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Digital Walking Cane

Crystal Wizard

Feb 10, 2016
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HI. New Member, returning to electronics after many years away.
I have an idea for a project, but am unsure where to start, so any advice would be welcome.

I would like to build a Walking Cane, with some built-in electronics.
The main Idea would be some Storage (SD card or similar), a few sensors (temperature, accelerometer), a speaker, a display (mini LCD screen?) and a wifi link to my phone (to access storage, pass data back and forth, do calculations on sensor info, send alerts).

I've got a Raspberry Pi, but I think it is a bit big to build into the top of a walking cane.
What else is available? Some kind of Arduino (I know the name, never used one!)?

Or am I on to a Wild Goose Chase with this?

All Advice Appreciated.
 

73's de Edd

Aug 21, 2015
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For me . . . . .I'll pass . . . . . . .and checking my desk calendar . . ..I further see that this is not being April the 1st . . . . .

73's de Edd
 

Crystal Wizard

Feb 10, 2016
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:)
No, it's a genuine project!

I've got a friend who can do the woodwork to make a cane, once I know what I need to put in it.

I've not finalised what I want in it, but some gizmos to make it seem a bit 'majical'(see my user name).
 

KeithM

Nov 3, 2015
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This seems like a neat idea :)

For the microcontroller I would probably either go with a Particle Photon which has WiFi, or an Arduino Nano with a bluetooth module, both of which are pretty small boards
 

Gryd3

Jun 25, 2014
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:)
No, it's a genuine project!

I've got a friend who can do the woodwork to make a cane, once I know what I need to put in it.

I've not finalised what I want in it, but some gizmos to make it seem a bit 'majical'(see my user name).
You need something smaller... but for ease of working on it, stick to an 'SBC'
Single Board Computer.
The Pi also comes in a new form-factor. 'Pi Zero' which is almost a 3rd of the size of the original form factor.
It's still new, so getting it might be hard... or you can google around for any other similar device.
These things will have USB so you can plug in bluetooth or WiFi modules, and many come with GPIO pins and support serial communication allowing you to use sensors.

Your project sounds useless to me, but it's not mine so I have no place to judge.
Price out some parts and see if you can find something that will work.
Word of warning here though... PIC, AVR, and Arduino might be too difficult to work with. Simple sensors and data-logging sure, but interfacing to a Phone with Bluetooth or WiFi will require a lot more time and effort to program to do.
 

Crystal Wizard

Feb 10, 2016
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Thanks for the replies.
I've done some android programing, but not in this scenario. It'll be a good learning experience :)
A friend recommended the nanoPi 2 fire, but I don't know enough about Pi, PIC, Arduino etc. Hence looking for some expert advice.
If the computer in the cane is powerful enough, I can skip talking to phone (can still network-share the memory-card? And tether wifi for cane to talk to Internet)
 

Gryd3

Jun 25, 2014
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Thanks for the replies.
I've done some android programing, but not in this scenario. It'll be a good learning experience :)
A friend recommended the nanoPi 2 fire, but I don't know enough about Pi, PIC, Arduino etc. Hence looking for some expert advice.
If the computer in the cane is powerful enough, I can skip talking to phone (can still network-share the memory-card? And tether wifi for cane to talk to Internet)
Well... Unless you plan to program bare metal, a Pi can be dealt with like any other Linux computer xD
That's why I suggested an 'SBC', you load linux (or windows, if it's supported) and the rest is pretty easy. Some SBCs even support Android.
 

AnalogKid

Jun 10, 2015
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Everything you describe already is built into your phone or your tablet.

ak
 

Crystal Wizard

Feb 10, 2016
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Everything you describe already is built into your phone or your tablet.

ak
Yes, but I want a cane! :)
I've not finalised exactly what capabilities I want. I'd like some sensors, so that glyphs or gems light up e.g. when it senses wifi. A thermometer along the side (but with lights rather than alcohol/mercury). A display in the circular top, with an LCD that can report info (GPS co-ordinates, Magnetic North, etc).

I have considered just fitting a mini phone into the cane, but cannot find one small enough.
 

Crystal Wizard

Feb 10, 2016
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OK, some reading later ...
If I were to go with a Particle Photon (cheap, small, built-in wifi), this looks like my route:
I could attach sensors to the Photon (Either Particle Shields or DIY attached to input pins).
I can then write an App on my phone that will use the Particle REST API to talk to TINKER on the Photon.
This will allow the phone to receive data from the sensors, and the App to process that data.
I can also send data to the Photon (from App, via TINKER/REST), to control output pins (and/or built-in LED).
I can have these output pins connected to DIY "Output Units" (e.g. LEDs, speakers, possibly a LCD?)
Or I can use the App to control the phone (e.g. make phone Beep when Photon Sensor activates)

This gives my phone full control of the Photon (via App).

Alternatively, I can write some code to transfer to the Photon, to do exactly the same thing, removing the need for the Phone.

Particle seem to supply a lot of useful stuff (SDK, IDE, cli, etc) for this.

Writing in either Java (phone App) or C++ (Photon) I can do (I know some, can learn more).
Getting/Making Sensors and Output Units will need some learning, both in the theoreticals, and the practicals (haven't soldered anything in over 20 years!).

Am I on the right lines here?
 

KeithM

Nov 3, 2015
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OK, some reading later ...
If I were to go with a Particle Photon (cheap, small, built-in wifi), this looks like my route:
I could attach sensors to the Photon (Either Particle Shields or DIY attached to input pins).
I can then write an App on my phone that will use the Particle REST API to talk to TINKER on the Photon.
This will allow the phone to receive data from the sensors, and the App to process that data.
I can also send data to the Photon (from App, via TINKER/REST), to control output pins (and/or built-in LED).
I can have these output pins connected to DIY "Output Units" (e.g. LEDs, speakers, possibly a LCD?)
Or I can use the App to control the phone (e.g. make phone Beep when Photon Sensor activates)

This gives my phone full control of the Photon (via App).

Alternatively, I can write some code to transfer to the Photon, to do exactly the same thing, removing the need for the Phone.

Particle seem to supply a lot of useful stuff (SDK, IDE, cli, etc) for this.

Writing in either Java (phone App) or C++ (Photon) I can do (I know some, can learn more).
Getting/Making Sensors and Output Units will need some learning, both in the theoreticals, and the practicals (haven't soldered anything in over 20 years!).

Am I on the right lines here?

Yup! Your on the right track :)

The Photon is really easy to get the hang of, I got one for Christmas and I was using it in about 30 minutes
 

Crystal Wizard

Feb 10, 2016
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Cool! (I presume using an Arduino (nano or other) would be basically the same?)
Now to work out what Sensors/Output Units I want! :)

Thermometer - temp sensor (Temperature sensitive resistor?), and a run of LEDs (will be covered by a "mask" to make it look a bit more continuous)
Wifi Strength - gain access to inbuilt wifi sensor. Another run of LEDs (behind "glyph" masks to look like e.g. Greek Letters lighting up for Alpha Strength, Beta Strength etc.)
GPS?
Magnetic North (yes, could just embed a primitive compass! but this is Cyber-Cane! :) ) - could beep (Geiger-counter-like) as it points the right direction.

A rack of buttons (looking like semi-precious stones with brass surrounds) to activate each Sensor/Output, with theri own on/off indicators (LEDs)

Hmmm ... I'm running out of pins ... I'm hoping that I can send an analogue output to e.g. thermometer and get the Output Unit to light the correct amount of LEDs?
 

davenn

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Sep 5, 2009
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I have considered just fitting a mini phone into the cane, but cannot find one small enough.

and that really will be your dilemma

you are not going to build, at home, electronics small enough to fit into a relatively standard diameter cane ... something around 2.5cm (1")
you will need a significant diameter to your cane to achieve this


Dave
 

Crystal Wizard

Feb 10, 2016
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As I'll be having the cane custom made, I can make the top end a little larger, and reinforced where needed.
I'm hoping some of the parts will fit easily (e.g. a line of LEDs with covers), and can have some "bulges" to accommodate other bits.

Plan B is the same idea, but with a Top Hat! :)
(Lots more room!)
 

KeithM

Nov 3, 2015
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and that really will be your dilemma

you are not going to build, at home, electronics small enough to fit into a relatively standard diameter cane ... something around 2.5cm (1")
you will need a significant diameter to your cane to achieve this


Dave

The Photon is only .8" wide, so it should be able to fit snugly, it not another .5" wouldn't hurt ;)

Cool! (I presume using an Arduino (nano or other) would be basically the same?)
Now to work out what Sensors/Output Units I want! :)

Thermometer - temp sensor (Temperature sensitive resistor?), and a run of LEDs (will be covered by a "mask" to make it look a bit more continuous)
Wifi Strength - gain access to inbuilt wifi sensor. Another run of LEDs (behind "glyph" masks to look like e.g. Greek Letters lighting up for Alpha Strength, Beta Strength etc.)
GPS?
Magnetic North (yes, could just embed a primitive compass! but this is Cyber-Cane! :) ) - could beep (Geiger-counter-like) as it points the right direction.

A rack of buttons (looking like semi-precious stones with brass surrounds) to activate each Sensor/Output, with theri own on/off indicators (LEDs)

Hmmm ... I'm running out of pins ... I'm hoping that I can send an analogue output to e.g. thermometer and get the Output Unit to light the correct amount of LEDs?

I'm not sure what's available to temperature sensors, I haven't worked with them before, but the two options are the Thermister (resistance-changing resistor based on the temperature), and a thermal-couple. The main difference from what I understand is that the thermocouple needs an extra board to use it, but it's more accurate.

The WiFi strength can be easily gotten from the Photon with WiFi.RSSI(), link to the reference docs: https://docs.particle.io/reference/firmware/photon/#rssi-

The GPS, if your concerned about costs, this is the base, least-expensive one out there that I know of: https://www.sparkfun.com/products/13740, it's 0.7" wide and long. If costs aren't an issue, this one is 0.3" wide: https://www.sparkfun.com/products/13670

For the compass, I know that you need to use a magnetometer, but I don't know how you convert the readings into finding magnetic north. I have one but I haven't been able to figure it out yet.

Altogether that will use about 5-6 pins (a lot of this stuff can use I2C depending on the module you go with, so then they share pins), and if pins for buttons become an issue, there's ways to multiplex the buttons so they use less pins, and you could use a LED driver board (like the TLC5940, which I have some of in the mail which I should get any day now) so you again, can either use SPI (needs 1 pin for SS per device) or I2C (which only needs 4 pins overall).

I hope that helps get you started!
 

Crystal Wizard

Feb 10, 2016
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Looking around, I have found the AdaFruit Wearables site
https://www.adafruit.com/category/65
The Flora is a circular Arduino-compatible board, with lots of add-ons available.
I could build this into the Top of the cane, and put all my sensors/Outputs down the length.
Hmmm ...
 

Crystal Wizard

Feb 10, 2016
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OK, too much reading done. Back to asking stupid questions!
Feel free to tag me as #DamnNoob! :)

I'm looking at Arduino, Particle (photon), AdaFruit (Flora) ... they all seem "Arduino Compatible". Am I going to run into any traps by using any of these? Specifically, Particle seem to provide a LOT of back-up and software and stuff - will i be stuck in Particle-Land, or can I get out easily?

Current options are:
Particle Internet Button (includes Photon). Tether wifi to phone and join Particle Cloud.
AdaFruit Flora (Nice shape! lots of add-ons. Specifically made "Wearable")

How compatible are different company modules? e.g. AdaFruit do a nice Accelerometer/Gyroscope/Magnetometer. Will it work on a Particle, or Arduino?

Aside:
I've found my old (20+yrs) electronics stash! I think I can salvage a breadboard and a pack of resistors! The soldering irons have rust on them, and the multimeter doesn't seem to work (maybe just battery). Time for a trip to Maplins (or t'interwebz equivalent)
 

Gryd3

Jun 25, 2014
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OK, too much reading done. Back to asking stupid questions!
Feel free to tag me as #DamnNoob! :)

I'm looking at Arduino, Particle (photon), AdaFruit (Flora) ... they all seem "Arduino Compatible". Am I going to run into any traps by using any of these? Specifically, Particle seem to provide a LOT of back-up and software and stuff - will i be stuck in Particle-Land, or can I get out easily?

Current options are:
Particle Internet Button (includes Photon). Tether wifi to phone and join Particle Cloud.
AdaFruit Flora (Nice shape! lots of add-ons. Specifically made "Wearable")

How compatible are different company modules? e.g. AdaFruit do a nice Accelerometer/Gyroscope/Magnetometer. Will it work on a Particle, or Arduino?

Aside:
I've found my old (20+yrs) electronics stash! I think I can salvage a breadboard and a pack of resistors! The soldering irons have rust on them, and the multimeter doesn't seem to work (maybe just battery). Time for a trip to Maplins (or t'interwebz equivalent)
Well... 'Arduino Compatible' essentially means you can use their programming environment. Please note that some 'functions' may not work properly, or you may be required to either manually tweak or add a config file before things will work. Also note, that most Arduinos are just AVR brand microcontrollers. Any Arduino product can be programmed using the programmer for the microcontroller they chose to use. (Arduino is a 'product', not a type of chip)
They are nice to start with, because they are built with a lot of extra wrappers to help people start easier than if you were to program a PIC or AVR directly.
As far as additional components are concerned, this depends on the interface. i2c for example is common. Check the specs for the product you are interested in and see what kind of inputs/outputs it has. If the sensor and 'mystery' chip both have i2c, then its all up to a little code to make them work. (Even if they don't have i2c... you can usually fudge something to make it work, although it's harder to do)
 
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