Soothing Rocking Chair

Phil Nicholson, Justin Hilliard, Josh Lundberg
Duke University
Durham, NC 27708


Our client is a 13-year-old boy with cerebral palsy. The purpose of this project is to develop a soothing environment for him to find comfort when he is anxious. We designed a Soothing Rocking Chair that includes vibration and audio output, with easily usable controls to accommodate his degree of motor capability. In addition, the device includes several aspects catering to his personal interests, such as a removable desk workspace to provide a place to read, and a digital photo album for him to review photos that he takes. The device provides a comfortable and enjoyable ambience for our client.


cerebral palsy; rocking chair; vibration; audio; relaxation


Follow d-link for descriptionPhoto 1: Soothing Rocking Chair with labels d (Click image for larger view)

Cerebral palsy is a chronic condition characterized by diminished muscle coordination and body motion (1). Our client is a thirteen-year-old boy with cerebral palsy. Although many people with cerebral palsy have significantly diminished motor skills, he has relatively well developed fine motor abilities. For example, he can independently adjust the settings of an electric treadmill. Due to hearing impairments, he wears hearing aids to improve his audible perception, and he communicates primarily through sign language. He enjoys the sensation of vibration and the pulsation associated with music that has a high bass content. He also likes photography and the visual effects created by lights and colors.

Image displays view of the Boom Chair control unit.  The picture includes labels for, from left to right on the top row: the power switch, adjustable knobs for vibration, bass, and volume, and on the bottom row: the earphone jack, and the RCA jacks for audio input.Photo 2: Boom Chair control unit (Click image for larger view)

Recently, our client has developed anxious behaviors. His parents suggested the development of a chair to provide the elements of soothing vibration and audio output as a method to alleviate his disquietude. Commercial products that address some of these needs do exist. For example, our client enjoys using a standard rocking chair, and he utilizes multiple toys that incorporate vibration. However, no commercial devices combine these elements and provide the accessibility that is required by our client.


The goal for this project is to create a device that provides a comfortable and soothing environment for our client. The primary functional specifications include the provisions for soothing vibration, audible output, control of vibration and volume intensity, physical comfort and support, accessible controls, and rocking ability.


Image displays AV selector switch utilized to transition between constant vibration and music-synchronized vibration.  The selector has two buttons labeled “Constant” and “Music.”Photo 3: AV selector (Click image for larger view)

The project design consists of a gliding rocking chair that incorporates audible, tactile, and visual stimulation elements to engage our client’s personal interests in addition to providing a comfortable and soothing environment. A Lumisource Inc. Boom Chair 2.0 that integrates vibration and audio elements was used as the foundation for our device. The chair was mounted in a supporting wooden frame, modified from a Foundations Inc. SafeRocker Deluxe Adult Glider Rocker. The chair was designed to be comfortable for extended periods of time. Through collaboration with our client’s occupational therapist, the final device provides ergonomic support and a footrest to accommodate the physical size of the client.

Image shows an overhead view of the constructed desk attachment for the soothing rocking chair.  The picture displays a standard sized piece of paper fitting on the desk.for Photo 4: Desk with a standard 8.5” by 11” piece of paper on it (Click image for larger view)

The Soothing Rocking Chair meets the proposed functional specifications as follows. The Boom Chair satisfies the vibration specification requirement with vibration motors throughout the chair providing soothing, full-body vibration. Large knobs (Photo 2) on the side of the chair allow the client to adjust the intensity of the vibration and audio intensity. The Boom Chair contains two 3-inch, 10-watt speakers and a 5-inch sub-woofer. It also features audio input RCA jacks that are used to play music through the speakers. A CD player was modified to provide an easily accessible interface to control the audio. One-inch buttons were attached to the right armrest of the chair to provide control over play, pause, skip, and stop functions. The CD player was modified by soldering electrical connections between the buttons to the appropriate corresponding connections on a remote control that came with the CD player. Although a CD player was supplied with the chair, any device with either RCA output jacks or a headphone jack (e.g. iPod, gaming systems, etc.) can be connected to the Boom Chair 2.0 to play audio through the chair’s speakers.

Image shows a side view of the desk attachment that fits into the constructed armrests of the chair.  A safety pin is shown being inserted into the desk dowel to lock the desk in place.Photo 5: Safety pins inserted into desk that prevent it from tipping (Click image for larger view)

To allow the client to enjoy a steady vibration as a source of relaxation without audio synchronization, a constant vibration mode was implemented. A 6V DC wall-plug power supply was wired to the ends of RCA audio cables that plug into the standard audio input port of the chair. This 6V supply mimics an audio input signal, which the chair would normally use to vibrate in sync with the audio beats. The constant voltage source, however, produces a constant vibration. To easily switch between “constant vibration” mode and “vibration in sync with music” mode, a RadioShack 2-Way Audio/Video Selector, model 15-1982 (Photo 3), was used. The AV selector allows two input devices to be connected to a single output. The two input devices are the CD player audio cable and the 6V DC power supply cable. The output of the selector connects to the audio input of the chair. The client can easily transition between constant vibration and music-synchronized vibration by simply pressing an easily accessible switch.

Image displays a frontal view of the Ziga digital photo album screen.   The screen is 5.6 inches across its diagonal.Photo 6: Digital Photo Album (Click image for larger view)

A work desk (Photo 4) was designed to allow the client to read books, draw pictures, or do homework while sitting in the chair. The desk features a two-inch recessed work area that is large enough to fit a standard 8.5” by 11” piece of paper. The desk features a locking mechanism with quarter-inch spring pins (Photo 5) inserted into dowels that connect the desk to the chair, which prevent the desk from tipping. An assistant is required to add and remove the desk while the user is in the chair.

Because our client enjoys taking pictures and viewing them on the computer, a digital photo album was mounted onto the structure supporting the chair. The Ziga USA Inc. CRDMP4 digital photo album (Photo 6) displays a slideshow of images upon insertion of a secure digital (SD) memory card. The photo album will encourage his interest in photography. The album was mounted (Photo 7) to a dowel rod, which slides into a custom slot on the chair so that the album can easily be attached or removed.

Image displays an overhead view of the constructed armrests with a half-inch hole in the armrest that the dowel of the digital photo album slides into.Photo 7: Digital Photo Album attachment mechanism (Click image for larger view)

To provide additional stability to the Soothing Rocking Chair, 8” long anti-tilt extensions (Photo 8) were attached to the rear legs. The extensions made it virtually impossible to tip the chair backwards

Image displays a rear view of the chair base.  The picture shows two eight-inch long, two inch wide, and four inch high base extensions attached by screws to the original chair base legs.Photo 8: Eight-inch long wooden anti-tilt extensions (Click image for larger view)

To allow our client to enter and exit the chair safely, external armrests (Photo 9) were added to each side of the chair. Extending approximately four inches above the Boom Chair 2.0 armrests, the external armrests are used by the client to stabilize his body as he enters and exits the chair. A rear wooden piece connects both external armrests to ensure that the client cannot fall out of the chair between what had been a void between the external armrests and the Boom Chair 2.0.


Evaluations of the chair indicate that the client and family are pleased with its performance and features. He has the ability to easily enter and exit the chair and operate its many features. Our client’s parents stated, “He [our client] has been excited about the chair for weeks. The chair will provide him with relaxation and entertainment for years to come!” A picture of our client using the chair may be seen in Photo 10.

Image shows a photo of our client, a 13-year-old male smiling while sitting on the completed chair.Photo 10: Photo of client sitting in the chair (Click image for larger view)
Image shows a rear view of the constructed chair.  The picture focuses on the external armrests which flank the Boom Chair.  The external armrests connect to each other with a curved wooden support that extends behind the back of the Boom Chair, providing increased stability and safety.Photo 9: External armrests with rear connecting wooden piece (Click image for larger view)


The Soothing Rocking Chair provides the user with a soothing environment for relaxation by incorporating elements such as variable vibration and audio output. In addition, it is specifically tailored to meet our client’s specific interests and need.

Although the device meets our client’s need, it has some limitations. The main limitation is that the desk requires assistance for mounting and removal. Future work might entail designing a method for the desk to be folded away, thereby allowing the client to use it independently.


This project was made possible by financial support from the National Science Foundation under Grant No. BES-0610534. We would like to thank Lumisource Inc. and Ziga USA Inc. for their contributions of the Boom Chair 2.0 and Digital Picture Frame, respectively.


  1. “Cerebral Palsy”. 15 September 2006. <>.


Phillip D. Nicholson
P.O. Box 94925
Durham, NC 27708

Justin Hilliard
P.O. Box 94210
Durham, NC 27708

Josh Lundberg
P.O. Box 96781
Durham, NC 27708


  • Source Ordered
  • No Tables
  • Very Compatible


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