Volksswitch – the people’s AT switch!

As I was working on a master’s degree in special education and a certificate in assistive technology I had the opportunity to survey the domain of assistive technology – in particular electronic input devices.  The first thing I noticed was that the mind-numbing variety of available pressure switches with huge amounts of overlap in functionality and features.  They’re also hugely expensive.  It was difficult to understand why a particular manufacturer chose to incorporate a particular feature set into their switch, but once incorporated, there was little or no support for customization.

For my master’s project, I chose to propose A Modular Architecture for Control and Communication Assistive Technology Devices.  While researching and writing the document I happened to purchase a 3D Printer and immediately saw the opportunity that 3D printing created for low cost, one-off (personalized), manufacturing.  The technology is also simple enough to use that it could be put into the hands of people close to the individuals with disabilities – OTs, PTs, ATPs, and even families.

I’ve since found ATMaker’s prototype switch on Thingiverse and created a remix of that design.  I think it’s very possible to design a robust, customizable, personalizable, 3D printable pressure switch and release that design to the general public, free of charge.  If you also believes that’s possible, please send email to “ken” at this domain.

A good design starts with a good set of requirements.  I’ve started compiling a clear set of requirements.

Just to demonstrate that such a switch is possible, here’s a proof of concept design.

The Volksswitch (“The People’s Switch”) has been loosely inspired by the original Volkswagen (“The People’s Car”).

(The following was stolen, almost verbatim, from Wikipedia.)
In April 1934, Adolf Hitler gave the order to Ferdinand Porsche to design a Volkswagen (literally, “people’s car” in German). Chancellor Hitler insisted on a basic vehicle that could transport two adults and three children at 100 km/h (62 mph) while not using more than 7 liters of fuel per 100 km (32 mpg US/39 mpg UK).[12] The engine had to be powerful for sustained cruising on Germany’s new Autobahnen. Everything had to be designed to ensure parts could be quickly and inexpensively exchanged. The engine had to be air-cooled because, as Hitler explained, not every country doctor had his own garage. In general, radiators filled with water would freeze unless the vehicle was kept in a heated building overnight or drained and refilled each morning.) The “People’s Car” would be available to citizens of Nazi Germany through a savings scheme, or Sparkarte (savings booklet), at 990 Reichsmark, about the price of a small motorcycle.

If you can get beyond the fact that Adolf Hitler played a seminal role in inspiring the development of the Volkswagen, it clearly achieved its goal of being an inexpensive, highly functional and reliable automobile for the average person. The Volksswitch has similar aspirations in terms of cost, functionality and reliability but simultaneously aspires to high levels of customization and personalization – a capability which is only now feasible via the technology of 3D printing.

Power to the People!

Ken Hackbarth