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AmiGo allows kids in wheelchairs to fully participate in sports


by: Bas Kammenga | 3 February 2022

The AmiGo is a ‘football shooter’ that allows kids in wheelchairs to fully participate in sports. Industrial designer Michiel van der Boom came up with the idea already eight years ago, but in 2020 developments gained momentum. Currently a new prototype is under development, and the AmiGo is scheduled to be launched in the spring of 2023.

In 2014 Initiator Michiel van der Boom of Tech2Play was having coffee with the mother of a child with multiple disabilities, when he got the idea. ‘Her daughter could not speak or sit up without help. She was sitting in her wheelchair, playing with an automatic bubble machine. That’s when I realised how hard it must be for her to have social interaction. After that meeting I spent my spare time on designing a modified water gun. That turned out to be a big hit, when in the summer she could suddenly shoot water at her brother. After spending eighteen months in an electric wheelchair that she controlled with her head while using one leg to move forward, she had lost her motivation to use it for a ride.’
First test model
At the time Van der Boom was working on a care robot for Eindhoven Technical University. ‘I knew they had programmed football robots that played six on six. I asked if they didn’t have an old robot laying around somewhere, but no such luck‘, Van der Boom remembers. ‘Those robots are pretty expensive and all parts are re-used. I then thought I would make something so kids in an electric wheelchair could take part in sports. Precisely when they’re on the threshold of puberty, kids often miss out on connecting with their peers, and have to fall back on their own families. Playing sports helps you to meet others. Together with a couple of companies and a rehabilitation centre, the first proof of principle was built to first gauge the target group whether they were interested. After that the first tests were done with the target group. The project then stalled for lack of time.’

‘We spent a great deal of time looking for subsidies and partners.’

In 2018 the decision was made to continue the project, which led to a run-up phase of some eighteen months when funds and partners had to be found. ‘Various parties, including Gehandicaptensport Nederland and Special Heroes Nederland, were immediately enthusiastic. We spent a great deal of time looking for subsidies and partners. For a while two people at Boom Design spent two days every week on contacting and talking to prospects.’

Amigo-2Meanwhile the project has been included in the Sportinnovator program, under the focus topic of ‘movement’, directed at technological innovations (and gaming) to get inactive target groups moving. ‘Thanks to the ZonMw subsidy we could take the project off the back burner. We built a second variant as fast as we could. It had to be done fast because our users are key, and that way we could get input from them as soon as possible in a realistic user environment. This is extremely valuable as it helps us to gain new insights at an early stage, so we can develop a product that can actually be of added value to people using wheelchairs. There is now room to snatch away the ball and other options to catch and hold the ball. You can give a pass or play a full shot, and control how hard that shot is. Simply with a size 5 football, which is the same one that everyone uses.’

Full participation
Having meanwhile gained InnoSportLab Sport & Beweeg as a research partner, Van den Boom carried out a long series of user tests at Mytyl schools. That way he obtained a lot of useful data on the football shooter that was christened AmiGo. ‘AmiGo of course means friend, and we capitalize the G to refer to the active element. We still have to come up with a catchy name for the sport itself. It is very valuable to see what happens in practice, and collect data and feedback. And to find out if the kids were really waiting for something like this? In first instance, the AmiGo will be used in schools mostly, but it is intended also to be used at home or at sports clubs.’

‘One participant in Rotterdam said that the “test day was the most awesome experience of his life”

Not just social contact but self-worth and the feeling of being a full participant improves in the participants. ‘Football shooting is an equaliser. Everyone plays under more or less the same conditions. The players can really play and don’t have to act as goalies or audience. They can really shoot the ball and dribble. One participant in Rotterdam said that ‘the test day was the most awesome experience of his life’. It has had a huge impact in a brief time. It is the independence and full participation that we seek to accomplish at Tech2Play. We focus on inclusion and also mix electric and manual wheelchairs. We even saw frame players join in, and wheelchairs pushed by classmates. All-in all a test day is a great experience in itself.’
Only Friends
In a little over a year, in the spring of 2023, the AmiGo should come onto the market, at a price of some EUR 3,000 exclusive of vat. A team comprises four players. ‘By 2022 the Prototype 2 will be built, with improved functionality in terms of weight, sound and rolling resistance. We will do tests again with the users, to get the details of the sport and the game right. Because we are convinced that it is important to properly test a prototype. Sportclub Only Friends in Amsterdam will help us with that in the last phase of testing. We have come to an arrangement with their founder, Dennis Gebbink.’

‘Training is fun, but matches are the real thing!’

Gebbink looks forward to introducing the AmiGo at his club. ‘Many members of Only Friends attend the Mytyl School Drostenburg in Amsterdam. We tested the AmiGo there. Meanwhile we are so enthusiastic that we will start for real on Saturday, 26 February, with trainees taking care of training sessions. In the weeks to come we will train volunteers who in time will take over from the trainees. We will get the use of four AmiGo’s, and hope that every Saturday six to eight kids will register to play. I look forward to being able to add another sport to what we offer at the Friendship Centre.” The next step will be a trial competition among the ten Mytyl schools involved. ‘Training is fun but matches are the real thing!’, so Van der Boom concludes.

For more information: ZonMw-Project 'De voetbalschieter voor aan je rolstoel', De AmiGO gaat de sportbeleving van rolstoelgebruikers bevorderen

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