Prototype drawings of assistive tech devices for the hands

CPA Assistive Tech newsletter – Tech Toys: Winter Research Project

Wesley Zhang

I am a third-year student studying Biomedical Engineering and during a Research Program I explored designs that can provide accessible and adaptable methods of play for infants with significant motor and physical needs who cannot easily play with commercially available toys. The design allows children with difficulties participating in play to handle and engage with commercially available toys. Early intervention for infants can significantly minimise cognitive and motor impairments that are associated with neurodevelopment disorders such as cerebral palsy. Therefore, this project will be extremely beneficial in its ability to improve motor function, encourage crucial development skills and allows children to have fun. The aim is to provide an assistive device that aids the user in specifically in their grip strength and focuses on training and improving manual dexterity of the upper limbs.

This design uses switch-controlled electromagnets – a type of magnet in which its magnetism/magnetic field can be produced by using an electrical current – to assist children with grip difficulties to perform hand actions such as picking up and releasing objects by exerting an additional magnetic force to hold the objects in their hands. To allow accessibility and adaptability, this design finds ways to add metallic materials to existing toys that are commercially available so that they become ferromagnetic so the device’s magnet can interact with it.

A prototype of the assistive tech device for play being tested

There are many different touch-free methods the user can use to switch on and switch off the electromagnet and use this device to pick up and let go of toys such as movement sensors and voice activation. In the photos above, the design uses a tilt motion control sensor where the user can turn the magnet on by rotating and tilting their hands.

Prototype drawings of assistive tech devices for the hands

This device is still in early stages of development. The next stage of the project is to develop a user-friendly prototype and to adjust the control system to be as adaptable as possible by considering the wide variety of manual abilities of children with CP. One way to allow this is having the feature of the electromagnet’s position being adjustable around the hand band.

Prototype drawings of assistive tech devices for the hands