Adaptive Cutting Board

This was a final project for ENP 105 - Assistive Technology in the Fall of 2013. The goal was to design and create an assistive technology device that could help someone either in the workplace or with everyday life. Emily and I were directed to Outside the Lines Studio in Medford, MA, where we met an individual who, because of a traumatic brain injury during his youth, had lost nearly all motor function on his right side.

This person (who we’ll call John) is a really awesome and enthusiastic guy who loves to help prepare community meals at the Studio. Unfortunately his inability to use both hands made peeling carrots or slicing apples pretty difficult.

That’s where we came in.

Step 1: Research

What’s already out there?

After we met John and learned about his story and needs, we started looking for existing solutions to the one-handed-cutting-board problem.

We found a lot of different approaches. Some cutting boards had walls on the side so that food could be pushed up against them. Many others had nails sticking straight out of them to skewer food (and double as a weapon) and we even found one with a built-in vice.

Step 2: Sketching solutions

The devices we found in our research were interesting, but we identified a number of problems with them.

  1. They weren’t very safe (particularly the ones with nails)
  2. They weren’t easy to clean or disassemble
  3. They weren’t very adaptable to work with different types of food

We wanted to make something that would solve all of these problems. After some brainstorming and sketching, we came up with an “adaptable adaptive cutting board” that used a unique peg-based system to enable the user to add whatever attachments they need.

Cutting an Apple? Insert two pegs and skewer it for stability. Need a wall? Add one just like a LEGO piece. Want to shred a carrot? Add a few pegs to stabilize a shredder and start shredding.

Step 3: Fabrication

After a Home Depot run and a quick stop at Bed Bath & Beyond, we ended up spending around $46 for:

  • A Bamboo cutting board
  • 5/16″ oak dowels
  • 5/16″ oak boards
  • A 5/16″ drill bit
  • A grating set
  • A non-slip silicone baking mat
  • Wood glue & sandpaper

Once we had all our materials, we spent an afternoon creating our first prototype. The wood glue was only used to permanently fix two wooden pegs into each of the two wall pieces we created, allowing the entire board to be machine-washable.

Step 4: Testing

John really enjoyed using his new cutting board for the first time, but we encountered a design flaw during our first meal period of testing.

Our design included two types of wooden pegs – a sharp set to skewer food, and a dull set to hold certain foods in place. While trying to skewer a large apple onto two sharp pegs, the apple split and John nicked his finger on the spikes. We knew metal nails would’ve been a bad idea. After running his finger under the sink he was fine, but we knew the sharp spikes needed to be dulled and shortened. Apples could be skewered by the dull spikes anyway.

Despite that setback, our tests were very promising. John had a lot of success shredding carrots in particular – something he could never do before. He told us that he wished the shredder could be angled to make the repetitive movement easier, and our adaptable design was able to grant that wish simply by rearranging pegs.

Conclusion & Takeaways

Our peg-based cutting proved to be an effective solution to an annoying problem, and it was really awesome to see John cut food efficiently for the first time in his life. He’s now the new designated carrot shredder thanks to the device we built, and that feels fantastic both for him and for us.

If we had access to better tools and a larger budget, we would probably improve on our design with better materials. The bamboo pegboard expands and contracts after every wash, which will inevitably lead to cracks, so using a food-safe and dishwasher-safe type of plastic would probably be better. We’d also use a drill press or a laser cutter to drill holes more accurately, and try to find (or make) additional appliances that could be attached to the board like the vegetable shredder.

All in all this was a really fun and rewarding project to work on, and students in the class even felt that our design was something worth patenting. We looked into that a bit, and eventually came across a (very recent) competitor with a similar peg-based design called Pego. We don’t really have plans of commercializing our own board, but we’d love to see Pego succeed.