Enhancing Aquatic Mobility Through Biomimicry: A Co-Creative Project with G.F. Strong Rehabilitation Centre
Abstract: This case study details a pioneering co-creative project developed in collaboration with G.F. Strong Rehabilitation Centre and the Stan Stronge Aquatic Therapy Pool, as part of a medical design course at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. The project focuses on leveraging biomimicry, specifically the hydrodynamic efficiency of the Humpback whale's fin, to design a device enhancing the aquatic mobility of clients living with hemiplegia during recreational aquatic therapy.
Context and Challenge: Each year, Emily Carr University's Industrial Design students collaborate with G.F. Strong Rehabilitation Centre to devise innovative solutions for challenges identified by the center. This project stemmed from the partnership with a recreational therapist and a client at Stan Stronge therapeutic pool, aiming to address the limited efficacy of existing aquatic devices like hand paddles, which do not cater to individuals with abnormal anatomy due to conditions such as severe flexion.
Opportunity: The project sought to explore novel designs that could provide positive propulsion for clients with hemiplegia, thus relying on neuroplasticity to potentially enhance motor function and range of motion. The focus was on creating a device that could be fitted on the arm, bypassing the limitations posed by traditional pool devices.
Research and Development: Inspired by Norman Doidge's work on neuroplasticity, the project involved immersive research, including interviews with recreational therapists and clients' parents, to understand the therapy's impact fully. The development process led to the identification of the space between the wrist and elbow as a crucial opportunity space. Various prototypes were tested to optimize for reduced drag and increased propulsion, culminating in a design inspired by the Humpback whale fin's tubercle effect.
Innovation - Why the Bumps? The project innovatively applied biomimicry by incorporating tubercles, or the serrated edges found on Humpback whale fins, into the device's design. This biomimetic approach aimed to replicate the whale fin's ability to prevent stalling and maintain lift at sharp angles, thus offering enhanced maneuverability and efficiency in water. This feature was anticipated to facilitate sharper turns and more effective propulsion for the user, mirroring the whale's agility in capturing prey.
Impact and Potential: The device represents a significant advancement in aquatic therapy aids, offering a tailored solution that acknowledges the unique anatomical challenges faced by individuals with hemiplegia. By harnessing the principles of neuroplasticity and biomimicry, the project not only addresses a gap in current therapeutic devices but also opens new avenues for the application of natural efficiencies in medical device design. This case study underscores the potential of interdisciplinary collaboration and applied research innovation in creating impactful solutions for enhancing quality of life.
Design and research rationale.
The rationale behind this project outcome is rooted in the logical progression of enhancing aquatic mobility for clients with hemiplegia, which inherently fosters a series of beneficial psychological and physiological effects. By focusing on increasing the range of motion, the device not only facilitates physical improvement but also significantly boosts clients' confidence through tangible achievements. These incremental gains in movement within the aquatic environment, a medium that naturally reduces physical constraints, empower clients by providing them with a sense of accomplishment.
Furthermore, the application of neuroplasticity principles—wherein the brain's neural connections are capable of reorganizing in response to new learning experiences—plays a critical role in this process. The act of navigating and maneuvering in water with the aid of the designed device encourages the formation of new neural pathways, enhancing motor skills and functional abilities over time. This neurological adaptation not only contributes to physical improvements but also positively impacts the client's sense of self.
The ability to make even slight advancements in mobility allows individuals to better engage in and compete within their peer groups, thus normalizing their experiences and fostering a sense of belonging. The psychological impact of these "small wins" cannot be understated; they represent significant victories in the clients' journey towards rehabilitation and personal empowerment. Consequently, this project's outcome underscores the profound interconnectedness of physical mobility, neuroplasticity, psychological well-being, and social integration, highlighting the transformative potential of design in therapeutic settings.