Feb. 13, 2019

Making positive change through Schulich's new Maker Multiplex

Student buildathon assembles open-source device aimed at touchscreen accessibility for limited mobility users
Lipsynch buildathon

A hands-on chance to help those who have difficulty using theirs.

That’s the motivation for a group of University of Calgary students, as they gathered in the Schulich School of Engineering’s new Maker Multiplex labs to build mouth operated sip-and-puff joysticks allowing restricted-mobility individuals to control a cursor with minimal head movement.

“I’m doing this because it’s a great way to give back to the community while working on my technical skills,” says Chelsea Mills, an electrical engineering student, and local chair of IEEE SIGHT, a volunteer group working to leverage technology for sustainable development.

Schulich's new Maker Multiplex used to help others

With Schulich’s new Maker Multiplex offering students an opportunity to learn physical aspects of engineering, including 3D printing, Mills wondered if engineering students and other interested makers might somehow combine learning some new skills with helping others.

Thus, the LipSync buildathon was born.

“The LipSync solves a real problem faced by many as computers and phones become more necessary in our everyday lives,” she explains.

Taking place Feb. 12, LipSync buildathon was a collaboration between IEEE SIGHT and Makers Making Change, a non-profit committed to creating an international network of makers who support people with disabilities.

IEEE SIGHT helps spread the word about Makers Making Change, and with the support of Schulich School of Engineering, which provided in-kind donation of Maker Multiplex access and staffing, more than 25 students gathered to build the mouth-operated joysticks.

The final result is a tool which allows a person to control a computer cursor with minimal head and neck movement.

The perfect project for new makers

With the design open sourced from Neil Squire Society's Makers Making Change project, each LipSync requires 3D Printing plus electronics, software and soldering skills, making it the perfect project for engineers and others making use of UCalgary’s new maker spaces.

“As an engineer, this gives me hands-on experience, which is very valuable since it bridges the gap between our studies and application,” explains Eduard Tourani, an electrical engineering student and  IEEE student branch chair.

“I get to put the electronics components together from start to finish and work on my soldering skills. It gives me an opportunity to see how my engineering knowledge can be applied to create a device that is beneficial to people.”

Good karma through open source technology

Makers Making Change, a non-profit initiative funded by Google.org, Vancouver Foundation, and the Government of Canada, even connects volunteer makers to the person who receives the device, to further the human impact of volunteer building workshops like this one.

“Everyone will require assistance at some point in their life, whether through an accident or the process of aging,” says Zee Kesler, project manager with Makers Making Change.

“By helping others and helping innovate the field, you’re generating good karma for your future self.”