HOCKEY INNOVATION Students design puck for visually impaired players

The Globe and Mail, August 3, 2015, Sports.

A pair of Ontario college students face a tough crowd as they try to design an audible hockey puck that can be used by visually impaired players. And the international judges vetting the product at a global engineering contest won’t even be the harshest critics.

Those would be the players themselves, who say people have been designing pucks containing electronic noisemakers for decades and haven’t yet managed to create one that works well on the ice.

They say it’s proven difficult to find a puck that can be heard equally well while stationary or in motion, adding that ice temperatures and arena acoustics add further challenges.

The Sheridan College classmates, however, say those very issues prompted them to redesign their puck three times in the past five months. They believe they’ve now come up with something that will distinguish them at the IAM3D Challenge taking place in Boston.

The audible hockey puck is among 20 finalists for this year’s competition and will be up against three other entries from fellow Sheridan students.

The team behind the project may seem an unlikely choice to spearhead the latest effort to develop a puck.
Ryan Vieira said he and his fellow student Kristoffer Pascual, who are both fully sighted, had little interest or familiarity with hockey when they took on the project.
Nor were they influenced by the myriad previous designs that had fallen in and out of favour for at least the past 40 years.

“I was always into it for the challenge,” the 23-year-old said in a telephone interview.

“I had no design to work off. I was just given a basic shape and what it had to do.”

But requirements for the puck proved more complex than the team had anticipated, something previous other designers had learned the hard way.

Matt Morrow, executive director with Courage Canada – the blind hockey promotional organization – said sound is merely one factor.
The finished product needs to be both bigger and slower than a standard-issue puck, Morrow said, so that players with a variety of different vision levels can play.

Vieira and Pascual had to go through two prototypes before settling on the design they’ll present in Boston. Previous incarnations were made of plastic that grew too brittle when exposed to the ice, contained circuit boards that fell apart upon impact with a stick or featured speakers that didn’t project sound out towards the players and were also susceptible to damage during play.

The final product, produced in the 3-D printing lab at Sheridan, consists of nylon top and bottom inserts surrounded by aluminum casing. The internal buzzers emit tones that Vieira likens to the sound of an alarm clock, and are powered by a nine-volt battery.

Morrow said the true test will come when blind players put it through its paces in an actual game.
Only then, he said, will the team truly know whether their design reaches its goal
– or needs to be put on ice.

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