Flinders game controller wins state design award

David Hobbs and Max Hughes (l-r)

“Orby” – a novel computer game controller that enables children with disabilities to play computer games – has won a prestigious state prize from the Design Institute of Australia.

Designed by industrial design graduate Max Hughes, the controller won a silver award in the object category of the 2013 Laminex Group Design Institute of Australia SA Awards.

The concept of an easy-to-use, accessible controller was the brainchild of Flinders University lecturer David Hobbs, who initiated a collaborative project between Flinders University and the University of South Australia to create a working prototype. The judging panel noted the collaborative nature of the project, stating that it demonstrated high standards of both professional and academic achievement.

The controller project was jointly supervised by Mr Hobbs and Mr Sandy Walker, an award winning industrial designer from the University of South Australia.

Mr Hughes, who began working on the project as a student before being employed by Flinders University as a graduate industrial designer, was given a project brief to design an intuitive controller that can only be used with two hands and included the ability to provide ‘haptic feedback’ to the player during game play.

The controller also had to be compatible with Xbox 360 games, flat surface-mounted for table or lap use, and designed to hold a single hand to either side of the device with hand straps if the child is unable to do so themselves.

Mr Hughes said the controller gave children with a disability – particularly those with sensory impairments caused by cerebral palsy – the opportunity to play computer games where they wouldn’t normally be able to do so.

“Computer games are at the centre of a lot of children’s social circles and peer conversations, and are something that many children play on a daily basis,” Mr Hughes said.

“But for some children it’s almost impossible to use a traditional game controller due to the nature of their disability, which leaves them feeling excluded from their peer group because they can’t join in,” he said.

Under the supervision of Mr Hobbs, the aim of the project was to design a computer game controller that children with limited hand function could use, meaning they could participate in a mainstream, ‘normal’ and socially-binding activity.

Mr Hobbs, who has won several awards for his haptic gaming technologies for children with disabilities, said the controller is currently part of a clinical trial targeted specifically at children with cerebral palsy, with the results yet to be determined.

The controller was 3D printed and manufactured locally by advanced manufacturing company Ellex Precise, who specialise in assisting clients to commercialise their medical device intellectual property, from industrial design through prototyping, regulatory work and on to device manufacture.

The ‘Orby’ controller was developed through a collaborative project between Flinders University, the University of South Australia and the Women’s and Children’s Health Network, and funded by the Channel 7 Children’s Research Foundation.

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