04 September 2010

Doc Ock

It might not be quite as cool as this, but it's pretty close.

TinMan (Scarecrow's senior sibling) was pretty sure he could design and build a better hands-free cupholder than the one I had. I needed something that would attach to my chair or a table, and hold a drink where I could get to it without needing to use my hands. To my surprise, there weren't a lot of commercially available devices that would do this. The closest thing I could find was a bright yellow plastic baby bottle holder that worked, kind of, but broke the first week I had it.

TinMan was all over this. Scarecrow sent him photos and measurements of my chair, and the two of them had lengthy discussions about various design and material options. He contacted the chair manufacturer (Permobile) for dimensions of possible attachment sites. He put his son, who was home from summer session for a one-week summer break, to work building it. (Sorry, Tin Jr. This was not my idea!)

It arrived Thursday, and I've got to say it's pretty cool. There are brackets to attach it to either side of my chair so it reaches around over my shoulder, and it's quick to install or remove. It can also attach to a plate that slides under the seat cushion. The gooseneck is flexible (duh), swings out of the way, and is attached to a telescoping rod for height adjustment. The cup holder part snaps onto the end of the gooseneck. Designed for use on a boat, it's self-leveling, so tilting my chair back doesn't dump the contents of the cup in my face. It's no uglier than the rest of my power chair, in fact, it kind of blends in. And it's sturdy. It may just be a cupholder, but this puts the durable in durable medical equipment.

Although in my past-tense day job I've been through lots of software development cycles, this is my first experience with hardware development so I don't know if you'd call this a prototype, or an alpha, or a beta, or what. Anyway, I expect software and hardware development are similar in that having the first example be perfect in every way would:
  1. be a miracle, and
  2. take all the fun out of it
So, yeah. I'm having to take back what I said about engineers being impervious to user feedback. TinMan and Scarecrow have already been modifying the attachment bracket, so installation and removal will be quicker. The gooseneck needs to be able to support more weight without sagging (hence the tasteful and stylish lightweight plastic cup in the photo, a relic of the days when Tuffy, who is now 20, could order from the kids' menu in a restaurant). The self-leveling cupholder is a brilliant idea, but it turns out, in practice, that you want more control over the position and angle of the cup than this allows. I expect this batch of fixes is only the first of many rounds of tweaks and adjustments.

But you know, for now, I can drink (from a lightweight cup) without pestering anybody for help. Scarecrow doesn't have to keep handing me my drink at meals. And the utilitarian design, far from detracting from its appeal, makes me feel like Doc Ock. How cool is that?

TinMan said he could build a better cupholder than the one I had. And he was right.


  1. Even a little bit of independence is a wonderful thing. Great job, TinMan!

  2. Confession - I had to look up Doc Ock. Wow, I hope TinMan and Scarecrow keep that character in mind in their reiterations through the development cycle. You could end up adding the DF to DME - Dual Function Durable Medical Equipment. More creative minds than mine could come up with some rather cool marketing blurbs.

    Good luck figuring out the self-leveling bit. Sounds like that's the crux. Am impressed by the family-engineer effort.