Hey guys, sorry for the lack of post yesterday. Doing battle with a cold, got halfway through writing this sucker and took a nap, haha. Anyway, here it is!
Alrighty, so we've built ourselves a nifty exoskeleton at this point, but how do we drive it? Well, I'm going to mention it again at the beginning of this article, and I mentioned it again in the last article, but when getting into programming robotic interactions I cannot recommend Lego Mindstorms more highly. Seriously, it's a fantastic little creation system and you can really cut your teeth on it.
If you're not interested in Mindstorms, or you feel you've graduated past it, you might want to start looking into Arduino boards. What are Arduino boards, you say? Well, from their main introduction page... "Arduino is a tool for making computers that can sense and control more
of the physical world than your desktop computer. It's an open-source
physical computing platform based on a simple microcontroller board, and
a development environment for writing software for the board." Basically, a way for you to control motors and such in the physical world on a hobbyist budget, without requiring Lego pieces. They have a fantastic online community base, and tons of tutorials. On top of this, the system is compatible with Windows, Linux, and MacOS, and it completely open source, on the software AND hardware size. The boards are also quite affordable!
So we know we need a microcontroller. The Arduino is one option, there are other microcontroller options out there, but Arduino is really nice for the home hobbyist. So we've got out microcontroller for our motors and/or pistons, but how do we collect the information necessary to make them move properly? How do we tell our suit what to do?
First off, it's going to be difficult, just heading that one off at the pass. You're going to have a lot of trial and error. You're going to need to develop a program that not only reads the same electrical impulses your brain sends, but it will also need to recognize common patterns and predict what's going to happen next, in order to keep up with the speed your brain moves. Remember, your brain is a pattern-based computer. It doesn't just react to stimuli at a 1:1 ratio, it actively assesses situations, and makes predictions subconciously so it knows what muscles to prep next. This means when you're computing, you really need to develop a "learning" style algorithm to handle the data collected. You probably want to look into some basic artificial intelligence programming for this sort of thing.
And how do we collect the data for this program? Nowadays, most prosthetics and assistance devices use electrodes on the surface of the skin to read electrical impulses from the brain and feed them into a machine. In fact, here's a cool link about a new and unprecedentedly accurate prosthetic hand using such a system. Of course, we're going for total body coverage, most likely without someone helping us to put the suit on when we want to wear it, so taping on individual electrodes all over the body is somewhat unfeasible. I would recommend the Zero Suit Samus approach. That is, a skintight, flexible suit with the electrodes sewn into it at all the right contact points. This would be something you could make from scratch yourself, put on easily by yourself, and hook right into your central computer.
Finally, I would say you would probably want all of your central processing to take place on a laptop with some nice muscle, strapped most likely to your back inside the suit. This laptop could also handle the processing of your sensory magnification systems, which we're going to take a look at in our next post.
Keep in mind, people, all this stuff is somewhat theoretical, we're just beginning a "what if" journey here. Hopefully you're getting some good starting points, and understanding the scope of the project. Tomorrow we're going to look at sensory amplification and helmet systems, which should be fun, followed by our final post on the subject with armor and weaponry. I'll see you tomorrow! Until then, make sure to follow me on Twitter, like the blog page on Facebook, and continue to be awesome.
Dan "DaRatmastah" Wallace