Maker Lab Teams Devise New Tools

Cornell Tech Works with Roosevelt Island Seniors on Everyday Challenges

Updated 1 year ago David Stone

Cornell Tech & CBN/RI Senior Center Maker Lab creations on display
Cornell Tech & CBN/RI Senior Center Maker Lab creations on display
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Recently, Cornell Tech, Weill Cornell Medicine and the CBN/RI Senior Center joined forces in a 3D printing workshop at Cornell Tech’s Maker Lab. Teachers, student facilitators and seniors trained as teams in various areas of product design including ideation, modeling, prototyping and testing, and finally 3D printing manufacturing. On Friday, April 27th, they showed off their results.

Cornell Tech's outreach within the Roosevelt Island community is extensive, starting with onsite technology teacher training at PS/IS 217 and continuing through active involvement with the Senior Center where they worked with participants to identify and create solutions for challenges specific to the elderly and physically challenged.

The idea was to come up with viable, easy-to-use products that make lives better.

"Seniors submitted real-life challenges prior to the course and each workshop group developed a product to tackle those issues," according Cornell Tech's spokesperson. "Some examples of the products designed include devices to help open doors and pill bottles called theStrap Wrench and a universal hinge for helping seniors using walkers easily hold grocery bags and other items."

Hoped for outcomes for all participants were...

  • Learn in a diverse team-based environment to think creatively and integrate constructive feedback into your work
  • Identify new fields or real-world problems and contexts that are worth investigating around digital fabrication
  • Learn how digitally-enabled ideas can be developed into solutions with broader societal impact
  • Learn about Design Thinking for physical prototyping
  • Gain an ability to articulate how digital fabrication can help inform your own research


Challenge # 1: How might we create a product which will help consumers remember everyday tasks?

This team went above and beyond. Paolina's troubles centered around forgetfulness, specifically about locking her door and remembering to take her keys with her when she went out. Her problems were worsened by difficulty in gripping the keys.

The team came up with a prototype tool, using molding clay. The tool, which has the key embedded at one end, adapts to the hand as needed without demanding fine dexterity. 

Judy Berdy demonstrates the key holding device her team created
Judy Berdy demonstrates the key holding device her team created
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

A finished version from the prototype will be paired with a battery powered sensor near the door that will signal an alert any time the door is opened without a key nearby, preventing Paolina and others like her from leaving home without a way to get back in.

Challenge#3: How might we develop a product to help our consumers with limited strength/dexterity to use household products.

In this example, Betty "...has hand weakness, stiff joints, and overall limited hand mobility and dexterity. Her medication makes her thirsty so she drinks water throughout the day. She carries a water bottle that she struggles to open and says she visits restrooms 'early and often.' She worries about getting stuck, unable to open a stall door."

As the team saw it, what they needed to create was a portable device that served multiple purposes to compensate for an array of difficulties caused by Betty's hand weakness.

Because there are products already on the market to assist with opening jars, for example, the team began with research on what was available, assessing strengths and deficiencies.

Ellen Polivy (right) with gripping tool her team devised
Ellen Polivy (right) with gripping tool her team devised
Photo courtesy of Cornell Tech Maker Lag

They came up with an ingenious design involving a strap extended to make a loop through an easy to grip handle. The strap is easily tightened around any object by tugging gently on one end and is secured in place by a locking mechanism that prevents its slipping free once set.

The tool is adaptable to large and small objects. It's exceptionally useful in that, turned one way, it helps loosen a bottle cap while, flipped around, it tightens the same cap.

It can also be used to turn door knobs, and is small and lightweight enough for Betty to carry with her wherever she goes.


A crowd filled a second floor room in the Tata Innovation Center as the creative teams showed off these and several other inventions aimed at relieving difficulties associated with aging.

The greater story is of how widely separated generations bridged a gap to share insight and meet individual needs with solutions of universal value.

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