John Horrigan is a product designer based at the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) in Dublin. His particular interest is design for disability and he is about to start work on the commercialisation of his first product for wheelchair users, the Cara Universal Armature.
What’s innovative about Horrigan’s design is that it can accommodate interchangeable attachments that can assist a wheelchair user with daily tasks such as working, studying and shopping more easily.
“I feel products for those with disabilities often fall very far behind general consumer goods in terms of materials, aesthetics and the implementation of technology,” Horrigan says.
“As a product designer my goal is to solve real life problems and as an undergraduate I became interested in focusing on the area of disability and specifically mobility.”
Horrigan is based at Origin8, NCAD's incubator unit and his project has received feasibility funding from Enterprise Ireland and support from NovaUCD where he recently completed its 2014 Venture Launch Accelerator Programme. Enterprise Ireland has recently approved commercialisation funding for the venture and this will allow him hire engineering expertise to help refine and finalise his design over the next 12 months.
He first came up with his idea in 2011 and describes his design as “an assistive living system aimed at active wheelchair users from the age of 18 upwards. My design is inspired by interviews and ethnographic research with wheelchair users and I also spent time in a wheelchair myself doing research,” he adds.
“I looked at the obstacles and difficulties encountered everyday and found that there were very few products available to help. So if you are self-propelling how do you hold your coffee or where do you put your shopping? How do you mind your child or stay dry if it’s raining? You simply run out of hands.”
The patent-pending Cara Universal Armature (a working title) is essentially a rigid platform that can be connected to the axle or frame of any manually propelled wheelchair. This gives it a low centre of gravity and a central position to create balance. It folds away after use so as not to get in the way of the person getting in or out of their chair.
Depending on the task, an appropriate attachment can be fitted to the platform. For example, there is a multipurpose table for reading, writing or using a laptop, a mount for a shopping bag, a camera mount and a mount for an iPad.
“Existing systems generally clamp onto to other parts of the chair, such as the sides, where they can both impede the user’s access and get in the way in tight spaces.”
“My system is designed to be neat but stable and light enough for the wheelchair user to put in place themselves. It is about creating independence.”
Horrigan says that one in 100 people uses a wheelchair and that numbers are rising due to the ageing population in Western Europe in particular.
“There are 40,000 wheelchair users in Ireland alone and my potential market across the UK, Europe and US is 14.5 million people. This market demands more innovation in assistive living products.”
He expects to have his product market-ready in early 2016, and have a spinout company from Origin8 at that point. His plan is to sell in Ireland followed by the UK, EU and US markets and to develop a stream of products for the disability sector. He says the company will provide jobs in design, IT, marketing, engineering and sales when up and running and that the product will be made in Ireland.