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Rotary controls give appliances a novel spin
Published:  01 November, 2003

Rotary controls give appliances a novel spin

A British technology development company has come up with a novel way of controlling electric tools and domestic appliances which, it believes, feels more natural to the user. Instead of relying on crude on-off switches, Cambridge Consultants` Power Assist system provides a responsive control that is related to the user`s hand movements.

In one prototype (shown above), a rotary control, similar to the hand-wheel on a manual drill, has been fitted to an electric drill. The drill`s speed and direction are determined by how fast the user turns the handle, and in which direction. A novel torque feedback technique applies varying degrees of reverse pressure to the wheel, giving the user the sensation of the force being applied to the load.

The result is a tool that translates the user`s hand movements into powered drilling -- stopping or slowing in synchronisation with these movements, and reversing direction when the user turns the wheel in the opposite direction.

Craig Webster, head of power products at CCL, sees the technology appealing, in particular, to novice users or to those who see handtools as being dangerous or difficult to use. It will also give more control to skilled craftsmen.

Webster, who worked previously for Black & Decker, believes that this form of control could help appliance manufacturers to differentiate their products in an increasingly price-led commodity market. He reckons that the low-cost components needed for the system could add €1.5-8 to the cost of an appliance, depending on the facilities required.

Webster sees a wide range of potential applications, including food mixers (such as the prototype shown above), medical equipment and garden tools. He says that user reaction to the technology has been "very encouraging" and CCL is now demonstrating the technology to potential licensees.

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