July 12, 2024

Innovative Assistive Device Allows Wheelchair Users to Stay Hydrated and Independent

A team of undergraduate engineering students at Rice University’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen have created a groundbreaking device called the RoboCup, designed to assist individuals with physical disabilities in performing everyday tasks like drinking water. The inspiration for the device came from Gary Lynn, who suffers from cerebral palsy and approached the team with the idea of an assistive-drinking device.

The initial prototypes of the RoboCup were complex, but the team simplified the design so that it could be manufactured using inexpensive 3D-printed and off-the-shelf components. Detailed plans for building the device are now freely available on the Design Kitchen’s website.

Mounted on the side of a wheelchair, the RoboCup consists of a water bottle or Thermos attached to the bottom and a silicone tube connected to an adjustable-angle articulated arm on top. A hollow shaft runs through the device from the tube down to the bottle, allowing users to easily drink water from it.

When not in use, the RoboCup remains out of the way. To activate the device and bring the mouthpiece of the straw within reach of the user’s mouth, the user simply passes a hand over a hard-wired infrared proximity sensor or presses a button. This action triggers a battery-powered servo in the RoboCup, causing it to swing into position for easy drinking.

Once the user has finished drinking, another sensor pass or button press causes the RoboCup to swing back into its resting position. The current setup meets Gary Lynn’s specific needs but can be adapted for individuals with limited use of their arms.

According to Rafe Neathery, one of the students involved in the project, the sensor can be easily attached to a wheelchair using Velcro, allowing users the flexibility to position it wherever it is most comfortable. Although the team has not yet tested using neck or leg movements to trigger the device, they are interested in exploring this possibility and believe it can be achieved by placing the sensor or button in the appropriate location.

The RoboCup is a significant innovation that enhances the independence and autonomy of individuals with physical disabilities. It addresses a common challenge faced by wheelchair users, providing a practical solution that has the potential to significantly improve the quality of life for many. The freely available plans for building the RoboCup ensure that this assistive device can be easily replicated and implemented, further extending its reach to individuals in need. With its intuitive design and simplicity, the RoboCup sets a new standard for assistive technology and serves as a testament to the power of student innovation in driving positive change.