John Schimmel      

RAMPS - a wheelchair DJ

Fall 2005 - Present

RAMPS is a wheelchair DJ interface - the left wheel fades between tracks while the right wheel scratches the music. Users bring their existing wheelchair skills to the show, RAMPS detects the speed and direction of each wheel. The wheelchair becomes an interface to music, games and new computer interactions.

The story

The idea for Ramps came from an 18 year old boy with cerebral palsy who called himself E-Money (spelled E$). He is part of the hip-hop culture, rapping with the other boys or to the nurses as they went to therapy. The boys had amazing wheelchair skills, swarming through the hallways in packs without incident. I wanted to develop something that could use the existing wheelchair skills. I developed Ramps with several classmates at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU. In the Developing Assistive Technology class we paired with an occupational therapist who worked at NYU’s Rusk Medical Center in pediatrics. She introduced us to E$ and was a big help in getting access to patients for testing.

The process

With my partners Wlodek Koss, a fine craftsman in the woodshop and Tristan Perich an amazing computer programmer and artist we set out to turn the wheelchair into a DJ machine. Emerged in the hip-hop culture, we wanted our new friend E$ to use his chair skills to create music, and perform for his friends.

We developed a two ramp system, each ramp inclines slightly with a pair of rollers at the end where the wheels of the chair would rest. The ramps were designed so almost any manual wheelchair could ride up and use the system, nothing would to attach to the wheels so many people could share it in one location.

Each set of rollers had an optical encoder to detect the movement of the wheel, with the data we could determine the speed and direction of each wheel. This would give us essentially 6 variables to use in software; forward, back and speed of each wheel.



Tristan designed two pieces of software that quickly showed the possibilities of the Ramps system. First was a children’s game called Bunny Rescue, the user would navigate a mother rabbit to collect her bunnies. The wheels would move the rabbit forward when both wheels are pushed forward, back when both are pushed backward and spin in circles when one is moved by itself. The game was a good success and because he built it quickly he had time for one more piece.

Wheelchair DJ was built as an interface to present songs as an M.C would, the left wheel would fade between 2 selected tracks and the right wheel would scratch the current song. E$ absolutely related to the interaction the first time we presented it to him, it was his curiousity with the software that made us realize that the wheelchair could be used as a tool for self expression and can create art.

Prototype #2

The second prototype of Ramps was designed by Wlodek Koss and the features included smaller incline to access the rollers, USB support and overall compact design for storage. One conern with the first version was the bulky size and weight, visiting hospitals we realized the Occupational Therapists have very limited space.

Making the new ramps USB allowed support for more modern computers and allows for keyboard emulation and mouse control. The design developed by Wlodek made the Ramps more accessible and closer to placing it in a hospital. The USB was designed by Amit Pitaru and his advice provoked us to consider what software these ramps would actually be interfacing with.

Interfacing with existing controllers

The custom games we developed were wonderful for testing but there were two major hurdles: finding a good programmer and finding time to develop new software. This led us with Amit’s advice to consider other options, games that involve the keyboard and mouse. If ramps could work with these games it would be much easier to provide new software to users.

Could Ramps interface with a hardware controller like XBox or Playstation? Perhaps, but one limitation right now is the number of controllers available and the large number of switches in them.

Exhibited at
Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts - FREEZE Medical Tech Art Exhibit
ITP Spring Show 2006
ITP Winter Show 2005

Marilyn Ingram
Tristan Perich
Wlodek Koss

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