An Automated Page Turning Device to Assist In Navigating Through Reading Materials

Joshua M. Keena, BS, Peter B. Backlund, BS, Hung P. Nguyen, MS, Bryan M. Sanchez, BS, Stewart A. Vaculik, MS
The University of Texas at Austin, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Austin, TX

Jeffrey M. Chan, MA, BCBA
The University of Texas at Austin, Department of Special Education, Austin, TX


Reading is one of life’s simplest pleasures. People who have difficulties with the fine motor skills required to turn pages in books are often denied this pleasure. Existing page turning devices are both expensive and unreliable. An automated page turning device has been successfully designed and fabricated to provide safe and reliable on-demand page turning at a reduced cost to the consumer. People who experience difficulty manually turning pages can use this device to easily navigate through books with the push of one button.


There are currently over one hundred devices available to consumers that automatically turn pages in books. These products span the complete range of cost and complexity. However, many of them lack the reliability and functionality that a user should expect from such a product. For example, current devices often inadvertently turn multiple pages in a single motion, fail to turn pages at all, or damage the pages of the book.

The goal of this design project was the development of an automated page turning device to meet the needs of our customer. Our customer serves as a learning institution for children with multiple disabilities (physical and cognitive). The customer wanted a product that, at the command of the user, would safely and reliably turn the page of a book with the touch of a button activated switch. In addition, the user wanted the option to select combinations of audio and visual feedback to provide a signal that he or she has successfully commanded the device to turn a page. The customer indicated that safety and ease of use should be paramount in the overall design. The end state was a product that allows the user unassisted navigation through various reading materials.


Our design team initially conducted market research of the available page turning devices (1). We used the US Patent Office web-based resources, as well as conventional product search archives, to evaluate the plethora of existing products. While investigating assistive reading device products, we also referenced the National Library Binding Institute (NLBI) which establishes industry standards for the production of printed products (2). Finally, we referenced the Institute for Paper Science and Technology (IPST) for information on the characteristics and handling properties of paper material (3). There were no devices that provided either visual or auditory feedback to indicate that the user had successfully pressed the button to command the device to advance the pages. Finally, marketed devices had not been developed that integrated both page turning and feedback mechanisms. The absence of a viable existing candidate formalized the need to begin the design of a new device for our customer.


To allow persons with disabilities the capacity to independently turn the pages of a book while providing various options for feedback mechanisms to inform the user that the machine is performing the requested task, a device is needed to turn pages while offering a selection of feedback modes to indicate that the page is being turned. Our team has designed and built a push-button activated, automated page turning device that indicates the page is being turned while giving dial selected auditory and visual feedback. The product was also infused with an aesthetically pleasing form in order to complement the environment in which the device will be used.


A product design methodology, focused on our customer and described by Otto and Wood (4), was used to formulate the page turning device. We began our project with customer interviews with special education teachers, paper industry experts, and librarian technicians in unison with research on children with cognitive and physical disabilities to refine our design task. The customer needs gleaned from these interviews were translated into product engineering requirements through the Quality Function Deployment (QFD) process, also known as the House of Quality (HOQ). The HOQ displays the relationships between engineering requirements and customer needs. Most importantly, the HOQ establishes target values for the engineering specifications (5).

Numerous concept generation sessions were held to solicit viable and unique solutions to our customer’s needs. By discussing each requirement in a collaborative environment, the results were synthesized into concepts for the page turning device. The concepts were then appraised, using our customer’s criteria for page turning reliability and safety, as the most vital aspects of the concept’s viability. We also maintained the transportability of the overall device along with durability of the product as major considerations for selection. The four best rated concepts were further refined, and then built of polystyrene foam and wood in order to present physical models to the customer for feedback. The winning concept that emerged from the customer’s selection was further analyzed and then prototyped again in a refined form. Virtual and physical models of the lift and flip arms, electronic and logic components, light and auditory feedback systems, and the device architecture and embodiment were all developed to construct the winning design. The final concept took the best aspects of initial models and incorporated them into the form and function desired by our customer.


Both a proof of concept and alpha prototype were built to illustrate the functional performance and general form of the page turning device. The electronic components were constructed on a mechanical breadboard and tested with the lift and flip arms to see if the geometry of the arms and the timing of the processor could repeatedly and reliably lift and flip the pages of a book. The electronics consist of the following components: the power supply and circuit board, microprocessor, and light emitting diode (LED)/auditory feedback module. The page flip module consists of a page lift arm with an adhesive wheel, a page flip arm, and a page hold arm. Please refer to the included Bill of Materials (Table 1) for a complete component and cost breakdown of the overall device.

High density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic and acrylic rod was then used for the support and lift module because it was easily machined, relatively inexpensive, and approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Experimentation was performed on the heat forming of the acrylics and machining of the HDPE to optimize the fabrication of the device. To improve the precision and alignment of the heat formed rods, several molds were made using full-scale model drawings. The HDPE was surface finished to produce a matte appearance which would resist scratching and provide a pleasing texture for the user. Finally, a full range of color placards were built to allow the user to select a background color for the device.

This photograph displays the front view of the page turner device with all of the major features labeled.  Beginning at the top left corner of the device and moving in a counter clockwise direction, the following are labeled: backboard cover, motorized hold arm, left motor mount, AbleNet input jack, control knob, flip arm, power switch, Longhorn clip, ledge, manual hold arm, right motor mount, and the lift arm. Figure 1. Labeled Front View (Click for larger view)

After presenting the alpha prototype to our customer for feed back, our design team began working on our beta prototype. Our beta prototype represented a combination of the embodiment of our device (see Figure 1). In essence, our beta prototype was a refined version of our alpha prototype using improved materials and refined fabrication techniques. The components and materials used in this device are readily available so that this device can easily be fabricated using common woodworking tools. The support module of the device is machined HDPE with heat formed acrylic rod. We used a commercial off the shelf (COTS) flat screen monitor stand for the base of the device. An on/off switch is provided to conserve power when the device is not in use. The consumer need only turn the device on, load a book, plug in an Ablenet switch, and select a feedback setting to use this device. Please refer to the included images and photos for additional views, solid models, and an exploded view of the device.


Our team successfully designed and built an automated page turning device that affords the user with a dependable and safe means of navigating through a book while providing four modes for visual and auditory feedback. The customer appreciates the reliability, aesthetics, and functionality of the device. The orange functional logo is both a means of holding the book to the board and a tribute to the academic institution that the device was designed and built at. The red power switch illuminates for the user to indicate that the device is ready to receive a command. The Ablenet switch input provides a universal connection for ease of transfer of signal to various users. In the four feedback modes, the user has the ability to select no feedback, sound (chime), light (LEDs illuminate on book ledge), and both sound and light. The instructor also has the option of indicating The page turning device, optimized for use at a children’s library, accepts hard and soft cover books of varying widths, heights, and thicknesses. The device also allows the customer to select a background one of twelve colors to personalize the presentation for each user.

In addition to turning the pages of children’s books, the device can also turn the pages contained in three-ring binders, magazines, and manuals. This makes the device suitable for use in occupational settings such as turning the pages of work related reference materials and assembly directions. In summary, the most rewarding aspect of the entire project was during the customer acceptance test when it was evident by the reaction of the students using the device that it provided a safe, enjoyable, and reliable means of turning the pages in books. The enjoyment they received from independently navigating through a book made the challenges encountered in this project completely worth the effort.


  1. Jain, Arun K., Usiak, Douglas J., and Lane, Joseph P. (1996) Customer Orientation: Key to Delivering Useful Assistive Devices, RESNA ’96, June 7-12, 143-145.
  2. Library Binding Institute (1999) Library Binding: National Information Standards Organization (NISO), American National Standards Institute, ISSN: 1041-5653.
  3. Georgia Tech, Institute for Paper Science and Technology (
  4. Otto, K.N. and Wood, K.L., Product Design, Prentice Hall, Inc., NJ, 2001.
  5. Otto, p. 290-91.

Joshua M. Keena
The Institute for Advanced Technology
The University of Texas at Austin
3925 West Braker Lane
Austin, Texas 78759-5316
(512) 232-4471,