Six third-year Ryerson engineering students have been hard at work in the basement of Kerr Hall, creating an audible hockey puck that will allow players with visual impairments to play Canada’s favourite sport.
They call it the eyePuck.
With the help of the North American Society of Tetra, an organization that connects clients who have physical disabilities with skilled volunteers, the students were connected with Steve Pollard, an orientation and mobility specialist and coach of a recreational visually impaired hockey team.
The students began working on Pollard’s request for an audible hockey puck in January 2015. Their work will not get them class credit, but they consider working on this project with Tetra the perfect way to test their skills in the real world, not just in the classroom.
Now, over a year later, they have almost completed their first prototype. The puck has been coated with polyurethane that will protect it from water, slush and, they hope, the battering of many hockey sticks.
The polymer used is “classified,” said Miranda Pinto, a mechanical engineering student who is working on the project. The design for an audible hockey puck has not been patented yet and many people are racing to create the final product, so the inventors are cautious about releasing information to competitors.
Their competition includes Courage Canada, a charity that organizes hockey for the blind, and two Sheridan students who also received Tetra’s challenge.
Jennifer Eshoua, a biomedical engineering student working on the project, said the problem with Sheridan’s puck was that it wasn’t durable.
“It lasted four seconds on the ice,” Eshoua said, adding that she hopes her group’s prototype will solve the durability issue that seemed to hinder the Sheridan team’s puck.
Wayne St. Dennis, captain of the Ice Owls, Toronto’s hockey team for the visually impaired, agreed that many attempts to create an audible hockey puck have failed once they hit the ice. His team currently plays with a bigger-than-average puck complete with metal bearings that rattle as it moves across the ice,. That allows players with limited or no vision to follow it more easily.
The design does come with barriers, however. Once the puck stops moving, so do its bearings, making it difficult for players to find it. This often results in a stop in play.
St. Dennis also added that many pucks that rely on electronic noise don’t work due to the acoustics in the rink. When the sound reverberates off of the ice and the arena, “the puck isn’t always where you think it is,” he explained.
This is due to the Doppler effect, a scientific phenomenon where the frequency of sound waves change due to movement. The Ryerson engineering team hopes to combat this by using a sensor that will detect how fast the puck is moving and adjust its frequency accordingly. If the puck is hit and moves quickly, it will beep faster, notifying the players of its velocity and direction. When the puck is stationary, it will beep slower, allowing players to locate it with less trouble.
The engineering team expects to go through two more prototypes before they finalize their design, which will likely take them until at least the end of their degree. Pinto said this is, “time well spent.”
Eshoua agreed, but also said that “when we finally get it out and see people playing with it, that’s going to be the most rewarding part.”