Vol. 1, Issue 1 -- March, 1995
By Jane Fee
The Automatic Vacuum Cleaner design team consists of 3 ASEL engineers and 8 consumers. As in the other design teams, we are defining the specifications of demands vs. wishes. The team has many decisions to make, one being should the vac be fully automated (robotic) or manual with adapted attachments that a wheelchair user might find helpful. The suction power of a vac is dependent on the size of its motor. The weight of the motor probably will be the deciding factor in whether it will be fully automatic or manual. Toward that step we have tried two experiments. First, we rigged the power cord of a canister vac to the ceiling with a pulley system and hung it across the back of a wheelchair. This was to keep the power cord out of the way of the moving wheelchair. In rewinding it, the cord sagged and hit the wheelchair user in the side of the head. Also handling the vac wand made moving the wheelchair difficult. With there being no place to attach the wand to the wheelchair, the hands were not free to move the chair. In the second experiment, we used the base of a remote controlled toy car and positioned a dust buster on it. The remote had two switches, one for forward/backward and one for right/left. Good dexterity was needed to operate the remote and practice was needed to direct the dust buster at the dirt and avoid crashing into the walls. It was decided that if this approach was used, a joystick that combined both of the above switches would be needed. A slower speed would also be needed to allow the suction of the vac to pick up dirt and control the vac's movement. The two experiments were video taped and may be seen here at A.I. duPont Institute by calling ahead.
Another major concern relates to the power source and whether a battery system can be found/designed that has enough power without being too large. Several possibilities are being investigated including marine batteries and a new design not yet available to the public.
Finding the right battery and the efficiency and power of the motor are very interdependent. Our dilemma is the trade-off between the vacuum power of the machine and the weight of the batteries. Efficiency really is the key factor to the development of the vac.
Once these issues are resolved, our next step will be to develop a relationship with a manufacturer.
For more information, check out the Auto-Vac Design Team Home Page.