Sunday, 19 May 2019

A Canadian Innovation

You might be wondering what the above thing is and why it's on a blog dedicated to hockey. The item pictured above is called a BIPeR, and it was designed by a team of Montreal university researchers to be used as a puck for visually-impaired players! Hockey, to which most people will attest, is a highly-visual game where tracking the puck on the ice is the ultimate priority for players and fans alike. If you're visually-impaired, tracking the puck visually isn't an option, so how does one track said puck? The BIPeR is designed to solve that problem!

Visually-impaired hockey players often resort to using a tomato juice can or a steel container filled with small balls as a puck because of the audible sound it makes when it moves. It works fairly well when the puck is moving, but how does one find the puck while being visually-impaired when the puck stops moving?

Here's a Global News report on the sport to give you a better idea of how it sounds.

As you can see, the game is a lot noisier with the steel container. And that's where Gilles Ouellet, a blind hockey player and a Universite de Quebec a Montreal employee, put his thinking cap on and went to work in creating a better puck for his sport. Along with a team of researchers, they created the above prototype consisting of a shock-absorbent plastic shell with a battery-powered circuit board that powers sensors that analyze puck movement and transmits the data to a buzzer which makes sounds up to 120 decibels - as loud as a thunderclap!

Steve Vezeau, one of the researchers on the project, said the BIPeR puck has a lifespan of about three games compared to using five tomato juice boxes per game or having steel containers that generally last up to two games. From the looks of it, this puck may change the entire way visually-impaired is played across the world!

"It's going to make the game faster and more interesting," Ouellet stated to The Canadian Press. "And because the puck makes noise when it's in the air, it'll help goalies make more saves."

In a cool related piece of news, by creating the BIPeR puck at the Universite de Quebec a Montreal, the research team won the Impact Award of the Innovation Idea contest at UQAM! How cool is that?

The prototype seems very promising, and the team will need to find a company or partner to mass-produce the pucks for use across the world. The above prototype was financed in part by USA Hockey while the team dreamed and designed it, but USA Hockey likely won't fund the mass production of these pucks. Maybe they can take the two-hour trip to Sherbrooke, Quebec where Inglasco is located? Inglasco, as you may be aware, produces pucks for the NHL, AHL, ECHL, Hockey Canada, and Hockey USA, so this would seem like a logical partnership with firm Canadian roots!

Regardless of what the next steps are, the fact that Canadians are working to make the visually-impaired game better is something of which all Canadians should be proud. While visually-impaired hockey isn't huge in Canada yet, there are teams in Montreal, Edmonton, Toronto and Vancouver and a dozen teams play in the United States. If the goal for USA Hockey is to organize a nations cup next May with teams possibly from Finland and Sweden joining the event, this puck will go a long way in making the game better and potentially more popular for all fans alike.

While there have been other attempts to make a puck that plays like an actually hockey puck while incorporating some sort of audible element, here's hoping that the BIPeR puck finds its spot on the international stage as the puck of choice by all visually-impaired players!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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