RoboDesk brings mobile devices closer to their owners

Purdue University’s Brad Duerstock has developed RoboDesk, a versatile motorised wheelchair tray that gives people with disabilities easier access to mobile devices such as iPads.

RoboDesk has been designed to give people with disabilities an easy-to-use method of positioning and removing their mobile device without being limited by a table or moving in and out of a chair.

Duerstock, a Purdue University associate professor of engineering practice in the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering and School of Industrial Engineering, is developing the technology and other assistance technologies in the Purdue Institute for Accessible Science.

‘Our primary goal is to foster independence and improve quality of life, and one area that is a challenge that I’ve had and what I have witnessed other people having is easy access to using mobile devices like iPads and smartphones,’ said Duerstock, director of the Purdue institute and a quadriplegic. ‘Right now wheelchair users, especially those with upper limb mobility limitations, do not have an easy way to place a mobile device in their lap and then retract the device when not in use. The RoboDesk does that.’

The RoboDesk uses a motorised mount on a wheelchair that utilises an arm to deploy or retract a mobile electronic device such as a tablet or lightweight notebook.

The assistive tray’s multifunctional design enables it to be used for other purposes, such as a writing surface or meal tray. The mount for the RoboDesk does not exceed the width of a wheelchair, which is important to users because it does not impede their ability to manoeuvre through doorways.

‘We’ve designed the RoboDesk so it does not affect a wheelchair’s normal seat functions such as tilting, reclining or elevating, and it does not inhibit the user’s ability to transfer in and out of a wheelchair,’ Duerstock said in a statement. ‘It is extremely versatile.’

Duerstock is working to make the RoboDesk compatible with various types of manual and electric or battery-operated wheelchairs.

‘My goal is to get the RoboDesk licensed and manufactured within the next three years,’ he said.

Duerstock has a second goal as well and that is to encourage more people with disabilities to pursue higher education, particularly in the sciences.

‘Only two per cent of people working in the sciences age 35 or younger have a disability; however, people with disabilities represent 10.4 per cent of the overall US workforce,’ Duerstock said. ‘I believe we are losing a lot of talented people who could make a difference if they’re given the tools and opportunities to succeed. I want to make it easier for them to actively participate in their educational endeavours.’