The VR Diversity Initiative Design Solutions for Accessible Back Packs for Disabled people

Although the VR Diversity Initiative is not a hackathon, it very much felt like it during the fourth VR Diversity Initiative if you were a participant taking part in the VR Design workshop. Led by virtual reality artist Continuum, participants were put into teams of three for a day to start ‘project backpack’.

The goal for Continuum was to create three accessible backpacks. Two for people with scoliosis and one for a wheelchair user. The challenge was, could the teams do it in a single day? Can they use new technologies like 3D scanning and printing? Did team members require certain skills to pull it off?

It all started before the workshop. Continuum had consulted with two people with scoliosis. Perhaps a little background knowledge on scoliosis is needed to fully understand the process as well. Scoliosis is a condition when the spine curves to the side. The spine can also twist at the same time. This twisting can pull the ribcage out of position. Although many people have not heard of scoliosis it is not rare. 3 to 4 children per 1000 need specialist supervision (Scoliosis Association UK).

Backpack for Jess

Before the workshop took place, Continuum had scanned Jess one of the individuals with scoliosis. The images here show the scanning process and the resulting back plate position. Continuum then used virtual reality (VR) software Gravity Sketch to design the backplate in 3D. With the help of Barclays Eagle Labs, they 3D printed the plate before the workshop began. The young women who were assigned to create the backpack for Jess came came rom both design and fashion backgrounds.

Here is the step by step process used to make the custom fitted backpack for Jess, with 3D scanning and 3D printed backplate.

Using the backplate as a blueprint for the backpack, the team decided to add straps in order to distribute the weight when Jess wore the backpack. This would make it easier to carry heavier items such as shopping. They added a small pink pouch at the front and on the shoulder straps for easy access to items such as an Oyster card, wallet and keys.

Backpack for Jo

Jo, an attendee of the VR Diversity Initiative, is a set and costume designer, and also has scoliosis.The team members joining her had a background in fashion design as well as 3D printing.  So all members had a huge amount of previoius experiences and skills they could utilise during the workshop. In consultation with occupational therapist Emma Sheppard, the team defined the requirements for the back pack.

Jo holds up a template for her backpack. This will later be 3D printed to serve the base of her backpack.
Continuum holds a Vive headset as Jo prepares to sit down and design.

The team’s design was a diagonal over shoulder backpack, that would sit on the upper back, (for Jo this is more suitable and comfortable). The backpack was designed to be big enough to fit an iPad, phone and wallte. They created a mock up of the 3D printed backplate which was created using Gravity Sketch. The shape of this mock up design was designed specifically to fit Jo’s back and enable her to carry the weight of the bag and contents more easily than generic bags. They then used this as a blueprint for the backpack. The actual backplate would be 3D printed after the workshop to form a fitted based plate of the backpack. 

Trolley for Ben Harris

Ben Harris is the Funds Manager for charity organisation Sportsable, which aim to promote and advocate for disabled people and provide support for athletics and sports participation. When Ben heard about the VR Design workshop he wanted to participate immediately.

With the assistance Keith Pamment, Ben worked tried to find an accessible backpack solution wheelchair users. They quickly realised that a backpack wasn’t quite as useful for people in wheelchairs, simply because of the chair. Instead they opted to go with a trolley design, which could easily detach or attach to a wheelchair.

Using Gravity Sketch they created a prototype in VR and then proceeded to use a metal trolley, some tools and 3D printing to build a trolley that would be able to hold up to 25kg. They also made it extendable, allowing the trolley to become smaller or larger depending on what people wanted to use it for.

As Ben showcased the trolley at the end of the day, he explained that this could be used for athletes at his charity. Particularly an individual who competed in archery, and did not have an electric wheelchair. Going onto various terrains was vital, and they proposed having different wheels available as well. Keith also explained that taking part in the VR Design workshop allowed had given him the confidence to potentially find a solution to 3D scan individuals in wheelchairs, materials and allow people in wheelchairs to custom create their own wheelchairs in future using VR and 3D printing as the tools and the means.

Now that the workshop has ended the prototypes can be worked on to become actualised, the backpacks are the first ever bespoke bags designed in VR for both comfort and accessibility. Continuum hopes to continue doing more of these workshops in collaboration with the VR Diversity Initiative and is currently looking for companies for sponsorship or to donate materials such as fabric or excess stock backpacks for future events.

Watch the process and results in this video below: