under cover

umbrella wheelchair attachment

is a wheelchair umbrella attachment designed for spinal cord injury patients at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.  The design features gooseneck tubing that can be easily adjusted by users without fine motor control and an asymmetrical canopy that provides more coverage than traditional umbrellas.  This project was created for Design Thinking and Communication, a 10-week engineering course at Northwestern University.

For 3 weeks of the course, I was project manager and responsible for overseeing our progress within our timeline and delegating individual assignments.  As a team member, I participated in user research and prototype testing, created all of the final sketches of our design, and machined components on the lathe and mill.

user needs

Currently, individuals with spinal cord injuries have limited options during rainy weather.  Often, users need another person to assist them in pushing their wheelchair or holding their umbrella.  With our design, we hope to provide an affordable, diginifed solution that gives users more independence.

Through interviews with occupational therapists, user observations, and user interviews, we determined that our design must:

  • not draw attention to the user
  • not interfere with mobility or usage of wheelchair
  • be compatible with different types of wheelchairs
  • be usable without fine motor movement
  • be durable and weatherproof
  • be relatively affordable (less than $100)

    building a prototype

    In order to create a working prototype within the short project timeline, we used an existing product, the Versa-Brella, for the asymmetrical canopy.  We then replaced sections of the cane with gooseneck tubing, making the form strong, yet easily adjustable.  Additionally, we purchased a tube clamp that fastens the umbrella to any part of the wheelchair.  In order to assemble these parts, we machined threaded alumnium adapters that attach components.

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    engineering challenge: designing the adapters

    attaching the canopy

    to the gooseneck initially seemed simple because we thought we could just thread the small section of the original cane.  However, once the Versa-brella arrived, we quickly realized it would not be possible because the cane was narrower and thinner than we initially thought.  The adapter we created had a thin end that press-fit into the hollow cane and was secured with a press-fit pin.  The other end had female thread that attached to the gooseneck.

    attaching the clamp

    was difficult because there was nothing existing on its surface that could directly fasten to the cane.  After a few iterations, we developed a adapter that would connect the cane and clamp.  The flat side of this small, cylindrical component was adhered to the clamp.  The cane had an endpin that was inserted into a hole at the top of the adapter, then secured with a screw.  This provided a simple, permanent solution to join these two parts.