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Wheelchair Modular Rail System

Hacking Wheelchairs for Urbanity | Projects

  • For our project, we decided to try and ease the life for people in wheel chairs by making a modular rail system for wheelchairs. The rail system was designed to be open source and as a standard so many different people with different needs and wheelchairs can use this system. We made 2 great attachments but many more could be made. Ours comes with phone/tablet stand so that they could read a book or watch a movie without having to hold their phone or tablet while doing so. This would also enable them to eat or drink or propel themselves around while listening to music, FaceTiming with someone, or just to have easy access to their phone throughout day to day life. The problem we were trying to solve was the lack of an easy attachment system for gadgets to improve their lives, along with the problem of having to keep ones phone in their lap while propelling themselves which could lead it to fall on the floor and break or to get lost. This is important because we realized on the first day of the studio that despite the huge demand for wheelchair gadgets, there are few inexpensive simple luxuries that most people in wheelchairs might find very useful and would improve their lives greatly. 

  • When we were initially thinking about all of the possibilities for the studio, we decided to to pursue the idea of a rail system that would be able to support attatchments such as a phone/tablet holder, connected to the armrest of the wheelchair. This would give the person in the wheel chair the ability to watch a movie or to read a book or a news article while eating or drinking or just relaxing. After deciding to work on this idea, we began to brainstorm about the possible methods of attaching a phone or tablet holder and other attachments easily and efficiently. While thinking about the different ways to complete this, we ruminated about making a rail attachment with a sliding mechanism so that the gadgets could be slid on and off of easily. When looking for examples of this system already used in other industries, we found that for the most part, they were used on advanced weaponry as a method of attaching a scope or other gear. After looking at the designs of the other uses and at the drawbacks of this method, we decided it was the best way that we had found of attaching accessories to the wheel chair and we began to look at possible designs for the rail, and for the arm accessory itself. While brainstorming about what the arm would look like, we saw a couple other products with similar methods and ideas behind them that Andrew had found and we went from there. We decided that the phone holder should have two armlike pieces connected by a ball socket for more stability, flexibility and support, so as I set to work on the ball joint and the arms, Cooper set to work on the rails. We also decided that since we were using the rail system, it would be great to come up with more than one product  that we could attach using the rail system. When initially talking with Sayeed about what he thought would be the best attachments for the wheelchair, he mentioned that he didn't really have a good cup holder either so we decided to try and produce one that would slide on and off easily using the rail system.

    When working on the ball joint, we ran into many problems with the designs. Initially, we had not fully understood the capacity of the 3D printer and we had created the ball joints and the arm together and was planning to print all of it but upon realizing that the printer could not probably not print an object that big and it would take days even if it could. After realizing that would be a huge waste of time and effort, we changed the design so that we were just printing the joints, and the arms would be attached to the joint and made out of another material. After designing and printing this, we discovered that the ball and socket were far to big. When looking back at the design, we realized that the socket wall was far to thick and was a waste of plastic on top of making it impossible to fit the ball inside of it. After making the wall a bit thinner,  attempted reprinting the new iteration.

    When trying out the revised ball joint, we were surprised to find that the opening for the socket was still to small for the ball joint to be fit in, so we decided to consult a coach about the problem. After discussing it with them, we realized that even though we had made the walls of the socket thinner, we still needed to make notches on the top and sides of the socket. This would enable the socket walls to bend a bit while the ball was being pushed into the socket and then the socket walls would snap back into place once the ball was inside the socket. Also, after discussing the setup of the arm, we realized that we had several major issues regarding the weight of the phone case and the support provided by the ball joint. After brainstorming ways to give the arms more support, Cooper and I agreed that although we initially thought that the ball joints would be enough to support the arm, we realized that a rigid joint would be more supportive and structurally sound, in addition to being easier to print. We then changed the Fusion design so that the rods could be screwed into the bottom of the ball joint and and changed the socket walls to try out our new method.

    While trying to assemble the new joint, we were dismayed to find that although the new system for the ball and socket worked much better, the ball was still far to big and as a result, one of the socket walls snapped as it was being assembled. Despite this, the system with the metal rods and the rigid joint both worked which left us with only the ball joint to perfect. We immediately went back into Fusion and fixed the problem with the ball joint, and decided to try out luck again. 

    After the new design finish printing, we were excited to discover that the ball joint worked perfectly and we began to set up the mostly finished arm along with the rail. After this, we decided to focus mostly on the iPhone case and we agreed that instead of making an adjustable case, we should just make a case on Fusion that could be dimensioned differently depending on the device the user wanted to put in the case. However, after looking back at the design after thinking we were finished, we realized that the case lacked holes for charging and the audio jack. After adding this to the design, we printed the case, which worked almost perfectly although the dimensions were a bit to small for an iPhone 5s, so an iPod Touch was used instead. As we began to assemble however, we soon realized that the method of attaching the arm to the rail was flawed in the sense that the arm had to be unscrewed in two places and in general, the overall setup was far to complicated. We decided to glue the rod into the sliding mechanism so that the sliding mechanism could have a wider range of motion and so the arm could be removed more easily. After doing this, we put the arm together and attached it to the chair, complete with an iPod touch along with the cup holder on the other side!