bespoken is launching a new design challenge for 2012!


This year we have teamed up with 3 Universities – Brunel, Coventry and Loughborough – and we want your insight and expertise to guide them.


This is how it works – we have final year design students at all these universities looking for inspiration for their projects.  They want to create something that meets a real need.


Tell us your ideas, issue your challenges and the students will select their projects from this list.


So – what doesn’t exist that should?  What should these bright young minds be working on?  I’ve left the ideas from last year below to get you started.


The floor is yours…

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I think you're right, Carioline.

It's a matter of  trial and error. Maybe they'll get it right next time!



This is more of a general theme rather than a specific idea.  At a number of meetings and events over the past few weeks I have had communication mentioned to me as an issue.  In some cases this has been the need for better communication devices for people who have communication deifficulties.  In others it has been the need more useable communication options to keep people connected.

Communication is what we perceive is happening. It is not always clear, even when undertaken by professionals, and I have just been required to write to this topic myself.

I see a need for is a "Listening Post", which is partly met by bespoken, where real concerns and problems are listened to and solved. Too many people recognise a problem yet pass by on the other side, because it is  "not their job."

Everybody thought that Somebody would do it.

Somebody thought Anybody would do it:

Anybody thought Everybody would do it

So Nobody did it.

The biggest change that could happen is a change of attitude, and take  responsibility  and champion the causes we care about.

Taking a more literal definition of communication and speaking (selfishly) as a stroke survivor, can I put in a plea for more effort to go into the design of practical communication devices and support services. Following my stroke I spent a little time in "locked in" syndrome (who would believe it now, huh?) but can report that the inability to communicate was far more distressing to me than the inability to move or control my body.

A friend, who I met on the stroke ward, still suffers from aphasia (inability to express his thoughts) and is unable to vocalise, write or even use pictures to get a message out. This is 2 years after he had his disabling stroke. To date, the NHS has supplied him with (sorry people if you're reading this and recognise yourselves) totally hopelessly ineffective "speech therapy" (Ie, someone comes for half an hour once a week and badgers him to make "ooh" and "aah" sounds). The one thing that was showing some promise was a specialised course based at Newcastle University that was able to provide 12 one-day sessions before the money ran out.

His "mind" otherwise works as "normal". He responds to conversation - he just can't take part. If we go out for a meal, he knows what he wants from the menu but it's a game of 20 questions before the rest of us find out what it is.

If researchers can tap into brain signals to move a prosthetic limb, can someone please spend some time tapping into even basic communication thoughts so my friend might once again tell his wife he loves her.

I'd love someone to design a servo-feedback power wheelchair controller system. One where a given amount of displacement results in the expected speed, regardless of slope or surface that chair is operating on. No more getting stuck or suddenly haring off like a scalded cat once the temporary obstruction is cleared.

Can anyone come up with a truly clever solution to the need for a bag or some receptacle in which a wheelchair user might carry their daily essentials (house keys, medicines, coins, wallet, glasses, phone, small camera) within easy reach. In a wheelchair you can't get to trouser pockets and carrying a handbag / man-bag / shoulder bag can be either inconvenient or uncomfortable. Try going through a self-service restaurant and trying to juggle a bag as well as a tray when you have only one lap .. you need access to money but then you need to grab your food tray and get out of the queue!

I've tried a Tr***sack - a clever idea but all loose bags get in the way. They (not just the Tr***sack) make you hot in summer. They rub your legs and make you sore. You can never find what you need in a hurry.

I need something

  • Slim enough and sized to hang at the side of my wheelchair
  • Made with a modern "anti-crush" lining to provide protection for contents if the chair squeezes it against say a doorframe
  • Easy opening / fastening - ideally I want my hand to just drop into the bag and instantly find what I want (not too much to ask, surely ;>))

We had an electric wheelchair, but I think the solution could be adapted.

We bought a shoulder bag- you'll need to assess these yourself - on the main frame of the wheelchair at the front, just beneath the cushion of the chair,We attached it with webbing straps, and was virtually invisible, unless you knew it was there. 

He used it for keys, Swiss Army knife, spare parts for his wheelchair, like split pins, Allan keys, and cash. When it was attached to the wheelchair, it didn't really matter whether it was a male or female bag, and I can't honestly remember which.

If you are in a manual chair, you might want to mount it at the side, to save crushing?

A really neat solution would be a motorcyclists tool bag - you'll find nice leather and good quality ones on line.

Hope this helps,



This link may give you some ideas.


Thanks for the replies Linda. I sort of solved the problem with a Samsonite messanger bag that I already had. The shoulder strap originally connected with a couple of clip fasteners to sizeable D-rings sown on to the bag. I removed the shoulder strap and used some Velcro cable ties (wonderful stuff for connecting many things to a wheelchair) to hook the bag between the leg-hangers - ie, just in-front of the seat and behind my legs when I'm in the chair.

I said "sort of" solved the problem. Though the bag is not very deep, it obstructs the turning radius of the front wheels. In other words, it gets clouted every time the wheels "do a 180" - ie every time I put the chair in reverse. In turn, this causes the bag to push my legs and feet forward. Not a problem wit the bag or its fiixing method but poor design of the chair (a £9,500 Otto Bock B600).

I gave up trying to hang a bag on the side of the chair as their simply isn't anywhere to fix a bag and, if there were, the chair would then prove difficult to navigate through standard size door openings. Again, I'm left wondering who among the manufacturers actually test these products out in the real world. Do they actually lend them to real life users? Or is it commercially more attractive to spend the money on fancy marketing materials and exhibitions?

Ho hum ...


The Uncatchable Wheelchair....

This was seen yesterday. It looked very interesting, and could certainly move at some rate. I estimate that the occupant covered a mile in less than ten minutes - which for a self propelled job is pretty good!

I tried to catch him to ask where he had the conversion done, as it looked so much easier than pushing the wheels, but failed to draw level even at running pace! I would have been so interested to find out where he had it done, as it not only looked less effort but a huge amount of fun!

Hmm .. take a look at to see Mr Williamson's designs for modified chairs - his latest uses brushless motors, 45V of lithium batteries, a "proper" controller and is capable of 15MPH!!  He reports that wheelies are trivially easy - most useful for mounting steps and kerbs. Or so he says :>)

I've driven an 8MPH model (the fastest that can be legally sold in the UK, I believe) and my 6MPH B600 generally gets the kids at my wife's school to ask for a race if we're on the playing field - they win :>)

Talking of controllers ("proper" was in parentheses for a reason) I'm planning to look into the design of a true SPEED controller rather than the "energy" controllers that seem to be all that is offered at the moment. The difference is that with the existing very simple minded controllers, it is up to the user to determine how much energy is sent to the motors at any given instance. Thus, on heavy carpet or faced with a ramp, the user has to push the joystick controller further to make (often any) progress. The problem is, once the obstacle is overcome (eg; the front wheels have turned [high friction position] ) in-line with the direction of travel, the chair takes off like a scalded cat. On a ramp, the chair is likely to stall unless the highest power setting is selected - requiring Olympian feats of anticipation and control to stop the chair hurtling forward once the top of the ramp is reached. I've had enormous problems getting into London taxis - I need full power and a run-up to stand any chance of climbimg the ramp - and split-second timing to stop the chair before it rams me into the opposite door.

These are the kind of problems electronics have been solving for us for decades now. The speed of an old-fashioned vinyl record deck could be held within 0.05%. Ditto tape decks etc. What is needed is a SPEED relationship between the joystick and the wheels - with electronics determining how much power is required at any given instance to achieve the desired speed. In other words, I should be able to climb a taxi ramp at a crawl, even though the motors may require full power to do it ... and the electronics should instantly wind back the power as soon as the ramp is crested so that I can enter the cab slowly.

Anyone up for a bit of collaborative electronics hackery?

several months ago I suggested an idea of designing a startlift where the seat could be removed and become a light weight transit chair to allow disabled people to be transferred with a hoist in the sitting room /bedroom. I think if the chair was allitle bit like the ambulance trolleys where the back legs colapsed out of the way as it slide onto the stairlift base. The front legs and foot plates would stay in place.

This would be so useful where the condition is going to deterioate, it would allow so many people to continue to go upstairs and be apart of the family for so much longer.

I have had this idea for so many years and no body is listening, if its just not possible I need an engineer to tell me and then I will shut up!

In my long career as an OT I can think of several clients where this type of lift would have been perfect and would have allowed so much comfort and compassion in some very difficult situations. Perfect for the rental market. If thee is an engineer out there is this a bonkers idea!!


regards Jane Varden



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