Environmental Control Systems - Unit

CLIENT: Electronic Assistive Technology Company

INDUSTRY: Assistive Living

The client has been designing and supplying products to enhance the independence and quality of life for people with special needs for more than forty years. They are regarded as leaders in Electronic Assistive Technology (EAT), Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) and Environmental Control Systems (ECS) and are approved suppliers of Electronic Assistive Technology products and services to the NHS.

The brief was to work alongside the clients own software and electronic design team and to develop a mechanical design for a portable, battery powered, LCD menu driven, voice output, remote control, ECS unit which would enable physically disabled users to maintain their independence by carrying out simple and sophisticated tasks without the intervention of a carer. The project was strongly supported by the client who contributed experience gained from evaluation of previous models.

The first stage was to prepare a full specification for the product with the client, including a user methodology. Many users have very limited ability, such as control over their breathing (suck or blow) a finger press or movement of their head. The unit was specified to control two hundred and fifty six different functions and included integral set up buttons for carers to programme the unit. This stage was followed by an extensive concept design stage where several different internal arrangements were explored with the client to achieve a compact design. Once the build was agreed, drawings of the PCBs were issued to the clients own engineers for simultaneous development. The external enclosure was developed using 3D CAD and several concepts presented as 3D visualisations.

The project required close collaboration with the clients own engineers to develop the PCBs and resolved issues with component placing. The final design was achieved using rapid prototypes and prototype PCBs prior to commissioning all tooling from 3D data and control drawings. Rapid prototypes were invaluable in resolving issues of audio separation and the design of the mounting mechanism which was engineered for robustness and ease of operation. The functions are controlled via infra red and an integral radio transmitter via an external switch input. The battery is accessible through a dedicated battery door.