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What would CYBORG mean if the word were invented today?

Part 1 of 3 Read More

Bitcoin, Art and Thermodynamics

The first of a series of notes and thoughts on the evolution of self realization through sonic pattern creation and feedback.(2 of 3) Read More

A 21st Century Musicians Guide to Busking-Free Ebook

Ever thought about performing in public with electronic gear? I wrote an ebook on the subject which is available for free download. click this link and happy busking! Read More

TED TALKS

A playlist of all the TED and TEDx talks Ive done over the last few years Read More

Through the looking glass...
"I am a guy i thought up when i was a kid..."

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the Exo-Foot 3d printed biomechanical “Footware” platform (w/video build diary)

You can not imagine how long ive been wanting to write this post.  I have been contemplating a shoe/foot interface for at least 3 years.

I had ideas about what I wanted it to do.  things like wirelessly send positional and movement data.  but that was then; over 3 years ago-which might as well be another lifetime.  since then I became a sort of an open source designer and along the way, promised myself that I would stop buying things that I could make, even if I couldn’t make whatever at the time that I needed/wanted it.  in this spirit I promised myself that I would never buy another pair of shoes because surely I could design something better than shoes, right?Picture 367

better than shoes?

whats better than shoes?!  how does one even approach that question?  what IS a shoe?  it’s a strange question considering how much of a part of western society they are.  they seem to be “normal”, whatever that means.  they were something I have always had and never questioned what they were or why they were.  are they foot protection?  are they a status symbol? are they a cultural identifier? are they a magic spell meant to bind you within a a certain range of movements?  once I began asking questions about them I started getting strange answers back, in my head.

the foot is a very complex and strong appendage.  I never knew that the heel is a sort of ball-of-bone that protrudes down from the ankle area.

an equivalent concept would be having a golf-ball sized bone in the palm of your hand.  the forefoot and toes are very springy and when barefoot, one tends to eventually end up walking more on the balls of their forefoot than on their heels, scanning the ground for anything that might cause harm, before stepping down with their full weight.  and theres a whole range of pressure points that lead to all the organ in the body (reflexology). 

in a shoe the foot does not act in this manner.  shoes make the feet land on the heel first then roll toward the front of the foot.  ive come to realize that this is not good.  the entire weight of the body was not meant to land in the heel, looking at the way the foot is composed.  it was meant to be sprung between the forefoot and the heel.  so as I started to dream-design foot interfaces, I realized that it could not be a shoe.  I wanted the same freedom for my foot that I have for my hands.  I knew that I wanted something that would allow me to put my weight naturally on my forefoot and not my heel.

 

Picture 357this was the beginning of a 2  and a half year investigation because most shoes I would research were, well, shoes and I didn’t want a shoe.  I wanted something that allowed for full foot motion range while also being a platform for design iteration.  if I could design a relevant biomechanical form, I could iterate it over time.  and as a shoe, daily useage becomes the best laboratory for what is possible.

so at first the designs focused on being a semi soft shell for my feet. Picture 356Picture 360 the thinking was that it would be the barest possible covering , allowing my foot to act as it wanted, while having a slight tread for grip.  this immediately sucked…hard.  the toecoverings were painful as was the rest of the design.  it basically just hurt everywhere at once, so I put it away for a while and let the process keep marinating in my mind.20140620_00401420140620_001533

after a couple more iterations and some interesting insights from designing the new mask, the concept changed.  with the new exo-voice “cicada” mask, I found that interlocking small pieces of nylon allowed me to design a kind of softness from the relationships between rigid pieces, Picture 226so I designed a biomechanical “exo-foot”; a design of snap together hinged pieces that would be rigid when necessary and completely biomechanically compliant the rest of the time.

Picture 363Picture 364

the design was deceptively simple; a hinged heel that rotates freely, which was hinged to the mid-foot by a hinge underneath the ankle (because you don’t want scratchy nylon touching your ankle, trust me)., which then connected to a mid-foot hinge, which then connected to a mechanical forefoot which moved fluidly with the forefoot.

by this point, ive been designing daily for 3-4 years, so I don’t rush…I let the iteration happen mostly in my head, then once the formula works there, I draw it and once the formula works there, I CAD it, then start printing.  at any given time, ive got a dozen completely unrelated designs of various interests iterating in my mind. I decided to work on this one at this point for two reasons;

1. my shoes are fucked up and I needed something else to put on my feet and

2. the exo-voice iteration, especially since I am working to get a “proper” form out to my long-waiting contributors, burns me out after a certain level of pushing so from time to time its nice to change gears for a few days and come back to it fresh, later.

Picture 346

technically, this is draft v2.5 but the first draft that is actually wearable. this is the visual and narrative storyline of the preceeding ones.

not only is it a shoe replacement, it is now an iterable expression I call “Footware” (trust me…nike et al will crib this word as soon as they see it).  I can evolve what my footware does as easily as any other aspect of my system now and just as multidimensionally (form, sensing, robotics, light, spatial position, etc).  for instance, currently its got a sort of sandal like forefoot area, but now tht it exists, I can iterate each toe, easily over time.  its much easier to adapt something that exists than to invent it in the first place.  I can make bike pedal clips and integrate controllable lights for biking, performance, computation…whatever.  but for right now, I just want to walk around with this one exo-foot for a while an see what breaks, then print the other foot with the upgrades.

This ends the basic overview and now it gets geeky so stop here if you don’t really care about any of that stuff

the build-printing

the peculiarities of designing for the foot evolved as my interest in it evolved. for something that interfaces with the ground and holds our entire body weight, they are profoundly sensitive.  possibly a result of wearing shoes, or maybe an adaptation for barefoot humans to better scan the ground for sharp things or. more esoterically, they do more thinking on their own than we give them credit for seeing as how they are  the furthest appendage from the brain yet simultaneously the closest body part to the earth. I will return to this question in the future. 

nylon, precisely, taulman bridge nylon, was and is the primary material I use for design work. my first thoughts were to create a semi flexible shell around the feet using printed nylon components.   I find it to have unmatched strength as well as flexibility determined by the thcikness of the piece being printed which allows me to design softness and rigidity into the same component.  in the areas where a more “true” or rubber-like flexibility was required, I used a different material called eco-flex pla (just because I had a roll of it from two years ago that never seems to end and which seem to not be manufactured anymore).  this is a rubber like pla based filament from Form futura.  between these two materials I could go the full spectrum from hard and rigid to soft and pliable.  I plan to upgrade my printer in the coming few weeks to allow these elements to be design together and printed together, but currently I design them to be snapped together manually.

I took into account that the foot interfaces our shifting body weight with the ground, so has lots of very powerful micro adjustments that must be accounted for and each of those micro adjustments is distributed throughout the entire foot, while, I must state again, carrying your entire body weight.  this means that slight roughness that wouldn’t irritate the hand, will wreak havoc on the sensitive skin of the feet.

with nylon, I use a 15mm retraction setting (this pulls the nylon back so that when you move the hotend across the print it doesn’t drag a string of melted nylon across its surface).  nylon drizzles more than abs or pla but at this setting it is perfectly fine..  because I didn’t want delamination over time, I printed the layers at a very hot setting for this material.  although suggested temp is 235-250c, I find that 285c ensures that the layers will stay welded.  this is the same temp I use for the eco-flex PLA, although at a greatly reduced speed since flexible material will easily get caught in the gears if pushed too fast.

I use scotch clear glue stick to hold all prints down to the bed during printing.  I don’t use a heated bed anymore. when the voltage regulator on my heated bed dies a couple of years ago, I started using glue stick and it, in addition to a 3-5mm brim on the prints has sufficed for all materials I throw at it as long as I print the first layer slowly and, in the case of nylon, it must be dry or any moisture will cause the corners of the print to draw up as the water is evaporated. even now that I could power the heated bed with the new RAMPS board I bought last fall, I prefer the simplicity of glue stick.  simply put a layer evenly on the bed and let it dry.  seems to work everytime.

I printed all the nylon pieces first and finalized their individual forms before I started printing the padding pieces.  I designed them to be both male and female. for instance, the heel innersole has a heel-plug that is inserted into the nylon heel shell and extended to the bottom. Picture 342Picture 355 the heel outersole had a hole that this plugged snuggly into while having 3 small plugs that inserted into the bottom of the heel shell and through into 3 holes in the inner sole.  all of the padding pieces have this type of locking mechanism.  the plugs are drafted outward so they are a little wider at the top of the plug than at the base so they fit snug and wedge in even tighter when stepped on.  no glue necessary. currently the top of the foot is held together with a Y shaped connector that will most likely be deprecated as the platform evolves.Picture 354

Biomechanical concerns

there were a number of biomechanical variables that needed to be accounted for.

  • the sensitivity of the skin of the feet
  • the ability to bend the foot properly across its full range of motion
  • Durability
  • modularity
  • upgradability

as I mentioned earlier, the feet are very sensitive and the design had to take this into account even while being printed with interlocking rigid pieces.  I found that the more flexible design was much more painful because it didn’t provide support where it was need and was too tight in other places to make up for this.  so a rigid, modular form made up of interlocking smaller pieces was a better choice.  it bends where I design it to bend and it is rigid unless I specifically design it to be not rigid.this left me play with the idea of a “mechanical shoe”; something made of interlocking mechanisms, which is a vastly easier task for a reprap.  it has the possibility of being evolved mechanically as well but more on that in a bit.

there are actually 3 main sections.

  • the heel and ankle bracing system
  • the mid foot and forefoot mechanics
  • the toes area

Picture 350in this version the toes are static, meaning I didn’t do them yet for the reason cited above. the toe area is very sensitive and any experimentation done in that area must be done carefully, so that is a longer term investigation.  at present, I gave them a zone give them freedom while being wide enough to allow the toes to spread nicely when walking on the balls of my feet, which I expect to begin doing more and more often with these.

Picture 336just behind the toes is the forefoot/midfoot mechanism.there is a brace that rotates when foot goes to balance on the forefoot. this provides complete freedom for walking or dancing on the balls of the feet.  I am currently not comfortable with attempting to run in these although my walking tests have all gone very well.

the heel is the most crucial area as this is where the whole construct locks into place on the feet.  there is an ankle brace that goes across the top of the foot at a 45 degree angle with the bottom of the foot and the Achilles tendon.  the Achilles brace is necessarily soft as it sandwiches the Achilles tendon providing a stop for the foot backing up out of the construct, no matter what position the foot is in.  it also plugs into the ankle junction where the heel, ankle brace and Achilles brace converge into a 3way structure that doesn’t slip backward or forward while allowing full range foot movement by way of a rotating junction where they all interconnect.  Picture 348

this thing  was a pain in the ass to design.  early on I discovered that if you put any non-cloth-like material against the ankle, it will not be enjoyable.  anything, hard or flexible, against the ankle is a no go.  too tight across the top of the ankle area, equally fucked.  things just seemed to saw their way into the skin very easily in that region because it has such a huge range of motion.  what might be ok while simply standing, would be horrific if you attempt to walk or climb a stair, let alone dance.  by designing everything from the heel structure, forward, it gave the whole design a strong foundation. the ankle brace rotates so that the heel doesn’t have to move at all and the Achilles brace cradles the tendon assuring that the ankle brace doesn’t pop off because the design is tools free/snap together

all together, the exo-foot feels like it was designed for foot freedom. when I am barefoot, I like to walk on my tip-toes just because I find it fascinating that it is possible to easily balance so much human on such small areas…and because its fun.  in shoes it is possible but more of a chore because the shoe wants to be flat. in the exo-foot the sensation is strange.  its like being barefoot but its also obvious that you're not barefoot.  there is a little tightness in the forefoot area and the padding can get slippy, although not dangerously so.  speaking of which, the eco-flex black based soles grip like regular shoe soles and didn’t seem to erode too badly on my first walk out of the house. I walked to the store and back after printing. and the walk was extremely favorable.  not great but considering the previous version never made it to the curb, a mile round trip stroll speaks pretty highly of this first draft. Picture 355

what this means

The exo foot is currently a shoe replacement.  and as a shoe replacement it is a construct for investigating what that means. the exo-foot is biomechanically sensitive meaning that its primary function is to support the function of the foot as it is currently expressed.  after that function is to extend the range of functions that the foot is capable of.  the feet are obviously as dexterous as the hands so iterating an interface designed around their “voice” is a whole constellation of questions I don’t even know how to ask yet.

of course initially the first things that come to mind are sensors for input into my exo-voice system.  things like gyroscopes, and pressure sensors.  next might be decidedly non-musical yet still sort of cyborg functions like reflexology points and things like clipless pedal clips and programmable lights for biking at night that either don’t have to be taken off or can be taken off and snapped onto the exo-foot system easily.  but then if its programmable, it can be integrated into the sonic system .  there is no distinction between functions when self iterated. beyond that, I could see the toes becoming more expressive and robotic enhancement is a fuzzy possibility off slightly in the distance.

the exo-foot is a a Footware platform.  these words will create their own meaning over time and will evolve exponentially as the tools to iterate them evolve (2nd extruder and ultra-conductive filament ordered and on its way).  so rather than peer too far into futures, it is most useful to enjoy this plateau and concentrate on make it comfortable so I can recycle these old ass Nikes.

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what would the word cyborg mean if it were invented today? (part 2 of a series): Computer interfacing

tedmask

weeeeellll…I’m not gone preach lawng ta-daaay (if you didn’t grow up in a southern black church that is code for “this is going to be epically long)…wow…what a winter.  I am speechless as to the places that the mind can go when un-encumbered.  My gracious host here in Detroit, Phreddie, opened his home and his freindship to me and I am amazingly grateful.

there are a whole range of strange posts that have been marinating for months now.  so strange in fact that I felt the need to let the simmer a bit.  but even with that, I am coming to terms with the prospect that maybe I am becoming unintelligible.  I mean, as the words fall out of my face, they sound very well chosen and well spaced…not too rushed…be sure to pause between thoughts, etc, etc but there is still that look that reflects back at me many times…you know…the look where the pupils dance for a nano-second as if maybe a quick scan of the face or maybe the aura could glean a clue as to what the fuck this guy is talking about…”that” look. Picture 326 yeah, been getting that look A LOT lately.  not all the time but with some increasing regularity.  I guess its just one of those things one has to deal with when they spend more time in their own mind space than in social space.  this winter, ive had whole weeks where I didn’t even step outside, fueled by my diet of rice and spirulina to meditate into the computer screen for 14 or so hours a day.so im gonna unpack all of this slowly over a couple of weeks rather than blop it all out at once because its going to a strange place that deserves a bit of respect on my part.  this post isnt about the TED conference. that will be the next post.

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for this post I just wanted to show one of the stages of the exo-voice I have been abstracting over the last few months.  a year ago, just before I left Berlin on my quest to explore this exponential “now” that we are embedded in, I wrote a blog post entitled “what would the word cyborg mean if it were invented today?” I was making the case that it would be a completely different meaning because there are technologies that we were not programmed to imagine, such as open source 3d printers and software.  but that question has swam around my conscious for months now.  not simply the how but the “why” of such a question.  open source implies that we are not only sharing information but that we are CREATING information.  ourselves.  so then a cyborg today would create itself, and most likely with open source tools, but to what end?  I spent a long time imagining the comic book inspired super powers that would fuel such inquiry.  things such as seeing infrared light and super strength and other such juvenile bullshit (no offense) but as I pondered the question, here in detroit, in the middle of the frequent snow…things (I don’t know whether they were snow storms or just snow fall or what, but there was a lot of snow) and realized, not too jarringly, that the question had become part of my meditative process which had become part of my design process. 

design and meditation are two sides of a multi-sided coin.  I must “go in” to find the right form and that form must be instantiable using the materials I have access to now.  then there is functionality.  this is a bit more esoteric.  function is like the parameterization of will.  function is like the hook of a good song-it glues together all the other elements of design.  I realized pretty early that function had its own aesthetic, but function also has its own purpose.  it continually makes me wonder who is creating whom? especially with all the hyperspace visits ive had in the last couple of years.  you begin to realize that we are embedded within something that interacts with us in our dreams.  we float in it but we can not percieve it like we percieve light or matter.  im not ready to give it a verbal name yet but that doesn’t mean that I cant still access it.  or it access “me”, whatever that is.

so, for most of the winter the question, more precisely, of what the exo-voice is and what it will be has been all consuming.  I frequently state that I am moving away from music as an entertainment and toward music as programming language for the investigation of self.  recently this vectored the design out into strange areas and back again and it brought back some very interesting and useful functions that will not only enable better questions going forward but make the system much more useable for my super patient crowdfunding campaign contributors on this, our 2 year anniversary of the campaign that just keeps on going Smile

one such function is that of computer interface.

I realized a couple of years ago, when I “should” have shipped the system, that it wasn’t what it needed to be, evidenced by the non-activity of the other 4-5 persons who already have that version of the system.  those systems were fully working identical copies of my own system…in fact, they were much better because my personal system is in a permanent state of “beta” whereas the ones I shipped were perfectly functional and beautiful.  besides the abstract nature of what it does and how it does it, the “beatjazz controller” as I called it back then, was only just that…a controller.  an interesting one…a pretty one…but merely a strange controller and I believe this is part of the reason no one is playing it.  it was an art project rather than a prosthesis.

to be a prosthesis, a device has to either create new functionality or renew lost functionality.  the previous hardware/software did neither.  the exo-voice began stepping in that direction in september 2014 with the neuro-mask interface.  although this wasn’t the first mask with transcrannial brain stimulation, it was the first one that actually functioned properly  and with high controllability and precision.  this functionality was never meant to be shipped to the contributors though.  it was a digimorphic question about what this system was actually for.  when you begin screwing with your brainwave patterns, you begin to take these questions seriously…that was the point of doing it-to ask the questions that would not be asked otherwise.

from there the hand units were tweaked for hand positioning and finger placement, especially thumb biomechanics, being of the highest importance.  with the thumb in a position close to how it would be when typing on a computer keyboard, a whole new spectrum of computer interfacing possibilities ran up to say “HI!”  because the hand positioning now made the thumb “float” within a circular array of switches, it was easy to percieve its position without having to strain or look at ones hands.  it was now almost foolproof to know where your hands were in the gesture field and be able to sequence functions predictably.  now the interface was less about being a musical interface and had become an extremely accurate computer interface.

why is this important?

a reason I believe for the dearth of interest in gestural interfaces is that they don’t make very good computer interfaces.  once the novelty wears off, they go in a box somewhere.  I myself was, until only just recently, guilty of really only putting the system on just before a gig  or briefly when working out bugs, but rarely for just fun or for a purpose which it was solely useful for.  in those moments, a computer keyboard was just easier.  so how could I expect that anyone else would be any different?  this led to questions such as “what is computing?” or rather, “is computing limited to existing modalities?” and on and on.  I realized that I needed to ask that question WITH the exo-voice, because if you don’t need it, why would you use it?

so I spent a few weeks designing a gestural keyboard mode.  pure data in linux has the ability to talk directly to the core of the operating system.  anything I can do with a computer keyboard, I can do with the exo-voice, in addition, I can do things with the exo-voice that could never be done with a computer keyboard.  currently that list only includes crashing the whole system instantly, but thus is progress.  I can use the system to type into a text or terminal window just like a normal keyboard but I discovered the reason this needed to exist as soon as it worked the first time.

when the contributors get their systems and the open source makers build theirs, they will have an interface that will train them in gestural mechanics without having to know traditional music first.  when windows first came out, they included games such as solitaire, whose main purpose was to expose the user to the, then new, useage of the mouse and the graphical user interface. the gestural keyboard mode (GK) fills a similar role. it uses every function that is necessary to create music, to type words. hand positions and breath pressure must be right to get proper syntax and it will work with any program, not just pure data, while also making music out of what is typed (still working on that part).  some may choose to never use the boehm “sax” mode because they can make music by gesturally typing words.  in addition, now all those who wanted to use it for vjing or other creative functions that would have needed the interface and a keyboard, now only need the interface as strings of key commands can be programmed and used gesturally.

I wanted to use this mode for my ted talk last week but it was, and is, still wildly unstable…but it works!  it is one portion of a completely revamped software system that is more modular, lower cpu (currently running on a 10 year old dual core laptop with 1gb ram) and easier to learn and modify.  the upgraded synthesis is based on a new form ive been working on called sonic pixels which enable a new kind of spatialized sound design that integrates intimately with the brain stimulation system and is based on an 8bit fingering system.  all if this will be in my next blog post because it goes all heavy in to spirals, mental slavery through standardized equal temperment scales and coltranes frustration with the limitations of the saxophone…yeah…trust, the next one is really heavy. holla…

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Live Excerpt from “Within Many Realms”-Detroit, MI Feb. 8, 2015


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