A wheelchair controlled by the user’s eye movement has scooped the top prize at a Dragons Den style design competition.
Leading housing and care provider, Blackwood, recently held its Student Design Competition which discovers, and champions, new and innovative ideas that aim to improve standards of living for those with physical or mental disabilities.
Designs from across the globe were presented in person and over the internet to a panel of judges, with Kirubin Pillay taking home the coveted top prize.
The Oxford University Biomedical Engineering student will now receive invaluable backing from Blackwood and its’ partners in a bid to make his creative design into a working reality that could offer a life changing transport facility for many people with severe physical disabilities.
The remarkable design is based on a typical electric wheelchair. An electric module has been added to the frame which communicates with the current wheelchair electronics and this, in turn, is also connected to a commercial eye-tracker and laptop that is mounted on the back of the chair.
The laptop uses a ‘smart’ algorithm, and receives eye gaze positions from the eye tracker, which is then communicated as a position to the wheelchair. The eye-tracker is then mounted on the wheelchair in the front, just below the user’s eyes – allowing the user to intuitively direct its movements.
Kirubin is overwhelmed to have won the competition and believes the technology has the capacity to change lives around the world.
He said: “I still can’t believe I have won, I’m so grateful to Blackwood and the panel for choosing my design.
“I wanted to get involved as I knew my device had great potential to be extremely useful for people who really need it.
“The student design award provided an opportunity to receive constructive feedback on the device’s commercial merits as well as provide an opportunity to present the system.
“The advice and guidance I will now receive will mean there is a far greater chance of this becoming a reality and making it a successful product.”
Kirubin will now receive backing from Blackwood and its partners, with MacRoberts LLP providing legal advice on issues such as patenting and trademarks, while British Telecom is providing an iPad and professional service support.
He continued: “The award in itself is a huge example of Blackwood’s dedication to young designers. It provides anybody with the opportunity to show off their creative skills and designs in what is otherwise a very difficult environment to break into and impress in.
“I admire Blackwood's openness in accepting new ideas no matter how apparently outlandish they may seem at first to be, and it shows that they give all new designs a fair chance for success no matter what state of development they are in.
“The pitch during the final was representative of what you would expect to face in the Engineering and Business world so provides added real experience and practice. If anyone out there has an idea that they think can make a huge difference to the disabled population, you should definitely enter the competition.”
This year, the competition took place on Friday 13th February at Blackwood’s brand new tech-care inspired office at Dundee Street, Edinburgh, with competitors located as far away as America pitching via Skype to land the top prize.
Volunteer judges from various care, private and public sector organisations provided contestants with direct feedback on the day and critique over the live stream feed.
Fanchea Kelly, Chief Executive at Blackwood, believes the competition is a great way to give young designers a chance to showcase their talent, which wholly ties in with Blackwood’s ethos for providing innovative care.
Fanchea said: “We were blown away by some of the entries and it was extremely difficult to choose just one, but Kirubin’s design is incredibly innovative and could provide a life changing facility to those who are living with rare disorders such as locked in syndrome.
“We hope with our backing and the backing from our partners, that the design will go on to help many people and improve their quality of living.
“We would also like to wish all the runners up the best of luck and much continued success in their design endeavours.”
Blackwood has been a leading name for 40 years in the housing and care sector, operating all across Scotland and is renowned for its work in adapting properties to let people who are disabled, elderly or have sensory impairments, to live independently.