, Newburyport, MA

February 20, 2013

Toye's toy

Tailor-made video control puts NHS post-graduate in the game

By Jim Sullivan

---- — He used to game on a wing and a prayer. Now he’s got total control.

Newburyport High School post-graduate student Cameron Toye has never had the full use of his right side. Having suffered a stroke in utero, Toye wears a hand brace daily and often has to get around either on crutches or in a wheelchair.

All this provides plenty of daily challenges for Toye, but perhaps the one vexing him the most was the crimp it put on his Nintendo game.

Now, thanks to his industrial design class, the only challenge he faces in that department is getting Mario from one end of the screen to the other with a joystick tailor-made for him.

The contraption combines a joystick for movement with two pressure pads at his feet to allow for jumps in his playing of video games.

Toye said the idea for the joystick just “popped up” one day. He talked it over with his technology teacher, Sarah Leadbeater, and the class started working on it the next day.

The class’ deconstruction projects teach students about circuits and electricity by taking apart and customizing old Nintendo controllers. The goal is to show the students just how simple modern technology can be.

“We are terrified of technology,” Leadbeater said. “And if something breaks, we in this society throw it away and get a new one. But if you take those controllers apart, they are really, really simple. I wanted to demystify the technology, so it’s not this scary thing that no one understands.”

Enter Toye’s class partner, Andreas Asprogiannis, who has a talent for and interest in electrical engineering.

According to Asprogiannis, the task was straightforward: find a way to give Toye a third hand.

“I was kind of excited when I first heard about it,” Asprogiannis said. “It was a challenge and I’m a very competitive person, so I just got up and did it. It really pushed me forward. It was a good challenge for me and very interesting for both of us.”

Creating a third hand really wasn’t an option, of course, but making use of Toye’s feet was. Like any engineer worth his salt, Asprogiannis cannibalized a joy stick from a video game app and crafted the pressure pads out of aluminum foil. A Velcro arm band was utilized to wrap around Toye’s hand brace.

Soon, Toye was off and running through Mario Land.

“Trying to stabilize it on my hand was the hardest part,” Toye said.

In past classes, students have taken apart stuffed animals and the like and incorporated control devices into them. But this particular project was both more challenging and more personal.

“It was nice to see them do this for a reason, as opposed to just for fun,” Leadbeater said.

Leadbeater also said she and her students have no interest in patenting the system; they would just like to be able to help others coping with similar challenges.

When asked what he learned through the project, Asprogiannis said it’s that “nothing is impossible.”

“I’ve never incorporated using your whole body into something like this. I found that very awesome,” Asprogiannis said. “I think it would be great to do other projects, more advanced projects. Maybe doing something else, another project that involves another person who might not be able to do this or that and see what else I can do from there.”