Purpose: Find out how engineers solve problems with the Design
Thinking Process. Then, take on a design challenge to engineer a new
piece of mobility equipment that helps other people!
Set-Up: Mobility equipment is technology that’s designed to
help people with mobility impairments move from place to place. It
gives users greater independence and control over their day-to-day
lives by providing them with freedom of movement. Mobility equipment
includes mobility aids like crutches and wheelchairs as well as
artificial limbs and prosthetics.
For this design challenge, follow the steps of the Design Thinking
Process to engineer a prototype of a new piece of mobility equipment
for an amputee. Your equipment will need to help them to move from
place to place. A prototype is a quick way to show an idea to others
or to try it out. The Design Thinking Process is the steps engineers
go through to solve problems. They: identify the problem, brainstorm
and plan, build, test, and improve.
Activity: To get started, gather 1 large piece of cardboard (2
x 3 ft. or more), 1 roll of string, 2 sheets of felt or another
medium-thick fabric, 5 rubber bands, 4 brass fasteners, 1 sheet of
poster board, 5 cardboard tubes, duct or packing tape, scissors,
paper, and a pencil.
NOTE: If you’re missing a material or have another idea for
something that might be useful, free feel to test them! For example,
if you don’t have cardboard tubes, you could roll poster boards or
stack sturdy cups. Trying out different ideas to see what works is
something engineers do!
Then, identify the problem you're trying to solve: engineer a
prototype of a new piece of mobility equipment for an amputee.
After, spend a few minutes brainstorming the design of your device.
Sketch your ideas on sheets of scratch paper to create a plan that
keeps in mind the criteria and constraints.
Criteria are things the design needs to accomplish. They’re the
goals for a prototype. The criteria for the challenge is that your
prototype must: 1) help the user to move from one side of the room
to the other, 2) be comfortable for the user, and 3) be easy and
convenient for people to use.
Constraints are ways the design is limited. For example, there
might only be a certain amount of time to build the prototype or a
limited amount of materials to make it. The constraint for this
challenge is that you can only use your challenge materials,
including the cardboard, string, sheets of felt, rubber bands,
brass fasteners, poster board, and cardboard tubes.
It might help to ask yourself questions like:
What features of this equipment work for your user (amputee)?
What special equipment already exists? How can you improve
What features might your user want or need?
What materials could you use? What parts does your prototype
What mechanism (if any) will your prototype have?
Once you have some ideas, choose one to turn into a prototype.
Then, use your plan and materials to build your mobility device. As
you build, feel free to try lots of different ideas to see what works
and doesn't work. Remember, the goal is to practice thinking like an
engineer, NOT to make a perfect prototype!
When you think you have a finished prototype, test it and see how
well it works!
Before you start testing, what do you think will happen? Will your
prototype be able to meet the criteria? Take a guess!
Then, find out if you were right! Test your prototype by trying it
out and walking around the room.
During the test, you may find things that work and others that
don’t. So, after testing, make sure to ask yourself: How could you
improve the prototype?
Then, improve it using what you’ve learned. Once you have a new
version, test the new prototype again to see if your changes worked!
Want More Challenge? Try This! Redesign or add features to your
equipment that help the user travel on different surface terrains. For
example, what could you add to help with sidewalk ice in the winter?
What could you add to help someone living on a farm with lots of soft
dirt and grass? What additional features or mechanisms will you need
to add for each condition?
Once you’ve created any type of prototype, you can share it with
others. They can help you to think of new ideas and look for ways to
make your prototype even better.
And that’s it! You’ve completed a design challenge
from the Ambassador Think Like an Engineer Journey! You’ve learned
about the Design Thinking Process and used the steps to engineer a
prototype of a new mobility device.
If you had fun with this design challenge, check out the other
activities in the Think Like an Engineer Journey. Or, explore more
about engineering and computer science with the Robotics badges.