Team Electric Slide: Electrical Outlet Assistive Device (Louisiana Tech University)

Brennon Cucullu, Rae Henson, Katie Simmons, Chris Garcia, Louisiana Tech University

The focus of the electrical outlet connector is to aid people with Cerebral Palsy, Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Parkinson`s disease into helping them plug in an everyday electrical device. The important considerations for the project are not to introduce stress factors to the person using the device (such as pushing pulling) and to make the device applicable to most standard American electrical outlets. The final design incorporates all these criteria and establishes an easily assembled, manufacturable device.

The project chosen is an electrical outlet connector that will aid people with disabilities to use an electrical outlet without the assistance of another person. Such people lack fine motor skills or upper body strength required to plug in or unplug an electrical device from a wall outlet. These inhibit the user from safely plugging in a device into an electrical outlet. The product will be designed to provide assistance in their day to day lives.
The problem at hand is that people who have limited upper body mobility such as people with Parkinson`s disease, Spinal Cord Injury, or Osteoarthritis/Arthritis have trouble connecting cords to the outlet. Parkinson`s disease is a progressive neurological disorder that results from degeneration of neurons in a region of the brain that controls movement. In the United States, at least 500,000 people are believed to suffer from Parkinson’s disease, and about 50,000 new cases are reported annually (1).

Osteoarthritis is characterized by progressive deterioration of the cartilage that lines the joints, which causes bones to rub against each other. This disease especially affects weight-bearing or misaligned joints. Common sites of discomfort are the vertebrae, knees, back, and hips. Approximately 21 million individuals have osteoarthritis in the United States (2). Spinal cord injury patients have limited to no use of their upper body. In this case, they cannot properly bend over to plug in a device into an outlet. Spinal cord injuries affect between four and five million Americans per year and 42% of spinal injury patients are due to motor vehicle injuries (3). When designing an outlet connector for people with these certain disabilities, it is important to consider factors such as size, weight, safety, and force required to load a cord. The electrical outlet connector could be used so clients do not have to depend on others plugging and unplugging everyday devices for them. There is a lack of assistive devices currently available to people with these disabilities in regards to electrical outlets.

Some devices that are currently available are known as Electronic Aids to Daily Living (EADL). Users interact with EADLs through control interfaces such as switchboards and/or speech recognition. Most EADLs have two switch types: momentary and latched. Momentary switches are only active when they are pressed while latched switches have to be deactivated. An example of a momentary switch would be a garage door opener and an example of a latched switch would be a television or a hairdryer. These EADLs in particular have a major disadvantage; they must remain connected to the wall outlet. This could limit the user in the movement of the devices to different areas of their home or work. It could prove hazardous to have an electrical device plugged in at all times. Another disadvantage is that users would have to go through training to properly and safely use the EADL (4). In contrast, the proposed connector would allow the user to plug in any device at their convenience and would not limit the mobility of the device. The initial cost and training of the EADLs currently on the market would be much higher than the expected cost of the new electrical outlet connector.

The prototype to be developed is a magnetic connector. This prototype was developed with consideration of an electrical deep fryer magnetic cord. While observing electric deep fryer cords, it was discovered that the cord was easily attracted into the needed spot in order to make a valid connection Likewise, the magnetic attraction was only strong enough to help establish the connection and could easily be unplugged with little effort. In this way, the design for the magnetic connector was created.

Electromagnetic Design
The magnetic connector went through several design processes. The original design had a wall outlet and electromagnetic interface. After researching, it was determined that the electromagnetic connection would place a capacitor in series between the wall outlet and the electrical device. This would block direct current to the device and cause disruption with a constant voltage supply. From this information we decided to quickly change to a magnetic assistive device. The faceplate would have magnets on it, as well as the desired cord to be plugged into a wall socket. The magnets would be arranged so the polarities would be attracted to each other. This established an important design criterion: the orientation of the cord, for the user would be easily established. Since the polarities of the magnets are only drawn to each other a certain way, if the user were to incorrectly orient the magnets, the orientation would prevent them from connecting. However, should the connector be reversed, the magnets would attract and to no effort exerted by the user, a connection would occur.

Faceplate and Cord Adapter Designs
The next issue faced with the magnetic design was that magnets would need to be placed on both the cord and the faceplate. The second design required the magnets to be placed inside the electrical box. This would require the user to replace the faceplates and possibly the outlet inside the electrical box. Equally, the issue of how would the magnets on the cords be arranged arose. Since, the standard American cord has been around for many years, there is not a possibility to get them manufactured with magnets that would allow our device to work. The design came down to creating two adapters. One adapter would only require changing the faceplate of an electrical outlet. The second adapter would be placed on the electrical cords of the devices that are for daily use.
These adapter designs were carefully considered, especially with electrical codes. The codes that were found dealt with basic grounding and insulation. These codes in particular were only used for the manufacturing of direct electrical products such as special cords for appliances and electrical outlet wall box. The magnetic design was thoroughly grounded via the grounding screw and as no electrical connection was being tampered with these codes was easily met.

Electric Slide Design
The final design iteration allows for a product that is more easily manufactured. Each adapter (faceplate and cord) would be built as a top and bottom half. This will allow components such as a male adapter and a female “bridge” component to be set inside the appropriate spot and then combine the halves. This will stabilize the inner components and will alleviate some issues with standards and codes by using standard parts. To put simply, it will be similar to a LEGO©, with more openings to place electrical components inside. The two blocks will combine to secure the electrical components. This design was unanimously decided as we felt it provided not only a simpler design, but with using standardized parts it would be easy to fabricate.

The components inside the wall adapter/faceplate adapter are the Male “Bridge”  and the contacts (Figure 1). The contacts will be crimped onto the male part. These will be housed in side the two parts of Figure 2

Likewise, the Female “Bridge”  and the pins (Figure 1) will be inside the cord adapter. As the contacts were crimped to the male end, the pins will be crimped to the female end. These will be housed within the two parts of Figure 3.

Three pins and three contacts are required for the design. This will ensure a grounding component associated with standard three-prong American outlets. Also, this will grant the needed positive and negative leads.


Figure 1: Inner Components (From Left to Right: Male "Bridge", Female "Bridge", Contact, Pin Insert)

Figure 2: Top and Bottom of Faceplate Adapter

Figure 3: Top and Bottom of Cord Adapter

At the beginning of our senior design project, we were given a budget of $500.00 from the Center for Rehabilitation Engineering, Science, and Technology (CREST). Most of our parts have been ordered from electrical companies. The only option in ordering these parts is that they must be bought in bulk. The electrical components needed were acquired as samples. The companies include K and J Magnetics, HEYCO, and ETCO. The main body components were manufactured through the rapid prototype machine at Louisiana Tech University. The plastic printouts were given to us at student discount price.

The main goals for this senior design project have been met. These goals are: ease of installation, ease of fabrication, incorporation of a standard three-prong American cord, small extrusion from the wall to prevent tripping hazards, and minimal force required to remove and attach the two adapters. Testing for this device will occur using a data acquisition device in a LabView simulation program. This procedure will analyze each pin’s connection reliability. The statistical data analysis will be compared to the national standards for safety. This evaluation will procure data comparison to solidify the safety of our device and assure no arching is present.

1. “Parkinson’s Disease: Hope Through Research.” National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). Web. Nov. 2010. .
2. “Spinal Cord Injury(SCI) | Spinal Cord Injury, Brain Injury | Resources for TBI & SCI.” Spinal Cord Injury, Brain Injury | Resources for TBI & SCI. Web. Nov. 2010. .

3. Cook, Albert M., Jan Miller. Polgar, Albert M. Cook, and Susan M. Hussey. Cook & Hussey’s Assistive Technologies: Principles and Practice. 3rd ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby Elsevier, 2008. Print.

4. Glantz, Stanton A. Primer of Biostatistics. 6th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Medical Pub., 2005. Print.

5. Gugerty, John, Arona Faye Roshal, Mary DJ Tradewell, and Linda Anthony, comps. Tools, Equipment and Machinery Adapted for the Vocational Education and Employment of Handicapped People. Federal Project for the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Office of Education Bureau of Occupational and Adult Education, January 1981. Print.

6. ETCO. ETCO Engineered Products Contacts 09646. Web. Mar. 2011. .

7. ETCO. ETCO Engineered Products Pins 09158. Web. Mar. 2011. .

8.”Heyco.” Heyco Molded Wire Protection Products and Stamped Electrical Components. Heyco® “Male Bridge” Preassembled Cordset Components. Web. Mar. 2011. .

9. “Heyco.” Heyco Molded Wire Protection Products and Stamped Electrical Components. Heyco® “Female Bridge” Preassembled Cordset Components. Web. Mar. 2011. .

Brennon Cucullu

5141 Herridge Drive
Baton Rouge, LA

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