IRL applications

How will you apply your FRC skills to solve problems In Real Life?

I’d like to hear what you plan to build from the entire ecosystem of FRC parts, tools, systems, and knowledge. This is a technical sub forum. For purposes of this thread, not interested in the jobs you hope to get. Just the things you want to manufacture, why, and how the FRC universe can help you get that done.

Second question.
What is your solution to this specific real world problem?
Manufacture a mobility device for an ambulatory person that can not sit or stand unsupported for more than a few seconds at a time.

Thats the TL DR summary. Here are more specifics.

The primary medical goal is to manage the amount of weight bearing in the vertebrae of the non-cervical spine. I’ll go into more medical detail if you ask for it, but this is primarily a human machine interface problem.

The user can stand and walk in relative comfort if 20-50% of their body weight is supported by a torso harness. Something needs to support the harness. A strap hanging in a doorway works, but doorways are not very mobile. A robot that could closely follow and pace the harness wearer while supporting the harness would be one good solution. It does not exist anywhere that I know of. ablechair.com is the closest prototype I am aware of, but they are unavailable. Watch those videos to see the problems of using a joystick to steer the machine you are attached to while walking. Judicious use of sensors and control systems may be able to eliminate the joystick. Walkers and rolators are a very temporary solution. The amount of weight bearing required is more than walkers and human elbows were designed for. Both quickly wear and fail under the strain, increasing fall risk.

The user can lay on their back, on their front, on their side, at various angles that get less suitable as the spine approaches vertical. The main problem with these positions is visibility. The user does not have a clear view ahead to navigate by.

A standard wheelchair with tilt and recline fulfils the position requirement, a camera based vision system would fulfill the minimum vision requirement. Unfortunately there is no such thing as a “standard wheelchair with tilt and recline”. There are many different models, all with different provisions for mounting accessories, though there is some commonality. The solution must work regardless of the seat angle the user chooses.
You are challenged with finding the most functional mounting/packaging solution while integrating camera based autonomous/assisted navigation through doorways, elevators, and along visually distinct paths such as boardwalks, sidewalks, hallways, and nature trails, while avoiding pedestrians.

The great news, modern wheelchair control systems are CAN based, and a Python library has been created by Stephen Chavez & Specter to interface with them https://github.com/redragonx/can2rNET
If you follow the discord invite in the readme, you can find me there, as slomobile.
My chair is a 2020 Permobil M3 and it is equipped with a Raspberry Pi 3B running can2rNET so we can test your code. I also have a full roboRIO control system with 8 TalonSRX and 2 victorSP for testing any FRC based ideas.

A partially prone, sport motorcycle riding position seems to be the best combination of supported comfort without harness, forward visibility, and ability to use arms for tasks; provided there is not a big wheel sticking out in front preventing access to workbench, table, sink, stove, computer, and everything else. Removing support in front tends to make the user/vehicle top/front heavy leading to taking a headfirst dive into stationary objects. I’m excited to hear your ideas for this position. It seems like it has potential to be the most socially integrated and lightweight, sharing features with an E bicycle.

Some challenges faced by anyone attached to a mobility device include how to grab, lift, manipulate, and release things. All problems solved by your intakes, elevators, indexers, and shooters. Please think a moment how these FRC mechanisms might be applied In Real Life.

I do not have the answer, so I put it to you.

I fit the description of the user described by the problem, but there are others like me that would benefit from your complete solutions, partial ideas, referrals to prior work, or any insight you have into the problem.

My last turn as an event mentor was 2015 World Champs in St. Louis. I was a FIRST Americorp VISTA having the time of my life despite being the first year I did it from a wheelchair. I tried to continue being a local team mentor until pandemic coincided with my realization that I was no longer an effective mentor due to my lack of mobility. I’m hoping y’all can come up with something to get me back in the game. For any solution to the second question, think about how it might help me build(in the pits) and inspect(at events) FRC robots.

There’s a lot of information in your problem statement, but it’s not clear to me exactly what problem(s) you’re trying to solve. I’m not very familiar with wheelchairs so I hope you’ll forgive my ignorance in some of these clarifying questions.

  • What specific tasks do you want to do that you can’t do with your current wheelchair? Towards the end you mention wanting to be able to work in the pits and volunteer as an RI at events, are these the main goals you want us to focus on? Or are you more concerned with how to be more effective in the classroom? What are some specific tasks within those areas that you’re currently not able to do? Our solutions will likely be different for someone who wants to help students troubleshoot code vs solder wires vs scout at comps vs operate a lathe
  • What is it about your current wheelchair that prevents you from doing those tasks? You imply you’re looking for the “best combination of supported comfort without harness, forward visibility, and ability to use arms for tasks”, can you clarify what is uncomfortable/visibility-blocking/arm-access-denying about your current wheelchair? For example you talk a lot about the potential of camera systems and autonomous navigation but it’s unclear to me exactly what you’re currently unable to see, and why. You also talk about wanting the mobility device to have mechanisms to grab, lift, etc things for you, but it’s unclear why you’re unable to do so with your own arms from your current wheelchair
  • Can you define those limitations quantitatively? Knowing what your current field of vision, arm reach, etc are, and what you would like them to be, would help define the problem even if it’s just a rough estimate
  • It sounds like you think a wheelchair with tilt and recline would be a good solution (or at least partial solution), but you don’t like that there are many different models instead of just one standard model? I was confused about what you were trying to say in that paragraph

Again, I apologize if these are dumb/obvious questions but as we all know, the first step in the design process is understanding the problem!

You are correct about the tilt and lift wheelchairs not being made to support a person in the forward position without harnesses. I’m not sure about the complexities in a wheel-less motorcycle posture other than it will need a strong structure and maybe moving the weight (batteries) further to prevent tipping. It also will be a challenge to load in and out of, not that it is necessarily easier with the typical design.

I don’t have a great insight more how to do something like that or if anything is already answering this challenge.

We did a project with an old lift and tilt permobil chair, after many month to try and get it to a more suitable home unsuccessful, the students re-purposed it into a cart. It does drive and maneuver quite nicely.

Anyway, I would look to extend the battery box further back. The motorcycle seat would have to tilt far enough down to allow getting in and out of. I think some lift would be needed to for better view at table height. I’m not sure where controls should go. I think with a forward posture you’d want some handles somewhere forward to potentially help falling forward, and controls need to be somewhere near a hand.

edit: I should add that the tilt and lift are both controlled by separate linear actuators.

On a controls note, you’d want to limit acceleration during forward posture. The lift had a speed limiter so that you couldn’t go as fast when not all the way down.

I’m going to skip everything after the initial question here.

How have I used FRC skills IRL? As you can probably tell from my profile pic, I’m just a few years from retirement, and I started with FRC less than 10 years ago, but there are absolutely FRC skills I brought into real life both professionally and in my personal life. Here are a few that come to mind right away:

Planetary Gearboxes. I’ve been an underwater acoustician since 1988, but I was more on the science side, collecting data and processing it into databases until about ten years ago. Since then, I’m a technical lead for a group which provides real operational support. It turns out (for good reasons) that submarines use planetary gearboxes. I was able to apply what I know about planetaries from FRC to improve my workgroup’s support. (sorry, can’t get into details).

Church and ministries:
I applied a number of FRC-learned techniques in supporting my church’s infrastructure and vacation bible school, as well as a non-profit with whom my church is affiliated. As a few examples, I have used versaframe to build both the frame for a vacation bible school piece of artwork and to mount a license plate to a trailer. I have used pool noodles to make a variety of vacation bible school art projects, including a pair of praying hands and a tree with bay-style leaves and blue flowers.

Otherwise:
I am helping a recently retired co-worker to be able to fertilize tree roots using a remotely controlled robot.

Thank you for engaging, your questions are welcome to help define the problem.

Picking things up from floor, moving them through a crowded space, and setting them down is a major production from a reclined wheelchair. It requires extra time to move seat to the vertical position and back again. It puts the weight of my body, plus weight of object back on my spine, which we are trying to avoid and is the whole point of the wheelchair. In order to move the chair across the room (joystick), a hand needs to be taken away from the held object. Objects supported on knee and one hand tend to squirt out and drop.

Any seated wheelchair user is further away (length of lap) from the object being picked up, so there is greater torque on the shoulders and spine than if reaching close to the chest. My arms are typical, but the chair perimeter puts most things out of reach unless I get in a compromised, position.

Doorknobs are one of the things out of reach. If we lean forward enough to reach a pull doorknob on the right, we can’t open the door because the chair is in the way. We need our left hand to reach across and use the right side joystick to backup the chair while holding the knob with our right. Too much joystick movement and we are pulled out of the chair, shoulder dislocated, or damage caused to door/chair. If all goes well, and the chair is backed up far enough we can open the door past the footplates, but not so far the knob is ripped from our hand (a difference of about 2 inches) we need to switch hands, left holds the door open away from the chair, right takes over driving, forward this time. Once midway through doorway, left hand must reach behind chair preventing door slamming onto rear of chair, or somehow pull door closed if not spring loaded. More potential shoulder injury with this reach. Once inside, if the entry is a hallway like my house, there is no room to turn around, the door must be left unlocked because I cannot reach it. If the first door was a storm door, there is also an inward opening main door that needs to be closed by reaching overhead, grabbing just an edge of it way behind you, and trying to slam it hard enough behind you with fingertips that it latches. Just hope the chair was forward enough that you don’t slam the door into your rear casters, because you cannot see them behind you.
There must be a chair mounted robotic solution to this very common problem.

Commercial automatic doors are common. It is very difficult to find a contractor willing to install these in a home. I would like to see a home grade electronic strike plate and smart actuator that can install in place of a pneumatic storm door closer. It could be triggered remotely by a button on the chair. Unlatch and hold the door open. Then close, latch, and lock the door with a second button press.

At Worlds, I worked late enough that they locked the main accessible doors, leaving unlocked only a revolving door, and one with a step which I could have walked through (being ambulatory for short distances as many wheelchair users are) but couldn’t use those doors because the chair would not pass. Some device able to be dragged down a step or 2, or held upright to pass through a revolving door opens many possibilities. It took over 2 hours roaming the stadium with a security guard to find a loading dock door which they had a key for to let me out. Those extra miles caused my batteries to be depleted before making it back to the hotel. Had to send someone ahead to my room to get the charger, bring it to a closer hotel to top up battery before I could set out on the streets again well after midnight 6 hours later. Getting through one of the 2 unlocked doors would have had me in bed in less than 20 minutes. A device light enough to drag into the trunk of a cab would have helped me get back with a dead battery.

A wheelchair just isn’t the right solution for someone partly ambulatory. It creates too many new problems they didn’t have before the chair, including requiring a specialized vehicle just to transport the chair. But it is the only serious tool currently available.
As such, wheelchair based solutions are a necessary interim step before a whole new class of device can be widely adopted.

It is very difficult to justify to a doctor and to insurance that you need a power wheelchair if you are partly ambulatory. You first must prove that you are unable to use a cane, walker. manual wheelchair, and electric scooter. Scooters are not designed for use indoors, not covered by insurance. They have no reclined/tilted seating options. The reach problem is worse, transport problem is about the same. Ambulatory users can qualify for a group 2 powerchair. These have no suspension and no power seating functions. Group 3 chairs like mine, rehab chairs, are very hard to get for ambulatory users. I had to buy mine outright used, built for someone else. Doctor ordered a standing motorized chair. DME Durable Medical Equipment supplier wouldn’t even attempt to submit the order to insurance for it to be denied. They were so confident it would be denied, they were comfortable ignoring my doctor’s order and denying me a chance to dispute the denial. Wheelchair manufacturers are actually forbidden by law from selling directly to patients. They must go through DME and insurance. I offered to pay the DME cash for the standing chair my doctor ordered and they refused. As a result of this defacto policy, very few of these advanced group 4 chairs are produced at all, raising their price on the used market. They are only issued to the most severely disabled people as a means to maintain muscle tone. People that receive these chairs are often unable to make substantial use of the standing feature because of the extent of their disability, often requiring an attendant for positioning. This results in lack of documented positive results, making it even harder for anyone to get a group 4 standing chair. A retail, non medical, upright mobility device would bypass these problems and spur development, which is stalled on the medical side due to unreasonable regulation.

Powerchair accessories are not regulated.
Powerchairs are heavy, stable, maneuverable, CAN controlled, have many mounting options, and high amperage 24vdc available.
Power elevating footrests are common. An intake attached to footplates could pull in a floor object, elevate it to a chair mounted table surface, push it inward toward the user, or outward toward a table, and all the while hold the object leaving a hand free to operate the controls. This is useful to all chair users, not just me. Likewise, assisted or autonomous trail navigation can be useful to all chair users, scooter users, personal transporter users, E skateboard users, E bike users, even teleop robot and drone pilots.

Unfortunately, if you ask chair users if they want autonomous features, you will get a resounding NO. Because the difficult process of actually obtaining a wheelchair through proper channels is so lengthy, expensive, convoluted, demoralizing, freedom robbing, privacy invading, and because the existing programmable features on their chairs are locked away from end users, there is a fierce distrust of any new programmable devices. Automation taking over the joystick is viewed as a machine taking away their freedom, instead of leaving them free to focus on less mundane tasks. If the new devices are available through normal retail channels, at reasonable prices, without prescription, reviewed by a few trusted wheelchair users, it will likely be better received.

Anterior tilt is a very useful feature available only on more expensive wheelchairs. Mine has a small amount of anterior tilt and I use the maximum available frequently. Large amounts of anterior tilt are only available on standing wheelchairs. It holds the user in a supported, semi standing position, eliminating the lap, putting some limited weight bearing on the legs, and getting users closer to the items to be picked up. These are wonderful devices, well suited to users that are partly ambulatory. However they are nearly impossible to get approved by US medicare, and thus any other insurer if you are ambulatory.

FRC participants are familiar with those roles. They are analogs of the daily tasks I’d like to accomplish. If I can fulfill those roles, I can do the other things I need. Washing dishes, cooking at a stove, loading/unloading groceries from vehicle and carrying them inside, using a computer, folding clothes (surprisingly difficult when not vertical, currently just avoided), welding, bandsaw, chopsaw, getting to floor level for layout/visualization. Floor sitting is very bad for my condition, but I frequently find myself needing to be on the floor. Often to repair the wheelchair. If I had a lathe, that too. Soldering is very difficult because of my 3 level cervical fusion, I cannot look down much. I need to solder and use Dupont connectors frequently, which causes neck pain and finger numbness for several days after. A leaning forward/sportbike position would be best for this. I’m fat(about 300lb). When on my back, I cannot see down/forward over my belly. The position I need to achieve spinal cord decompression is nearly horizontal, so even if I had no neck issues, looking forward would be like looking at your toes for several hours at a time every day. Not comfortable. The natural straight neck position has me looking at the sun or overhead lights. The pupil dilation alone makes forward vision problematic.
After being horizontal for about 45 minutes (required to recover after I spend more than about 20 seconds vertical), I am then able to maintain a good back condition at about 45 degrees. Roughly equivalent to the angle of a recumbent bicycle seatback. This is at the edge of what is an acceptable neck angle for forward vision in an average person.

Sometimes we need to temporarily move a few desks, but in general schools are some of the most wheelchair accessible places that exist anywhere. My current team build space is in the basement of a public library with a convoluted path and freight elevators. It works ok. The biggest problem is workbenches. The shelves under them dont allow me to drive under them like a table or desk would. I have to pull alongside and work twisted.

One year my previous team rented a warehouse. It was excellent, but expensive. The following year they built a new high school with a million dollar robotics lab just inside the front door. It is amazing, everything I could ask for. I hadn’t got the wheelchair yet at that time, and they got several new high quality mentors. I felt my poor mobility was getting in the way slowing them down. I was in pain all the time, trying to find corners to lay on the floor for a few minutes. When in pain its hard to think straight and be polite, so I withdrew for the good of the team. Following year, the library team asked for my help. I used a rolator with seat for the first time. I made it work because I really wanted to be there, but it was a level of pain I cannot stand more than 2 or 3 days a year. Then covid, which for me was actually a relief. Now the wheelchair, and trying to get back in it.

It sounds like–and I’m just spitballing a bit here–you want something that can pick you up by the shoulders/armpits comfortably, move with you without running you over or otherwise getting in the way, and allow you to get lower or higher when need be.

Something like, if I can use a visual image, something like a very small gantry crane, or a mobile engine hoist, that is tied into a full-body harness and can follow you around. But the harness needs pick points at both ends of your back to help you rotate to the right angle…

It’s not an easy thing to plan around, and that’s just based on the description here. I’m sure it’s worse living with the pain.


Part of what FRC has taught me is to look at what’s available to inspire new stuff. That’s made my IRL job a lot easier–“Oh, I think I saw something like this doing_____” and then I adapt it.

Perfect! It would be fine if the pick points were on left and right hips near center of mass so I can control my own angle by drawing in or extending my legs. Like a self contained mobile stage flying rig.

@GeeTwo that is great. I also used FRC stuff to help vacation bible school. I never knew that was a thing till moving south.

Love taking FRC outside. Now I am so curious why subs use planetary gearboxes. I’m guessing it has something to do with controlling reaction forces.

Combining @ngreen and @ericH ideas, I’m now thinking of a 3 wheeled vehicle. Front left and right swerve modules. Rear powered caster wheel with footpegs. Mount the vehicle from the rear, straddling the rear castor and lay face down on a hips to shoulders stretcher. 2 rigid poles with fabric in the middle. The poles can be tilted in an arc from 70 degrees, nearly vertical standing at a sink, stove etc, but with a bit of support, down to 0 degrees at near floor level. Some webbing knee stirrups. Use 12v 30Ah LiFePO4 modules that can be charged in a car and swappable for added range. Lower stretcher to floor and lift up on tail to make the whole rig vertical and draggable over a few steps or revolving door. Or for loading in back of pickup, SUV, or wagon without ramp after removing batteries. Still not sure what the frame, actuators, or controls would look like. Front frame connecting swerve modules should fold as stretcher pitches vertical to allow getting close to things. More vertical = shorter wheelbase required, horizontal = longer wheelbase. Steer rear wheel(by foot) same direction as the front to crab walk, sidestepping people on trails without rotating and blocking the path. Steer rear wheel opposite direction to do tight turn in place rotation.
Trying to figure out if it would let me walk straddling it, while my torso was supported at about 45 degrees. A little shelf between the swerve modules would be a place for me to set things while I move them, without holding them.

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