University of Victoria

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Mini Dog Ball Launcher

Shayla Flavel's best friend is a small dog, a Maltese poodle named Bear. It's obvious when watching Shayla that being the owner of a pet brings her life much enjoyment. But because of her cerebral palsy, Shayla has always had to watch others interact with her dog.

Bear, comfortably seated on Shayla's lap, checks out the ball launcher. Sandra is shown on the left.Shayla is 20 years old and lives with her grandmother. Sandra wondered if there was some way to help her granddaughter play with Bear in an interactive way, instead of sitting off to the side as a spectator.

“We wanted some way that she could do something for him,” Sandra says. “She has a hard time – she can't take him for a walk. So we wanted something special for the two of them.”

Shayla's teacher, Bridgette Hatley, who had referred other people to CanAssist, suggested asking us to design and build a device to suit Shayla's needs. Kailen Tremblay, Zac Brown and Paul Leslie, members of CanAssist's engineering team, worked together to create what was coined the “Mini Dog Ball Launcher.”

“This device not only gives Shayla the ability to play fetch with Bear, it also enabled her to reward him with a treat when he brings the ball back,” says Darcy, CanAssist's manager of hardware.

The ball launcher, shown here from above, is activated by pressing the accessibility button.The unit attaches to Shayla's wheelchair and is operated with a head switch. Miniature tennis balls are fed into a clear plastic tube, and when Shayla presses the switch with her head, a spinning motor shoots the balls approximately 15 feet away.

“It works on the same principle as a mechanical pitching machine,” explains Paul, who was in charge of the project's electrical design.

Once Bear brings the ball back, Shayla presses the same switch again, and the treat dispenser – a circular rotating device like a quarter dispenser – releases a dog treat down a small chute. The Mini Dog Ball Launcher is made of anodized aluminum and finished in red, Shayla's favorite colour.

On delivery day, there was much laughter over Bear's reaction to the new device. He seemed to think that some sort of magic was taking place. Shayla loved being in charge of the game of fetch and providing rewards for her dog, but she also loved being the center of attention.

“She loves showing this thing off,” Sandra says.

Clearly, the Mini Dog Ball Launcher was a great success. As Darcy reflected, “The interaction between Shayla and Bear was evident right away. For the first time in her life, Shayla was able to play with Bear.”


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