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UVic students’ design recognized by two high-profile competitions

UVic students’ design recognized by two high-profile competitions

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An assistive technology for users of powered wheelchairs designed by a team of UVic students has won both a provincial and a national award this year for adding a bit of practical independence to existing wheelchair designs

An assistive technology for users of powered wheelchairs designed by a team of UVic students has won both a provincial and a national award this year for adding a bit of practical independence to existing wheelchair designs. The Innovative Designs for Accessibility (IDeA) student competition challenges university students across Canada to use their creativity to develop innovative, cost-effective and practical solutions to accessibility barriers for people with disabilities, and the UVic team secured second place in one of the challenge’s four categories. Their MobilArm project also won first place in the BC-based Simon Cox student competition, which also taps into student creativity to improve accessibility.

Principal designers Kim Arklie and Jacqui Moreland with team members Adam Chen, Anish Sivakumar, Irene Lopez, Lauren Mark, Lilly Roberts and Logan O’Reilly came together as the UVic Biomedical Engineering Design (BMED) team to use their combined ingenuity and engineering skills to address an accessibility issue: shopping.

Most mechanical chairs (power chairs) do not provide a safe and convenient place to carry large bags. So although power chair users experience increased mobility and independence, the devices’ carrying capacity affects the success of their errands or shopping goals.

BMED team member assessing MobilArm prototype
BMED team member assessing MobilArm prototype.

To address this, the UVic BMED team designed a practical and useful solution. The MobilArm is a retractable mechanical arm mounted on the seat rails of power wheelchairs, independently controlled by the user. The structure of the device consists of four motion shafts, interconnected by a gear train and pulley system. An ergonomic handle, mounted on the front shaft, is the sole user interface. A worm gear in the gear train ensures the rear load-bearing arm remains locked until the user activates the handle. The arm rotates 270 degrees, allowing users to reach it easily during the loading and unloading of bags, then tuck it away as they maneuver their power chair. 

“By designing an adapter for seat rails that are common to many power chairs, we hope that further innovations like the MobilArm can be simply attached to the adapter,” said device co-designer Kim Arklie. According to Arklie, the prototype is in the final manufacturing and assembling stages now and client delivery is expected soon.

National competition addresses everyday needs of people with disabilities

During the national IDeA competition, university students take an inclusive design approach to create concepts, tools, programs and initiatives that help overcome physical, technological, systemic and attitudinal barriers. Collaborating with community partners and persons with disabilities throughout the process provides students the opportunity to develop valuable skills, while contributing to the creation of an accessibility culture in Canada.

The creativity, innovation and design of the 2021 IDeA winners demonstrates the commitment Canada’s students have to make the world more accessible and inclusive for persons with disabilities," says president of Universities Canada Paul Davidson. The ingenuity from these young minds ensures a collaborative and innovative future. Congratulations to all of this year’s winners."

IDeA, a Universities Canada program, is part of a larger effort to advance equity, diversity and inclusion on university campuses and across Canada. The program receives funding from the Employment and Social Development Canada’s Social Development Partnership Program.

It’s always amazing to see what our student teams can accomplish even in a pandemicthe BMED team really pulled together with this project to showcase their engineering design skills.

Stephanie Willerth, Canada Research Chair in Biomedical Engineering and faculty supervisor.

BMED team building the MobilArm protoype
BMED team building the MobilArm protoype using MakerSpace facility

Simon Cox judges impressed by the fresh approach to an everyday dilemma

The MobilArm project began when Gilda, a local community member with MS, approached the BMED club after noticing a common problem in her community for power chair users: where to stow their bags safely when they shopped.

Through several interviews with the client and BMED’s collaboration with the Queen Alexandra Hospital Seating Clinic, the team worked on creating quantifiable constraints that ultimately led to the design of the practical, assistive device. The team wanted knowledge of the device to reach as many people as possible, with the hope to distribute and assist more people.

Introduced to the Simon Cox Student Design Competition, sponsored by Vancouver-based Technology for Living, the BMED team realized the MobilArm device aligned closely with the kind of practical innovation the competition organizers were looking for. After submitting a video describing how Gilda guided their design and what the prototype could do to assist other power chair users, the team received top place. 

Find out more about MobilArm, IDeA and Simon Cox Competition

Instagram: @uvicbmedesign

Winners of 2021 IDeA competition impress with creativity and ingenuity 

Learn more about the Simon Cox Competition

Simon Cox Competition announcement

IDeA competition: Innovative designs for accessibility

MobilArm in the news – CHEK Television

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