Stompin’ Tom Connors may have long declared that hockey is the ‘best game you can name’, but up until now, it’s been a challenging experience for the visually-impaired.
Two students from Sheridan, Ryan Vieira and Kristoffer Pascual, are hoping to change that. The pair is working on a project to create an audible hockey puck that can be heard anywhere on the ice by players with vision loss.
The team is responding to an idea suggested by Steve Pollard, an Orientation and Mobility Specialist of Raising Cane Initiatives, who has an interest in functional recreation activities for the blind and visually impaired. Pollard proposed the idea to the Tetra Society of North America, a non-profit organization that challenges people to create assistive devices for people living with disabilities. Hamed Dar of the Tetra Society brought the idea to the attention of Sheridan.
“Current pucks used in Canada are the Quebec can – which isn’t much more than a squashed juice can, the Ontario or Toronto wheel – an old BBQ wheel, and the Vancouver puck – a tin can with nails and bolts inside to make noise,” explains Vieira. “When those pucks are in a long glide or stuck in corner, they don’t make sound so players can’t track them and the game stops. We’re building a puck with a mechanism that makes a constant chirping noise to overcome that problem and improve the game.”
“When students have the ability to apply theoretical principles into practice, that’s what generates interest and excitement” – Dr. Amir Al-Mohammedi
The team is being mentored by Sheridan professor of Mechanical Engineering Dr. Amir Al-Mohammedi who heard of the challenge from Hamed Dar of the Tetra Society. “Ryan and Kris were ‘A’ students in my 3D computer aided design course,” says Al-Mohammedi. “When students have the ability to apply theoretical principles into practice, that’s what generates interest and excitement. I knew that these two students were the perfect ones to work on this project.”
The puck is being designed and built at Sheridan’s Centre for Advanced Manufacturing and Design Technologies (CAMDT) which offers students access to multimillion dollar equipment in a professional production environment that supports and encourages hands-on learning.
The team is currently on version four with learnings from previous designs informing ongoing development. “We printed our first puck shell using PC polycarbonate, which was strong but too brittle and shattered on the ice after repeated impact at cold temperatures,” says Vieira. “From there we moved to nylon, which is a softer material but that better handles impact. We also covered the sides of the puck with rubberized floor tape.” On ice testing was conducted at Canlan Ice Sports in Oakville by Pollard, using both visually-impaired players using visual loss simulators and sighted testers provided by Raising Cane Initiatives.
The budding inventors are the first to admit that they had a lot to learn – not only about vision loss and the challenges it presents but about how the game itself is played. “The only sport I follow is car racing” laughs Vieira. Pascual confides that he’s never laced up a pair of skates to set foot on a rink for a game.
What might seem like a limitation has helped the team to avoid the common pitfall of conventional thinking. “The students are following the engineering philosophy we teach at Sheridan – conceive, design, implement and operate,” notes Dr. Farzad Rayegani, Associate Dean of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering Technology. “Each stage requires proper attention.”
For Vieira and Pascual, the iterative learning process has involved watching hockey games played by people with vision loss, interviewing the client to determine needs and limitations, testing the puck in live conditions, and incorporating feedback from testers in their subsequent designs.
“Having the right environment in which to prototype the puck was critical,” stresses Scott Currie, Industrial Liaison in the Faculty of Applied Science and Technology. “What truly sparks innovation is allowing people to experiment. Through CAMDT, we connect organizations that have engineering challenges with students who are mentored by faculty members to tackle the problem. In many cases, CAMDT becomes the R&D arm for small and medium sized enterprises that can’t afford one. It’s both a teaching platform for students and a testing ground for local businesses.”
“What truly sparks innovation is allowing people to experiment. Through CAMDT, we connect organizations that have engineering challenges with students who are mentored by faculty members to tackle the problem” – Scott Currie
The puck was shortlisted as one of 20 finalists out 120 entries in the worldwide IAM3D challenge in Boston, MA held by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) in August 2015. The team’s dedication and perseverance paid off with a first place win for best re-engineered product, beating teams from universities in Mexico, Columbia, India, and the U.S.
The winning puck featured an outer shell made of aluminum on a traditional lathe, with nylon inserts that were 3D printed, to increase durability and its ability to glide. At five and a half inches in diameter, two inches tall and almost one and a half pounds, the puck is approximately double the size of a traditional hockey puck, as is commonly the case for vision-impaired play. The buzzer is powered by a nine volt battery and controlled by a push button switch rather than a slider so that it doesn’t accidentally shut off from the vibration that can ensue when the puck hits the boards. A fast pulsing beep helps the puck to be heard over the noise of skates carving the ice or fast stick handling.
“The team felt it was really important to keep the puck affordable,” adds Currie. “We don’t want the puck to sit on a shelf. Success will come when we have a product that can be replicated and shared with people who find it useful.” On that front, Currie has been in discussions with Courage Canada, a national charity working to advance the sport of blind hockey to develop a puck that can stand up to the pressures of competitive play at a Para Olympic standard.
“The next version is on hold until exams are done,” says Vieira who together with Pascual is working on the puck outside of class time. “We need to enhance the profile of the inside of the casing to eliminate the flaw which caused the most recent version to finally crack during destructibility testing. We’re also trying to source a smaller and lighter buzzer so we can add more of them in to increase the volume.”
“We want to break down boundaries for those with impairments and those without. We want it to feel normal for everyone to play the game. That’s why we’re here” – Kristoffer Pascual
The pair doesn’t mind going back to the drawing board to create a puck that satisfies new expectations and standards. “For me, it’s always been about the challenge of design and manufacturing,” says Vieira. In Pascual’s words, “We want to break down boundaries for those with impairments and those without. We want it to feel normal for everyone to play the game. That’s why we’re here.”
Pictured at top of page (left to right): Kristoffer Pascual, Dr. Amir Al-Mohammedi, Dr. Farzad Rayegani, Steve Pollard, Ryan Vieira, Scott Currie
Written by: Christine Szustaczek, Director of Communications and External Relations at Sheridan.