Oct 3, 2015 | By Tess

It’s true what they say, Canadians love their ice hockey, and nothing can take it away from them. Not even visual impairment can stop hockey enthusiasts from enjoying and even playing the sport. Montreal’s visually impaired hockey team “Les Hiboux de Montreal” (translated as the Owls of Montreal), have been finding ways to accommodate the sport to their needs, playing with a can filled with marbles for instance, but they still hope to one day play hockey with a proper hockey puck.

Fortunately, their hopes may be realized in the near future, as Les Hiboux’s president of 11 years Gilles Ouellet, also an employee at the Université de Québec à Montréal (UQAM), approached the university just over a year ago to find a solution to their hockey puck problem.

Ouellet says, “We discussed with the vice-rector at the university about our project and how we wanted to develop a real electronic puck that would make sound whether it’s in the air or immobile.”

Through the vice-rector, Ouellet was put in touch with Steve Vézeau, a professor of design at UQAM, and the two set to work in developing a hockey puck that could be used by the visually impaired, but still retained the shape and weight of a regulatory puck.

Image credit: John Mahoney / Montreal Gazette

In order to build the puck, Vézeau has opted to make its parts through 3D modelling and 3D printing, using polyurethane as the material.

Because of the audio component of the puck, Vézeau’s biggest challenge has been designing a puck shaped casing to hold the fragile audio electronics and to simultaneously withstand being hit by hockey sticks. As he explains of the task, “Our role consists of finding a container, if you will, to contain the electronic equipment and at the same time find a way…to manufacture it so it can keep the equipment secure and, at the same time, be esthetic, solid and light.”

Not only that, however, the developers of the puck have to consider the other factors that come along with ice hockey, namely the cold, water and humidity.

Currently, the puck design is in its third generation, with Vézeau working out the final kinks. The recent prototype measures 5.25” in diameter, and 2” thick, which is noticeably larger than a standard puck, which typically measure 3” in diameter and are 1” thick. The model also currently weighs 400 grams, more than twice as heavy as a regulation puck.  “We have found a good compromise that makes the puck resistant (to damage), is easy to control and makes playing enjoyable to a certain point. The next challenge is to reduce the weight,” he says.

In order to reduce the puck’s weight, the developers will likely have to find a plastics company to partner with, though they anticipate this may be a difficult task. Vézeau explains, “This is not lucrative project for a company that does plastic injection. The market is so specific that there won’t be enough volume. Probably, any big plastic  company that gets involved will do so out of charity. They won’t get involved for economic reasons because it’s not profitable.”

Of course, the other dominant factor in designing the puck for the visually impaired has to do with the audio component. For this, Vézeau and Ouellet enlisted UQAM’s micro-electronics department and professor Mounir Boukadoum. Unlike the can with marbles, the 3D printed puck would play different sounds indicating its movement or its stillness.

Boukadoum says of the process, “We decided to make a system that included an accelerometer, a movement detector if you will, and we would couple it with a sound generator that would create sounds of different frequencies depending on the force with which the puck is hit.”

Though the puck for the visually impaired is still in development, those involved are hopeful the final prototype will be ready soon. In order to help the process along, Les Hiboux de Montréal have launched a crowdfunding campaign on makeachamp.com which will run until October 10th. So far, Ouellet says between $8,000 and $10,000 have been spent on the puck’s development.

Ouellet hopes that this season will be the last one Les Hiboux and other visually impaired hockey teams will have to play with a tin can and marbles. “The goal is not to make a profit with this. It’s really to expand the sport, develop it and hopefully bring it to the Paralympics for 2022,” said Ouellet.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications





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