Innovative tool empowers service dog owners who use wheelchairs with greater autonomy

Mon, May 6, 2024

Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) student Emile Routley-Long has once again made a notable impression at the Simon Cox Student Design Competition.

His innovative Fetch Magnetic Pickup Tool for wheelchair users was shortlisted among the finalists in the assistive technology and design competition.

"A total of 24 teams submitted their projects, so I’m happy I made it to the top six," says Routley-Long, who graduated from the product design program in 2024.

"My project partner was a service dog owner who uses a power wheelchair and can’t dress their service dog themselves."

Before going out in public, a service dog should wear an identifying vest. Routley-Long explains that individuals who use wheelchairs often struggle to reach under their dog’s belly to fasten a vest’s rear clasp.

"Service dog owners who use wheelchairs often depend on others to dress their dogs, impacting their ability to leave their home whenever they choose to," he says. "With a magnetic tool, the person can now dress the dog themselves, meaning they don't have to rely on a family member or caregiver."

The reaching tool is equipped with a magnet at its end, enabling a user to securely fasten a service dog's vest with a corresponding magnetic clasp. 

Emile Routley-Long
Emile Routley-Long showcases his innovative Fetch Magnetic Pickup Tool for wheelchair users during the 2024 Wilson School of Design graduation show. 

Routley-Long received a $2,000 Student Research and Innovation Grant to work on his design. The funding is available for KPU students and allows them to gain research and innovation skills as part of their polytechnic university experience.

Since vests for service dogs typically have plastic clasps, the tool is now compatible only with a specific design created by a local assistance dog school.

"It works for the people I did the project with, so that's the most important part," says Routley-Long. "I hope that the magnetic clasp-based vest design will see greater adoption in the future."

It is the second time that Routley-Long has created a design solution for individuals using wheelchairs. In 2021, he debuted at the competition with an insulated blanket, winning the Terry LeBlanc Innovation Award for third place. 

The Wilson School of Design at KPU offers a four-year Bachelor of Design, Product Design program in which students learn to create innovative solutions by blending design, business and marketing courses. The program focuses on research, design thinking and hands-on prototyping to develop sustainable, ethical design solutions.

Video file
Emile Routley-Long demonstrates how the magnetic pickup tool works while using a wheelchair.