Introduction: 3D Printed Steering Wheel Assist Tool
There are many existing tools on the market that help drivers be able to steer with one hand. However, this project was more focused on creating a tool to help drivers with a wide degree of impairments - whether low motor control, low finger dexterity, finger/hand amputation, arthritis, etc. As such, this 3D-printed design is more focused on a modular solution to a common problem. Rather than a single, 'one-size-fits-all' approach to aiding with driving, this project aims to have many handle attachments to specifically help a specific driver on the roads.
Step 1: Design & Print
The first step in this process is creating/modifying the parts that will be specifically printed for this project. We used this existing design from Thingiverse as a basis for our model. The bracket and bushing can be printed as they are, as these parts will be static in this design. However, the screw will need to be modified to account for the custom attachments that will be added to it, not simply the included spinner knob. We learned how to use Autodesk Meshmixer in order to lengthen the screw as well as change its proportions. Then, we used Autodesk Fusion 360 to design the custom handle we would attach to the bracket. The handle design that you will see is specifically created for people with low hand/motor strength, to be able to slip their hands into an ergonomic bracket and strap it in. After we created these models online, we sent them to Ultimaker 3D printers to have them created.
Step 2: Iterate & Prototype
The next phase of the project is the most time-intensive but the most satisfying! We began to print out many iterations of the designs we created. We experimented with many different lengths of screws and handle attachments. They all vary from case to case, based on the type of modular steering attachment that you want to make! One piece of advice is - don't worry about failing. It may take many iterations of prints before you get the exact right shape and size you want for the handle/impairment you have in mind. However, we kept each iteration because we were able to collect valuable insight and feedback for the next time. Furthermore, we learned more from our failed designs and each prototype got better and better. Finally, we were able to create a functioning prototype. For this first model, we used hot glue to fix the strap onto our ergonomic handle. In future iterations, we will add some sort of velcro or buckling system to streamline the process.
Step 3: Testing & Usage
Finally, we were able to test our design! This video shows our process of finally putting our completed prototype from the computer screen to my steering wheel. For the testing phase, we were sure to use our own cars, in a parking lot we were very familiar with. We were pleasantly surprised by how functional our tool actually was. However, we learned a few key things throughout the process:
1. Need to be more mindful of safety during testing protocols, especially when working with such a niche product that requires high standards of safety.
2. Need to work on creating more modular handle attachments that can accommodate a wide variety of use case scenarios.
3. Need to consider the fact that not all steering wheels are the same size and not all cars handle/drive the same way so the same methodologies cannot be used to design each of them.
We are excited to continue iterating onto this product but are thrilled to see it is actually functional and has a lot of potential for future functionality and breaking into the cost-effective accessibility tool space.