June 22 2015

Exciting day..... we held our first mini Design-athon for people with Cerebral Palsy today!

Our mission for the day is to create a basic big-button switch. These are used across the world by people with disabilities to access computers, iPads and other communication devices. Unfortunately they are ridiculously expensive - $100 for the switch, $100 for the baseplate, and over $400 for the adapter to connect it to your PC!!

We felt that this is an unacceptable state of affairs, so we had a mission on our hands to see if we can create an open-source design for these that anyone in the world can make for a fraction of the current price. Game on!! 

We were lucky to have an amazing team for the day. The Design-athon was held at Makers Place Leichardt where they have tools, 3D Printers, great coffee and an amazing community of Makers.   

The stars of the day was Marusha, especially brought over to Makers Place by her mom Jenny, and Matt who joined us via Skype from Fighting Chance. These guys patiently kept giving input and helped us shape the designs.

We were joined by Ade (a talented designer/engineer from the US), Paul & Kallum (designers/makers from Brisbane who were on their way to a Makers Faire in Shenzen, we were all jealous!), Mel who is co-founder of Makers Place, Kin (Industrial Designer from Digital Lab at UNSW who also works on the eNable prosthetic hands), and Johan from AbilityMate. 

Loads of discussion was happening throughout the day, some of it even involved the product we were working on :)

Marusha was in her element, she's already let us know that she will lead the first mission to do Designathons like these in India!


First draft of the switch's components. These didn't work with the materials we had available to 3D Print so we had to come up with a different way of doing a 3D Printed button.  

Matt gave us ideas on how the switches can be mounted to accommodated people with different abilities, like on the chair's headrest, velcro'd to someone's hand, on their foot and so on. Thanks again to the amazing people at Fighting Chance who helped Matt to connect with us. 


Side Project :)

As we were working we noticed that poor Marusha was struggling with the joystick on her computer. The button where she held it was not really suited to her hand so her finger kept slipping off. So we just made her a new one!

This is the new button on Marusha's joystick. Total cost - 37c !

(BTW - The joystick itself costs $2000..... this just sounds outrageous to me and is the next thing we want to create an open-source, low cost design for!)

 Marusha testing her improved joystick..... so much better

Marusha testing her improved joystick..... so much better

   “ I am now able to use my computer like a normal person and as fast as a normal person”

“ I am now able to use my computer like a normal person and as fast as a normal person”

OK, Back to Our Switches...

 Johan and Ade soldering bases for our new switches

Johan and Ade soldering bases for our new switches

We looked around at a number of off-the-shelf switches....

We found these switches available from Amazon or Sparkfun for $9.95. They have an internal LED so you can illuminate them.

They look very similar to the other switches but they are quite high, about 10cm in height as you can see in the photo. We would need to create a base-plate or some kind of enclosure for them which would make this quite bulky.

This is a foot-pedal switch, complete with cable and very, VERY sturdy! The whole thing is made from stainless-steel, you could drive a car over it!

These are $24 from Jaycar, definitely a good option but a bit of an overkill.

However this made us look at foot-switches, and we found these:

Functionally this switch is exactly the same as the original switch. It is used for tattoo machines, and costs only AU$3.66 including postage!! 

Anyone with a disability can start using these switches tomorrow and pay only AU3.66 for a switch rather than the $100 they are currently paying

This also looks like a much simpler and cleaner design for us to base our own switches off, but quite frankly if you can buy these for $3.66 from eBay then why bother making your own ones.

You can also buy these switches that plug directly into your USB:

You can configure them to be any mouse or keyboard button when you press it.

The investigation continues, but it seems clear that no-one needs to pay $100 for a basic computer switch anymore.....