-Sink-Erator makes an air powered switch for turning on garbage disposals (no electricity near water...) it simply has a plug on the switch unit which could be hooked to a radio or something.

Similar to lie detector (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4029083)

two separate contacts on the skin, near each other. When in trouble, sweat a bit, closes the circuit = light, sound, whatever.

Howabout... (0, Troll)

Henry V .009 (518000) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029088)

This has buttons, but...a keyboard attached to a Linux box with some good speakers attached. Make a program that delivers a loud alarm when the buttons are mashed.

It could even be GPLed.

how about a photodetector? (5, Informative)

Chirs (87576) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029089)

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

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

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

Re:how about a photodetector? (1)

nerp (81523) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029144)

Nifty, but how long will the battery last? (Assuming this will be portable and need a battery)

And they sell IR led's and detectors at Radio Shack ..

Re:how about a photodetector? (2)

Cato the Elder (520133) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029167)

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

Another possibility I thought of is a slider switch like they sell for dimmer lights. You can get some that actuate very smoothly with a small range of motion.

Re:how about a photodetector? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4029247)

Actually, Radioshack sells IR LED/Detectors in matched pairs. At least, mine does.
With practically NO skill, these guys can be rigged for an airgap of a few feet, plenty enough for her to get her hand between.

Radioshack also sells little kits to make annoying noisemakers. Basically just a clock chip, audio amp, tinny speaker and pushbutton.
Replace the pushbutton with the detector and you're in buisness.

Complete the circut Switch with two metal plates. (5, Informative)

puto (533470) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029090)

Two metal plates that are only several inches apart and near her hand. Her hand alwas rests on one plate with her fingers just shy of the second plate.

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

Simple but effective and easy.


Re:Complete the circut Switch with two metal plate (5, Interesting)

RollingThunder (88952) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029111)

Possibly even easier, depending on teh reliability of her muscle control, is a pair of finger cymbals. Each is connected to one side of the wire - tap them together, on it goes.

Re:Complete the circut Switch with two metal plate (5, Insightful)

Sawbones (176430) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029249)

Similar theme is used in an incredibly annoying singing reindeer in my house. Battery powered the device has two small metal contacts about 1/2 a cm apart on the bottom of the device. when it's held in the palm the skin creates a path for just enough electricity to flow through to start the annoying jingle. It's got no moving parts so there is no physical resistance and so long as she can make contact with both nodes at the same time with the same finger/palm/whatever it will sound.

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

Whoa, nelly (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4029095)

you're talking about designing/building something that HER LIFE MIGHT DEPEND ON out of cheap walmart/radioshack crap???

How good are you and her husband going to feel when this crappy $5 "solution" ends up failing and costing her her life? And perhaps makes her last minutes or even hours on this planet a living hell, suffocating, choking, etc. I vote no.

Re:Whoa, nelly (1)

dunedan (529179) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029240)

with all due respect, how good will they feel when she dies waiting for a better commercial solution. Do you think radio shack *builds* those capacitors themselves?

Think we want this built tomorrow or sooner

My idea - steal it and make the world better. (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4029100)

Infra-red camera that detects heat from exhaled breath. Hold your breath for a certain amount of time (or die) and the monitoring system triggers an alarm that drops a load of bells onto the husband from a trapdoor above his bed.


two ideas (2, Redundant)

Sebastopol (189276) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029102)

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

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

Blocking beam of light (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4029104)

A solution which requires no gripping power at all, but some gross motor control, is to use a light circuit, such as one of those driveway doorbells [] (have never used 'em) to cause an alert to fire. Wireless ability means no need to even be in same room.

Optical switch and buzzer (3, Insightful)

MBCook (132727) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029105)

It shouldn't be too hard to make a simple little light beam on a stick type thing. It would simply shine into a small opening (I'd use IR light) and have a small buzzer go off when the light beam is broken. You could make it so you had to keep the beam broken for a second or two to avoid accidental tripping. This was, as long as she is able to move some part of her (other than her eyes), you can use this device to alert her husband.

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

And and third to do that for the second.

And a fourth to do that for the third.

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

biofeedback device? (3, Informative)

brulman (183184) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029106)

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

More info needed... (2)

JoeShmoe (90109) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029115)

Can she move her neck? Her mouth? Her tongue?

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

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

- JoeShmoe


break a light beam with a hand? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4029116)

Maybe something along the lines of a light beam directed at a photoelectric cell. Break the light beam with the hand, an alarm is set off. I'm not an engineer (is there an acronym for that?) so I can't recommend anything specific off hand, but I think it should be possible to come up with something like that fairly easily and cheaply. Maybe someone else can suggest something more specific.

heart rate monitor (5, Insightful)

Laplace (143876) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029117)

When the wife becomes nervous her heart rate probably goes up. Get a heart rate monitor that has an upper target rate alarm. Set it to a reasonable value through trial and error.

Re:heart rate monitor (1)

McCart42 (207315) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029238)

No, I doubt that's a good idea. What about when she dreams or has nightmares? Those still cause the heart rate to elevate, I believe.

Re:heart rate monitor (1)

copper22 (561308) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029263)

very good idea, maybe amplify it someway or find an HR monitor with a distinct enough and loud enough sound.

Infared beam break sensor? (5, Insightful)

mkettler (6309) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029118)

Why not have a small IR beam sensor (you can buy the parts at most ratshacks) and have that set off a buzzer/siren. Position the beam sensor pair within range of motion of her hand so all she needs to to is interrupt the beam with her fingertip.

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

You might be able to find a pre-made version of this device on a small scale for detecting cabinet openings, or as a small portable "hotel room alarm" but most of these kinds of devices will not use this mode of sensing. (most cabinet alarms sense the light pouring in from the room into the cabinet, and most hotel alarms hang on the doorknob and sense being rocked around with a mercury switch.)

I have the answer! (0, Flamebait)

marcushnk (90744) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029121)

My challenge to you is to design a noise-making-husband-alerting device cheaply and quickly assembled from strip mall parts

a two week old child!!

They're almost as acurate as clockwork!

Re:I have the answer! (1)

egreB (183751) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029264)

I'd hardly call a two week old child a "device cheaply and quickly assembled from strip mall parts". I can agree on the small parts, though. Quickly? Cheaply? Dunno.. (-8

Automotive micro switch (2, Informative)

umStefa (583709) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029124)

You might want to consider a automotive micro switch (the kind used for nitrous oxide systems). They have virtually to resistance to being depressed.
Hook one of these up to a relay switch and then to the power supply of a noise maker and you may have a solution

Good Luck.

Breath-operated (2)

CommieLib (468883) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029125)

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

Perhaps a little more information about what her capabilites are would be helpful.

mouth? (2)

_ph1ux_ (216706) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029126)

can she move her mouth i.e. chew?

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

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

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

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

she could learn some sort of oral morris code that would allow for her to communicate much more effectively - and would probably be a much cheaper solution to develope than Hawkings rig....

I suggest... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4029127)

... putting in a phone call to Dr. Kevorkian - he might have the solution to all your problems. Pity the man's in jail. You hardly can find such an angel of mercy anywhere else in the USA. Why would you want to live like a bloody vegetable and without being able to perform the most basic of physical functions? I'll bet a $100 that if she could, she would off herself... and save her husband the trouble.

"Touch switch"? (1)

NerveGas (168686) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029128)

Here's a schematic for a 'touch switch', the type used on the 'touch lamps':

Use it to connect a 9-volt battery and a piezo buzzer.


My Suggestion (1)

DaytonCIM (100144) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029131)

When my father was recovering from heart surgery, the doctors gave him a small plastic device to exercise his lungs. The device had three individual chambers, each with a small plastic ball, and a single nozzle extended from a flexible plastic tube.
The point of this device was to try and "lift" all three plastic balls to the top of each tube.

For this application, maybe you could create a small device in to (or on to) which your friend could simply blow, to activate a circuit. The circuit could then activate any number of items.

Kind of rudimentary, but the cost and amount of exertion required to activate the device are low.

This is what hospices are for. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4029132)

I am sure hubby is tired of her. For a small investment she can have 24 hour care while waiting to die.

Are Dubya Ess?

Use a lever (2)

mellon (7048) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029133)

If she can't push a button, maybe you could attach a string to her finger and have her pull on it, and that could actuate a lever that crosses a light beam to set off an alarm. You could probably reduce the effort required to sound this sort of alarm quite a bit. Other than that, you're looking at some smart goggles that watch her pupils, which is not a cheap solution.

Well... (3, Funny)

A Rabid Tibetan Yak (525649) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029136)

...there's always this [] .

motion alarm /burglar (1)

emotioncafecom (582261) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029137)

Using a laser/reflector alarm just set up the beam and the relfector in such a way that all she would have to do is lift her figer or move to disrupt the light beam then setting off the alarm.

Re:motion alarm /burglar (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4029199)

Sorry that is too expensive of a solution. Her husband is only willing to buy radio shack parts for under 10$ to prevent his wife from dying.

You can pick up... (2)

cmowire (254489) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029139)

You can pick up bend meters from Jameco that are intended for PowerGlove sort of VR usages. From there, you'd want to use it to drive a Darlington transistor array or something similar (i.e. device that triggers on once a certain amount of power passes through the collector) to run a Radio Shack buzzer. You'd want a trim-pot to control when the buzzer triggers.

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

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

Either that, or just attach a lever arm attached to a pot set just close enough that a small movement will trigger the transistor on the buzzer so that she can push down on a paddle with minimal force.

A couple triggering device ideas... (1)

RyanFenton (230700) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029141)

Foreward I am not an engineer, just a CS student, so I'll be light on implimentation.

If a large touchpad could be made to sense change in contact (using change in current across a plate), then a binary pattern could be established to trigger an appropriate alarm. This could work much like a clapper, with a complex enough pattern that it wouldn't be accidently triggered, but not so complex as to be useless when in shock. The downside would be a requirement for positioning of the device, though if the device could be strapped directly to where it could always be used (like a brace on the arm), that could be fixed.

As a slight variation, another method would be to have multiple touchpads, each on a different controllable part of the body, where if they were all repeatedly pressed around the same time, it would trigger the alarm. So, in that case, both arms would be equipped with a brace or whatever to allow panic use of the alarm with less chance of accidental triggering.

Any more robust triggering device ideas? :^)

Ryan Fenton

I wonder... (2)

NanoGator (522640) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029143)

...what about reacting to her eyebrow and cheek movements? Can she 'wince'? It might be possible that she could 'wince' an SOS...?

I really wish I understood this condition better.

skin is conductive (3, Insightful)

NMerriam (15122) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029146)

If the motion is that severaly limited, something simple would be a circuit that is completed by her putting a finger on top of two contacts -- maybe a millimeter away from where her finger is supposed to rest.

Or some lightweight convex surface with the contacts mounted underneath -- much lower resistance than a mechanical button or switch but less likely to go off accidentally. You could use the material from a small speaker dome and put conductive traces on the inside. Along with a cheap piezo buzzer and a 9V battery.

Let others do the work for you... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4029149)

Do searches on Google for assisted living, parapalegic touch-sensitive, and anything else you can think of. I found this link first try. My father was partially paralyzed from a stroke so I know that medical equipment is expensive but you may be able to gather ideas from looking at products that are out there so that you can apply them to the switch you make.

Best of luck to you, and to her. :) And try not to let the slime cracking jokes get you down. They will always come up when someone with a disability is mentioned but they'll also always be outnumbered...

solution (-1)

buttfucker2000 (240799) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029150)

I think Dr. Kevorkian might be able to provide some suggestions for this situation, but he's in jail. Nothing that a pillow or plastic bag applied firmly to the face can't fix.

Cordless doorbell (2)

jdcook (96434) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029151)

Get a cordless doorbell kit or kits and rig up a larger strike plate in place of, or on top of, the doorbell button. An 8" circle of moderately rigid plastic (such as from a plastic picnic plate) Krazy Glued to the doorbell button would probably work. The doorbells could be anywhere needed (by the bed, on the wheel chair, etc.) and the chimes could be in every room (have to make sure they're on the same frequency). Some low density foam trimmed to fit could help prevent the strike plate from snapping off while not preventing the ringing of the chime.

Blink detector (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4029153)

One of the most robust physical systems in this kind of case are the oculomotor muscles and the blink reflex. Try to make a blink detector that senses the different reflectivity of the eye and lid. Maybe an IR source (weak!) and detector directed at the eye from a headband plus a comparator, etc. Then either link this to a computer and write some software to detect a "double blink" kind of like a "double mouse click" or gin up some timer chips etc. to do the same and set off an alarm. The computer is better, and you might want to do both eyes as this could then be used as a good input source to implement a wide range of features that she may need by encoding the blink sequences. Good luck with this, my heart is with you.

Light Sensor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4029155)

You could use a light sensor like those used in doorways, or automatic garage doors to produce sound from an electronic alarm. Your friend would simply have to be able to interrupt the beam of light.

Maybe a little techie but totally feasable... (1)

The_Guv'na (180187) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029156)

Small magnet(s) on her fingers or wherever is easiest to move, and a detector to detect motion in the weak magnetic field.

No wires, probably only a ring-sized thingy to wear, and pretty discreet sensors. Could be interfaced with a computer or little built in processor; even an 8086 would be more than enough to detect certain movement patterns from sensors run through a few analog-to-digital converters.

Not the simplest, but certainly doable.


Hair trigger alarm (2, Interesting)

fdiv(1,0) (68151) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029157)

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

Just my $0.02 USD.

optical or sip/puff switches (4, Interesting)

marcgul (239050) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029160)

I used to work at Dynavox [] -- they make augmentative communication devices for people who have ALS among other ailments.
While most people accessed the devices (made them talk) by touching the touch panel, some people used sip/puff or optical switches (among other types of switches) to activate the devices.

The tash mercury switch bottom of this page [] might be an option, also look into proximity switches.

Capacitive Proximity Sensors (3, Informative)

dlleigh (313922) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029162)

The capacitive sensor circuit described in here [] is easy and cheap to make, and is sensitive enough to be used as a proximity sensor.

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

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

use a computer... (2, Interesting)

theperplepigg (599224) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029163)

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

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


I hate to be obvious ... (2)

SuperDuG (134989) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029172)

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

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

Motion detector (2)

dnoyeb (547705) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029173)

Naturally you are looking for a motion detector with a narrow spread that you could aim at her hands. If it goes off say, 3 times, then trigger your alert. You can tweek it as you see fit. Probably have some you can even get connected to your computer.

ALS (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4029176)

"A have a friend who has ALS (Stephen Hawking's ailment)...

Umm...I thought ALS was Lou Gehrig's disease. I'm sure the average Slashdork would have no idea who he is, what with the fact that he is associated with sports. Jocks, as we all know, live to beat up the average Natalie Portman-worshipping, Star Trek-watching, pocket protector-wearing, Real Doll-purchasing Slashdot reader. But for God's sake, let's give Lou the respect of at least mentioning his name when discussing ALS, rather than a quack of a physicist like Hawking.

heres an idea.. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4029186)

..sterilize any children her and her husband had before this got to her to prevent future generations from getting this..

Dunno about cheap but... (2)

Compuser (14899) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029192)

Check out, ngua=en, or
OTOH, I am guessing you guys are well aware
of these options and are asking specifically
for a cheap alternative. That's much tougher.

Cheep-cheep bird. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4029194)

How about those Made-in-Taiwan cheep-cheep birds? they got two metal sensors on the bottom, so when you cup one in your hand it starts to cheep, just due to skin contact. Simply flip it over, and if you drop your hand on it, "CHEEP, CHEEP, CHEEP, CHEEP!"

hmmm (1)

isepic (117674) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029201)

I'd say place one of those X-10 camera systems close to her, but directed in a fashion to prevent false alarms. When the software senses movement in the video, activate some software to sound off something. Some of the software you can get for that can isolate graphically specific regions to detect movement in, and ignore the unspecified portions. If this could be mounted in a fashion to where whatever movement she can perform can be "monitored" then I think this may work. And of course, during normal day to day activity possibly have it mounted and pointing to parts of a "map" or maybe even just 4 segments of the map and have each portion of that "map" mean different things.----But I'm not sure how limited her movement is, or what she is able to move, so that would all hinge on if this would work as well. If her ability allows it, maybe even a simple chime (like the ones you pass through and hear at all 7-11's) would work if mounted strategically enough.

Download brain into a computer. (1, Offtopic)

treat (84622) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029202)

It seems that the most effective solution for overall quality of life would be to download her brain into a computer. Storage requirements should be relatively modest - on the order of a few terabytes. The details of the implementation will require some consideration. However this should allow for an indefinate lifespan, and an increased quality of life.

First of all... (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4029203)

ALS was Lou Gehrig's disease long before it was Stephen Hawking's disease.

Secondly, forget this MacGyver death detector idea. The woman is slipping away, for Christ's sake let her go with dignity, instead of being wired up to some Radio Shack crystal radio kit.

Simple Solutions (5, Interesting)

Milo_Mindbender (138493) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029205)

Take a piezo buzzer or Sonaralert (if you want something LOUD) and wire it to a standard-issue microswitch. You can get microswitches with actuators that are a short piece of metal about the size of a ball-point-pen clip. Actuation force can be VERY tiny (grams) with motion as little as 1/8 to 1/4 inch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are also devices that actuate by sucking/blowing on a straw or pushing with the toung or chin...though these don't work so well if you're on a respirator.

Brainwaves (2)

PD (9577) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029210)

See this article [] for the source of my inspiration.

Advanced Software (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4029216)

Take a look at this company [] [], they make software that can be controlled using the eyes, maybe she can find it useful in some way.

hand motion device (1)

cindy (19345) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029217)

A string could be attached to her hand by a velcro band. The other end of the string could be attached to a small contact switch. This switch could control an alarm directly, or a circuit could be designed to trigger the alarm after a specified number of tugs within a specified amount of time (to reduce false alarms).

Best of luck. ALS is a very cruel disease.

Football Coaster? (2)

Renraku (518261) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029223)

I have this coaster with a football logo (University of TN if you're nosy). The slightest bit of pressure causes the horrid device to spew forth music from rocky top at a very, very high volume. Louder than my alarm clock, and by far more annoying.

Clock Radio (0)

two-bookoo! (588692) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029224)

There are several simple solutions. Seeing as this is to wake someone up, we don't want loud and irratating, but simply enough to wake the person up.

Alarm clock:
I have a "dream machine" GE [] and it has a sleep button that turns on the music for a short period of time. Take it apart and run two wires from the "sleep" button, to a spring loaded switch. ( two contacts, (close proximity) and a very minor tension spring) and give her a string to pull. (the string can be attached to her wrist or hand as needed) Setting off the alarm (or music).

This keeps is simple, cheep, and her safe, as there is no electricty for her to touch.

Sorry to hear about her condidition, I wish her and her husband the best.

magnets magnets magnets (1)

lsd4all (526675) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029225)

A simple circuit using a window/door burglar alarm magnetic switch which Radio Shack still sells could be used. Create a simple buzzer or light actuated alarm circuit with one of the magnet switches attached to her hand. Maybe even add a delay of 5-10 seconds to avoid false alarms, just in case the hand passes by the switch on accident.

Or replace the magnetic portion of this circuit with a light sensor and when the beam of light is broken. *BING*

Small side to side movements (1)

Oriumpor (446718) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029234)

If she can move her eyes (and blink) there are effective ways to set up a small portable computer system. I dunno if it's been all that thought through before on wearable and pervasive computing lists, but limited range of movement and wheelchair mounted systems have been discussed before.

The archives might have some important info:

Advanced Software (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4029235)

Take a look at this company []

Completely different subject but... (2)

JoeShmoe (90109) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029239)

You know, reading this plea made me stop and think about something. I'd like to take a moment and throw this out there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- JoeShmoe


does she move a lot? (1)

BrainInAJar (584756) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029245)

This solution would only really work if she's usually relatively still at night, you could set up a simple circut that turns on something when she moves her hand out of the way of a light, or a laser-pointer.

breath switch (2, Informative)

rfischer (95276) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029251)

A breath switch is something that would typically be used here, but don't build it if you can buy it. I saw one here for approx. $80:

I wish.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4029257)

I wish ask slashdot questions could also help cure the disease too :\ Best of luck.

magnification (1)

dunedan (529179) | more than 12 years ago | (#4029258)

I remember in elementary school we did a cool think where you showed people it was nearly imposible to hold a 12" ruler steady enough to keep a paper clip on the end.

Perhaps you could have something that would magnify her motion and make sensors more reliable
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