Inspiration

Our inspiration for our project came from exploration and realizing that there is a huge need for assistive technology play and learning devices in the local Ithaca special needs community and beyond. These devices, which consist of battery-operated toys, battery-operated devices, and other types of adaptive equipment are vital for individuals with physical disabilities because it gives these people the ability to learn, play, and perform independent activities that weren't necessarily possible before. We wanted to challenge ourselves to think outside of the box, explore new things, and design a type of multi-use assistive technology device that could be used by people with physical disabilities on a frequent basis to make their lives more independent.

We were also inspired by health hacks and our project is also applicable in so many ways as a health hack, too, in that it can be applied to nudge people with disabilities in a more independent direction and a healthier direction by application. It's about providing the technology that helps bring more independent access to those that may not be the most mobile, or healthiest otherwise, and this technology can help improve physical health just as well as mental health. Having a multi-use assistive device is optimal in being paired with small, everyday activities that allow for changes in independence and potentially huge impacts on long-term health as a result. This is all encompassed in a dimension of assistive health that hasn't really been tackled in the hackathon setting before and it's an area we wanted to help contribute to with what we made for our project.

What it does

The two main designs we worked on for the project to encompass a multi-use assistive technology device include an assistive cup turner/milk pourer and an assistive art/painting station. The assistive cup turner/milk pourer works by plugging an external switch, which is a large button that is easy to operate by someone with a physical disability, into a rotating display turner that has been mounted in such a way to be able to hold a cup, or a milk bottle, and pour liquid into another cup, or cereal bowl, by pressing the switch to control the rotation and pouring of the liquid. This can therefore allow individuals with disabilities to help in making the decisions of what to eat, possibly, by involving them in the selection and food preparation process to help improve their dietary health.

The assistive art/painting station works in a similar setup with the same turntable that is instead able to hold and rotate a blank canvas by pressing the switch and an additional turntable that works by rotating a paintbrush to be able to pick up paint on the end of the paintbrush and paint images on the rotating canvas. This design can be used by individuals with disabilities to help paint on their own only with the help of switches that operate the turntables. Just to see what someone can make that has never been able to draw or paint or even hold a writing utensil can be really moving for those that watch as well as for the actual individual with the disability to help improve fine motor health skills and their mental health.

An additional design we worked on includes a switch mount, or a mount that is able to hold a switch and move its position in space to be used to activate the devices we worked on as well as other assistive technology devices like a communication device or an adaptive toy. This mount can serve as the primary foundation for holding a switch in place which is foundational for individuals with disabilities to activate assistive devices which directly involves moving in a healthier and more independent direction.

How we built it

To start, we had to make the battery-operated display turners switch accessible. This means that we had to reverse engineer the turntables and attach a port for the external switch to plug into. To do this, we had to investigate the device's circuit and find points of electrical connection where we could solder the end of the wire that the switch plugs into to the internal electrical components of the turntable.

After finding these points of connection and making the turntables switch accessible, we set up the assistive art/paint station by first assembling the mount. The mount consisted of a plastic and rotatable GoPro mount and a 3D printed mount attachment. To create the canvas holder, we attached the adapted turntable to the mount and the canvas to the turntable with some adhesive interlocking velcro.

To create the paintbrush turner, we set up another mount in the same manner except that we attached a paintbrush to the turntable instead of the canvas. The paintbrush could then be rotated by holding the switch down to pick up some paint kept on a stable canvas on the table and rotate the brush upwards to paint on the rotatable canvas.

Lastly, we built the switch mount by attaching a 3D printed switch to the top of the mount by using zip ties to hold the switch in place through divets already created in the 3D printed mount attachment and in the switch itself.

Challenges we ran into

We ran into a few challenges, both big and small along the way. First, we weren't even sure if we could make the turntable switch accessible because it was a new model that we were not sure if we were able to adapt. Also, while trying to figure it out, some of our equipment failed and we thought we weren't going to be able to do anything that we had planned for. We eventually thought about and troubleshot our problems, though, and worked through them to get to where we wanted to go.

Soldering was also a bit of an issue because the equipment we used wasn't of the best quality and the tip of the soldering iron quickly corroded and made the actual process of adapting quite difficult. We spent a lot of extra time trying to get the soldering right, which was difficult but with some perseverance, we made it work.

Being able to paint on a mounted canvas was yet another challenge we ran into. We struggled in getting the perfect setup for the station because it was difficult to be able to accurately paint with a mounted rotatable turntable on a mounted rotatable canvas held freely in space.

One last challenge we ran into was that of inaccurately estimating the pouring path of the milk for our milk and cereal example. We learned from this the hard way by, in fact, crying over spilled milk that got all over Michael's jeans. We fixed our mistake, however, in the next take and were happy with the product (with the exception of the stained jeans, of course).

Accomplishments that we're proud of

We're proud that we were all able to come together as a team and be able to make a multi-use assistive technology device that has real-world implications on making some everyday activities more independent for users with physical disabilities and potentially helping them move in healthier directions. We were glad that we were able to do everything that we planned on doing and that we overcame the challenges that were thrown our way as mentioned above.

We were also quite proud of the artwork that we made with our assistive artwork station. Even though we were just trying to see what the device could do on a newspaper taped to a canvas, we ended up drawing an A in a circle which looked pretty similar to the "Avengers" logo. We also thought this was quite fitting because A is the first letter of ADAPT in our team name so we decided to make it the cover image for our group. It was also kind of fitting that there was the clocktower in the background that represented Cornell and that there were two kids also in the background that could represent in a way that a product like this could be used for kids with physical disabilities.

It was also really validating to be able to use the assistive art station in the way we intended it and to see what type of artwork came out of it. The same goes for the milk pouring, which is a really cool concept that can be further modified in more ways than one. Additionally, one example of taking what we made a step further could be "rolling dice" placed in the mounted cup to be able to get more involved in something like a board game than previously before and bring joy that translates to good mental health. The possibilities in the application of what we made are essentially endless to explore and we are really proud of that!

Last but not least, we were really proud of how our product came out and how it really does connect to the idea of living a more independent and healthier life physically, mentally, and in so many crucial ways for people with physical disabilities that already struggle in their health. We were proud of how we creatively tackled the problem of the need for assistive technology by making a specific solution that has so many applications in helping move people with disabilities in a healthier direction forward.

What we learned

We learned that making assistive technology may seem to be a daunting and time-consuming process at first, but the impact with what we can make with the effort put in is all well worth it. And we learned a lot about the process of a Hackathon and what it is meant to encompass, be it in exploration, design, teamwork, communication, and putting everything together for a final product. Lastly, we also learned a lot about each other. We learned how we all work individually and as a team and combined these strengths together to end up making a really cool design for our project that can be applied in so many different ways in the end.

What's next for Big Red ADAPT

We are looking forward to being able to start up our almost officially registered student organization on campus and getting the Cornell community involved in our cause. We are still unsure about the funding situation, but we would optimally plan to host biweekly events where we hope to be able to reverse engineer battery-operated plush toys to make them switch accessible in a collaborative club environment and to lend or donate these toys to those with physical disabilities and health conditions that need them most in our local community. We also hope to expand our mission to even include assistive technology design directly for individuals with disabilities in our local area. There is so much to learn, explore, and do in the field, but our overall goal is to bridge the gap between the Cornell and Ithaca special needs communities and really make a difference in the process. We also look forward to coming to Hackathons in the future and seeing what we can explore next!

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