Global programme seeks solutions to improve autonomy of persons with physical disabilities

enable makeathon logo

Make a global difference in the next generation of affordable assistive devices for persons with physical disabilities living in rural areas by participating in Enable Makeathon sponsored by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and partners.

This 60-day programme challenges teams to improve individual autonomy of persons with physical disabilities through nine challenges:

  • performing activities of daily living
  • mobility in and around the house
  • mobility within and beyond the community
  • accessing education and training
  • employability and self-employment
  • remote access to physical rehabilitation services
  • remote follow-up and users-to-service provider interactions
  • data collection to improve the quality of services
  • adaptation and use of new technologies.

Calling all creatives: product designers, engineers, and clinicians to an exciting opportunity to support people with disabilities through development of a product as a solution to one of these challenges. Applications are due by October 31, 2015.

enable makeathon pictures

This programme takes place between November 2015 and January 2016 with two parallel programs, an online track and an onsite track in Bangalore, India. During this time, teams from both tracks further develop their product, engage in seminars/webinars, receive feedback from mentors and people with disabilities on design, create prototype, network and develop world connections.

Products will be judged by panel of experts and the best three solutions will be awarded USD $25,000, $15,000, and $10,000.

For more information on the program, visit


Announcing Winners of Community Design Challenge 2014

DIT and Enable Ireland are delighted to announce the winners of this year’s Community Design Challenge

Overall Winner, “The easyscan”

Expert AT User: Anne & Colm

Team: Darragh, Eimear, Omar, Paul & Stephen

Description: The easyscan is a device that enables those who are visually impaired to do everyday activities that would otherwise be impossible. The user holds the scan button while moving the device over the text they wish to scan. The easyscan converts this text to audio and feeds it to the user via wireless earphones.

Overall Winner, “The easyscan”


Special Recognition Award for Affordable Design is, “The HoldEasy”

Expert AT User: Keith

Team: Andrew, Cian, Karl, Marta, Ronan & Sarah

Description: This team proposed two phone cover designs that incorporated different methods in increasing the access and utilisation of smart-phones by users with reduced mobility.

This year’s competition involved a total of 29 students (Product Designers from DIT, Bolton Street and Nursing students from Trinity College, Dublin) and 6 Expert AT Users. Students from Purdue University in Indiana joined as observers for the final which took place in Enable Ireland on May 23rd. Each design concept reflected a keen understanding of the challenges which the Expert AT Users described in their daily lives. All of this underscores the value of students and users collaborating to find solutions to real world problems. Leckey, the competition sponsors were struck by the value of this coloration and are fully supportive of this approach to design solutions.


Universal Design Grand Challenge 2014: DIT student sweeps the boards

DIT Product Design student, Christopher Wallace was the clear winner of the Centre of Excellence Universal Design Grand Challenge 2014, winning both the Judges’ and the People’s Choice awards for his tactile watch design: 20:20.

Christopher developed his concept of a tactile watch from discussions he had with an expert AT user who is vision impaired. Her reservations about the use of speaking watches  led to him developing the concept of a watch with tactile markers which could indicate the time and may be attractive not just to someone with a vision impairment but also to users who simply want to check the time surreptitiously (!). The judges noted that one of the key strengths of the 20:20 design concept was that Christopher had consulted in depth with a user, and understood the user’s needs.


See here for further details of both Christopher’s winning product concept, and of the runners up:

Close up of NFC Ring. Metal band with black panel inlaid.

NFC Ring – Wearable computing you might actually wear

The most resent wearable computing Kickstarter success (having reached it goal in only 3 days!) is the NFC Ring designed by John McLear from the UK. NFC for those of you unfamiliar with the acronym stands for Near Field Communication, a wireless protocol similar to RFID (Radio Frequency Identification – used to security tag products in shops among many other things). NFC is becoming increasingly popular for particular tasks because of certain qualities that distinguish it from RFID and for this reason it now comes as standard in most new high end smartphones. In fact you may already have been using NFC if you are one of the early adopters of a contactless credit card (See here for some more (scary) information on contactless credit cards).

What distinguishes NFC from its now ubiquitous ancestor RFID is that it allows two way communication (you can only read from an RFID chip) and as the name suggests it works over a very short range (maximum of 4 inches of 10 centimetres). Both of these qualities make it particularly suitable for smartphones and tasks that require more security (like electronic payment). So how does John McLear propose to utilize this technology?

The NFC Ring can be used to unlock doors, mobile phones and to transfer information, link people or even transfer accessibility preferences or login details. Have a look at the promo video below for more details.

I’m sure you’ll agree this a great looking product at a fantastic price (under €30 including delivery) who’s full usefulness is probably not yet completely evident. In addition to that that there are a couple of other features that make this an outstanding Kickstarter project.

First of all the detailed video (below) where John outlines the design iterations and technological barriers the team overcame to come up with the final product will prove very interesting and informative to any potential product designers out there. Also their equal weighting of aesthetics, security and functionality could be considered a blueprint for the design of wearable technology. Releasing the SDK (Software Development Kit) as Open Source should ensure a steady stream of user generated apps and innovation at a rate that just wouldn’t be possible even with a large team of developers. Finally allowing people the option of customizing the ring to their own individual preferences or create unique designs opens the door to allow creative and artistic individuals the opportunity of reselling their designs. You can even just buy the NFC chips and use a 3D printer to print your own ring!

This is true user driven design in the sense that although this is a product in its own right it is also a platform for users to create their own unique product with the functionality they need and the aesthetic they desire… as long as it’s a ring any thing they want with the 3D printing option!

Anybody got any ideas for useful Assistive Technology (or any other) applications for this technology? Please comment below (as long as it’s not spam about rip-off Oakley sunglasses :)

close up of man wearing an input device around his ear that he is pointing to with his index finger

The Human Body as Touchscreen Replacement

Summary: When you touch your own body, you feel exactly what you touch — better feedback than any external device. And you never forget to bring your body.

palm with dots representing various commands
Touching specific spots on your own hand enters the commands.

Usability expert Jakob Nielsen discusses the future of HCI (Human Computer Interaction) and Ubiquitous User Interfaces in the latest instalment of his blog, Alertbox. Specifically he looks at two concepts that use human body parts as user interfaces: Sean Gustafson‘s hand based interface (pictured) and the EarPut, ear based input system being developed by Roman Lissermann and colleagues from the Technical University of Darmstadt. One very interesting discovery that has been made through this work is that when blindfolded, users were almost twice as fast using the hand interface than they were using a regular glass touch screen. Read the full article here


Turn Obsolete Tech Into Fun Home Help

Architecture, interior design, and more ∨

Browse bedroom ideas, from loft beds to luxury beadspreads, and dream in style.
Find a shelf, customizable closet storage and stylish living room furniture to whip your closet into shape.

C2H5OH – music to your ears?

 In the 1870s, Heinrich Beck founded what would eventually become Beck’s Brewery. At about the same time, Thomas Edison was hard at work on creating the first phonograph. It’s a safe bet neither man thought the two products would ever merge, but when the New Zealand branch of Beck’s wanted to promote a new record label project, the company turned to design agency, Shine Limited to do exactly that. The designers concocted the Edison bottle, a simple glass beer bottle inscribed with music that can be played like a 19th-century phonograph cylinder. After recreating a tune on a few flat prototypes, the team’s next step was to build a device that could cut those same grooves onto a glass cylinder. To get the proper alignment, the group outfitted a lathe with an arm taken from a computer hard drive, which would cut with smoother, more accurate movements onto the Edison bottle.  

 Becks beer bottle

Check out the videos below to hear the completed Edison bottle playing Arch Hill Recordings label’s first single, Here She Comes by Ghost Wave and watch how it was created.

Source: Shine Ltd., Beck’s NZ


By now, even if they’ve never used one themselves, most people are pretty familiar with the idea behind gesture control systems such as the Kinect – the user makes a movement, the device “sees” that movement, and interprets it. However, what would happen if the user was in another room, blocked from the device’s cameras and depth sensors? Well, as long as there was a Wi-Fi signal available, it wouldn’t be a problem … at least, not if the WiSee system was being used.

 The WiSee system recognizes user gestures in other rooms

 User controlling equipment with gestures from another room

Created by a University of Washington team led by Prof. Shyam Gollakota, the technology utilizes nothing but the Wi-Fi signals already present in a room, such as those emitted by smartphones or laptops. Those signals travel through the interior walls of the building, and are monitored by a centrally-located WiSee receiver – although a regular Wi-Fi router could also be adapted for the same purpose.

Should the user move even just a hand or a foot, they will cause a change in the frequency of the Wi-Fi signal, known as the Doppler frequency shift. Even though that shift is typically only in the order of several hertz, an algorithm created by the researchers allows the receiver to detect it.

Waveform showing shift signatures

 Different types of movements produce different shift signatures, with the system currently able to differentiate between nine unique whole-body gestures. Multiple users can be tracked simultaneously, too, as the each of the receiver’s multiple antennas automatically tunes itself in to a specific source. In its current form, a single WiSee device can follow the movements of as many as five users without getting “confused.”

The upshot is that a WiSee user could (for example) be sitting in the bathroom, and wave their arm in order to turn down the stereo in the living room … if the receiver had already been programmed to pair that gesture to that function.

So far, the system has been tested in a two-bedroom apartment and an office setting, with five users. It was able to correctly identify 94 percent of the 900 gestures made by those people.

Source University of Washington

Dita Von Teese models the black plastic netted dress that was manufactured through a 3D printing precess.

3D Printing – What does it mean for the future of design and manufacturing?

3D printing is not a new technology, it has been around in one form or another for over 20 years with 1986 being the year many credit with its invention. What has changed over the last couple of years is the availability of this technology to the general public. Like many emerging technologies, 3D printing had to first find its way out of DARPA sponsored university labs before being commercially available and then due to its expense remained the preserve of giant multinational manufacturing companies for a number of years. This meant it’s progress along Gartner’s Hype Cycle has been painfully slow only reaching the “Peak of Inflated Expectation” in 2012. The last few years however has seen “Fab Labs” popping up is many cities around the world. The Fab Lab idea sees 3D printing following the tried and tested model used for many years by the 2D printing industry for large volume/high speed colour copying and printing. Rather than an individual purchasing the (still) prohibitively expensive hardware they either commission the item to be printed and supply the 3D file or they rent use of the printer themselves.

2013 is to be the year that 3D printing becomes mainstream and if this happens there are all kinds of ramifications to design, manufacturing and in fact to society as a whole. We saw the beginning of this only a few days ago when the first 3D printed gun was successfully test fired. It’s makers Defence Distributed plan to make the files available to download as part of it’s Wiki Weapons project so that anyone interested can too can print their own gun. See their video below.

Let’s hope their guns are as bad as their videos but joking aside this is obviously something that will get a huge amount of press coverage and will justifiably concern many people. It’s unfortunate that this will be, for many people their first introduction to the whole concept of downloading a digital product that is subsequently manufactured locally through 3D printing. But this is indeed the future that some experts promise us and a future that could result in a move away from designing for mass production towards more bespoke designs manufactured to a smaller scale on demand. Ultimately this could result in designers being freed from the shackles put upon them by economies of scale and allow them to connect directly with the end user in a way that is economically viable.  Whether it will or not remains to be seen but 3D printing certainly has the potential to disrupt the industries of manufacturing and design to the same extent that the digitisation of music and movies disrupted those respective industries.

For more information on 3D printing see:

3D Printing at M.I.T. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

Is 3D printing about to hit the mainstream? from The Guardian.

Comparison chart of 3D printers available for under $20,000

So what this mean for Assistive Technology? Well big changes, just like every other area of design and manufacturing but in exactly what way it’s still not clear. One project that offers hope for the future is Robohand The Robohand project is focused on developing open-source designs for mechanical finger prosthesis and thanks to Makerbot donating two Replicator 2’s (3D Printers) they already have already made considerable progress, see the video below.

Accessible Music Festivals

Love music festivals, but hate inaccessibility of outdoor venues – have a look at an initiative by a young musician turned music festival promoter in the UK passionate about creating “wholly accessible” venues. 

Person in wheelchair held up high within a crowd of people
Accessible festivals

 When Paul Belk took a break after the first year of a music degree at Newcastle University in 2005 to go backpacking in Asia, he was a fit, athletic 20-year-old. His ambition was to be a drummer and he played in a number of bands in his hometown of South Shields in Tyneside. However, within weeks of arriving in Thailand, Belk was in hospital in a coma with a prognosis of a 2% chance of living. It transpired that his drink had been spiked in a bar and, after slipping into unconsciousness, his brain had been starved of oxygen. When Belk came out of the coma, while his cognitive functions were intact, he needed to use a wheelchair and moved into Chase Park rehabilitation centre, in Gateshead.
Belk says the festival is “for the whole community and it gives us an opportunity to increase wider understanding around accessibility issues”. He insists that the last thing he ever expected was to become a campaigner, but that finding a way to combine his love of music with accessibility has been “inspiring”. Belk committed to putting accessibility on the agenda, starting with making Chase Park the first music festival fully accessible to persons with a disability. Problems at most music festivals include accessibility to stage areas when, for example, poor weather creates muddy conditions that make it difficult to use a wheelchair. At Chase Park, Whickham, which held its inaugural free one-day festival August 2011, special raised track ways were used. This allows people to get to the stage area whatever the weather. In addition, there was a drop-off point that aids access to the stage and to specialised mobility equipment should it be needed.
By tapping into contacts he had in the music scene across the north-east of England, developing relationships with local charities, and forging links with groups campaigning for greater access to mainstream festivals, Belk found a vocation he could channel his energies into.
“There’s nothing else like this out there,” he says. Beyond Chase Park, Belk believes more could be done to make mainstream festivals accessible. He acknowledges that there is clear evidence of efforts being made by mainstream events organisers, including those that provide disabled campsites that have their own entrances. But, he says, it remains a challenge to introduce widespread changes at non-disabled events.
“A lot has been done already but there could be more; for example to help people with complex disabilities,” says Belk. “I’m hoping Chase Park will show them what the gold standard should be.”