After seeing the London 2012 Paralympics, I decided to focus my project on the problems that athletes have to overcome to achieve their goals.
The two areas that I researched were physical disabilites and sensory impairements. These fields helped to generate ideas and gave me an insight into some of the problems that arise when taking part in sport with a disability.
I chose the sport of swimming as I was a competitive swimmer myself and experienced first-hand research in the company of visually impaired swimmers. This led to the discovery that sensory impaired swimmers encounter many problems in swimming pools. Common problems that were identified are collisions with other swimmers, with lane dividers and knowing when they are approaching the end of the pool. The lack of ability to navigate and becoming disorientated when in the pool. However the question remains is what assistance do visually impaired swimmers require and how to design a product using technology to improve their experience and confidence in a swimming pool.
The aim of this project is to find the limitations of the current equipment/aids available for visually impaired swimmers and how some of these difficulties could be solved by designing sensory improvement devices using a variety of technical components. This will hopefully be available to all sensory impaired swimmers.
Qualitive research for this project including literature review, user observation, user interview, first hand experience and a case study was undertaken to discover problems visually impaired people have, using current swimming aids.
Results from both secondary and primary research showed that some lacked independence and confidence within the swimming pool, which is sometimes thought to be an alien environment.
I ventured out of my comfort zone to develop this product, seeking the technical expertise with the help of a masters student in electrical engineering. With this knowledge and help I was able to code and use components to create a device that will aid a visually impaired/blind swimmer within the pool.
The device houses a large amount of technology, including body positioning, bone conductors, ultrasonic transducers and vibration motors. These components aid and orientate the swimmer in his immediate environment. I tested the device on many occasions myself, by blacking out goggle frames. It was with some degree of pride that I found I was able to navigate confidently from one end of the pool to the other, avoiding lane ropes, other swimmers and defining the position of the end wall.
Sketches, prototypes and testing were done extensively throughout the design process to finalise the concept. The created sensory goggles are designed to help address the problems that the visually impaired experience in the swimming pool. The product enables the user to navigate within the pool environment effectively.