For children with a disability it can be very difficult to play and exercise like other children of the same age. How great would it be if it becomes possible for them to be able to exercise and even play sports together with a team? With the Soccer Robot the dream of many of these children might become reality.
During his studies to become an industrial designer, Michiel van der Boom, initiator of the Soccer Robot project, already had a fascination for products with a medical application. Designing products that help people is the main theme in his work. During one of the projects, Michiel got in contact with the parents of Eline, a girl with multiple disabilities. "Because of her disability it is difficult for her to make contact with others. When she was given an automatic bubble blowing machine, you could see that she was completely revived by it. It was a true eye-opener to see that she could suddenly show her 'own will'. This inspired me to develop more products that give autonomy back to children with a disability," says Michiel.
It was great to see how the children were able to play themselves during the test sessions.
Sports, connection and expression through soccer
With the soccer robot, children in a wheelchair will be able to kick a ball, and in the future even play a game. The target group are children with a muscle disease because they often cannot use their hands and arms properly, and therefore cannot do 'regular' wheelchair sports. Soccer has a large social aspect: there are many clubs you can be a supporter of, and soccer players you can look up to and identify with. "A few years ago, I worked at the TU/e on a care robot. Although this was a different type of robot, which is not suitable for these kind of applications, this was the trigger for the idea of the soccer robot," says Michiel. "From the existing electronics, we continued to build on this new concept.
Soccer has a large social aspect: there are many clubs you can be a supporter of, and soccer players you can look up to and identify with.
After Michiel worked on the development of Soccer Robot for some time, he realized that more time, money and knowledge of electronics needed to be invested. A business relation told him about TMC; they could help him with their technical know-how. TMC's Entrepreneurial Lab works on various innovations, especially on societal solutions. After a number of meetings with TMC, the collaborations started with a number of students and TMC specialists. First of all, the system had to be prepared for a good user test. By now, about 70% of the electronics have been replaced and a simplified version of the control system has been created for the user test.
Finally, really playing along!
With the modifications, it was time to start testing the new prototype. The tests were held at a school for special education and at a rehabilitation center. "Testing was a lot of fun and it was great to see how the children responded. During the tests we had to set up the robots properly and some minor changes had to be made in between the tests, so both the test team and the children's patience was put to the test", says Bruno Albuquerque, project lead at TMC. "One of the children especially liked the fact that he was able to shoot back. Normally, children in wheelchairs take a more passive role, if they can participate at all," adds Michiel. "Of course, these are remarkable things that you don't normally think about. It was great to see how the children were able to play themselves".
Reinventing the Soccer Robot-game
In the upcoming time, the prototype will be developed more and the new sport will be shaped further. The goal is that eventually it will be possible to play in a game setting. How this can be arranged in a practical way has yet to be explored. On the one hand this is a challenge because a number of practical things need to be figured out, such as how large the playing field should be. Of course, the children should not drive too far until they reach the ball, the game must be fun and exciting. On the other hand, the target group is spread all over the Netherlands, which doesn't make it easy either. We are excited to see what the next year will bring us.
In the upcoming time, the prototype will be developed more and the new sport will be shaped further.
Lab project: Private Ear
Your hearing is a valuable possession. Especially for musicians it is indispensable. For them, the best hearing protection possible is extremely important. However, current solutions are often far from ideal. From a wet piece of toilet paper or cheap foam earplugs to custom-made earplugs, they all make music sound like it is ‘far away’ and you cannot experience a space in a natural way. There are professional in-ear solutions as well, but these are difficult to arrange without the assistance of a sound engineer. To tackle all these problems at once, Private Ear has been designed.
Want to know more about this project or want to share your opinion or idea? Get in contact with Lotte Geertsen, Director of the Entrepreneurial Lab.
Director TMC Entrepreneurial Lab, Netherlands
Tel: +31 (0)6 55 71 49 68