When fourth year UBC (opens in a new window) engineering (opens in a new window) student Scott Beaulieu was looking for a capstone project to take on and looking through the various project pitches, one idea really stood out.
The Yuel Family Physical Activity Research Centre (PARC) (opens in a new window) at ICORD (opens in a new window) was looking for a team to design an Arm Cycle Controller for an Xbox One (opens in a new window), so that people with spinal cord injuries could get valuable exercise through hand cycling, while partaking in the social aspects of playing a game with others online. Scott was particularly interested in working on a project that could actually be used by someone and would directly help others.
“I thought it was a really nice way to sort of give back to the community at large,” says Scott.
While PARC already had access to a similar device, they wanted something more accessible to the average user at home — the old one was large, cost upwards of $5,000, and only played GameCube (opens in a new window) games. They wanted something more modern, more portable.
With exercise options limited during the pandemic, such a device became even more important.
Scott joined a team with four other engineering students — Nicholas Winship, Keith Consolacion, Edward Luo, and Fabian Lozano. Makers Making Change (opens in a new window) and Microsoft (opens in a new window) provided valuable support on the project.
“So everyone on the team were in electrical engineering, which made it a fun challenge to do the mechanical side of it because it wasn’t something we were super familiar with, which is also why I was interested in the project,” Scott explains.
They began work on the electrical side, determining how the device was going to read different parameters — how would it know when it’s tilted, when you cycle?
“We got all the sensors set up, doing little tests separate from cycling, one of the other team members built a test jig where you could use a little crank and turn it, turn the little sensor we had, I was working on a sensor doing tilting, and so I had to set this all up on a cork board,” Scott says with a laugh.
“Make sure it was 90 degrees, flip it the other way, check the data, and once we had that, we went about making a mechanical system.”
Beginning work on the project in September 2020, COVID restrictions added some challenges to the design process — some of the students were studying remotely, they didn’t have access to school facilities, but they weren’t allowed to solder or use power tools at home due to safety reasons.
“We designed [it] using T-slots,” Scott says. “We discovered we didn’t have to fabricate these things, and we could design off of them as building blocks, and we found a company here in Vancouver that would cut them for us, and so we managed to get that, and then once we did all that, we got some basic code down to control everything to where we were reasonably sure it would work.”
PARC allowed them to use their facilities to build the device, which they did over five days during three-hour sessions.
“A lot of the really great memories come from the short period of time we got to work at PARC, first seeing that thing working all together, actually using it, everybody’s jumping up and down in excitement, laughing that we actually managed to pull it off, managed to get everything together, because for a lot of the term, they told us we’re not expecting you to have anything physical, like if you’ve got simulations, that’s great,” Scott explains.
“Putting it together and actually seeing it work was something we all wanted to do, because we wanted this to be able to be used, to be iterated on and updated, and not just be some imaginative thing that’s possible.”
Presenting the project in April, the team earned an applied science faculty award for their capstone project from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (opens in a new window).
The final device, the Arm Cycle Gaming Interface (opens in a new window) allows you to play racing games on an Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S (opens in a new window), or Windows 10 (opens in a new window) by using the hand cycle — designed with the Sunny Health & Fitness SF-B0418 Magnetic Mini Exercise Bike (opens in a new window) in mind — as a controller. Paired with the Xbox Adaptive Controller (opens in a new window), pedaling forward basically controls the right trigger, accelerating the in-game car depending on how fast you cycle, while pedaling backwards allows to slow down or go in reverse.
Portable enough to easily set up in your house, this device costs about $250 to make, including the price of the arm cycle itself. Their initial device is now at PARC available to facility users.
Continuing the Good Work
“I really enjoyed working on this capstone, honestly, it was great to work with everybody, and see this side of tech that you don’t necessarily get from school,” Scott says. “You see all the job fairs focused on big software companies, power companies, or just hardware companies, and you don’t necessarily get this side of smaller tech — helping people directly — and I really like that.”
With the summer off before finishing up his remaining Engineering courses in the fall, and wanting to continue in the assistive technology sector, Scott joined Makers Making Change as an engineering intern.
“I wanted to do something meaningful with my time,” Scott explains. “I’ve been really enjoying it.”
Scott has been busy working on another prototype, designing another device that he hopes can help people in need.
“That’s why I got into engineering — it’s a way that I can use something I enjoy and something that I have a passion for to directly help people,” he says.
This post originally appeared on the Makers Making Change (opens in a new window) website.