Empowerment Through Design


Eating is one of the most essential human experiences and one that many of us take for granted.  The act of feeding oneself in the presence of others ties together families and is a fundamental means of participating in culture and community. For those who can’t participate due to disabilities, it’s a constant reminder that they are dependent on others for a basic source of their wellbeing. DESῙN, LLC approached SF with a clear mission: to provide those living with disease or disability of the upper extremity access to an independent eating experience.

Jon Dekar
Jon Dekar


Grey Parker
Grey Parker

CEO, Sundberg-Ferar

Reinstating empowerment, independence, joy and festivity that comes with eating was the fundamental goal of the Obi project.

DESῙN’s vision was to develop a product at a physical scale, price point, and level of usability that had never before existed in assistive technology.  Further, they envisioned a product that would not just transfer food from location A to B, but in addition to medical benefits, had an overarching objective for an unparalleled user experience. An experience that reliably restored the joy and festivity of eating and socializing with others. They wanted their finished robot arm to have natural and smooth life-like motions, while having a subtle charm, having drawn inspiration from the PIXAR lamp, Luxar Jr.  The company’s idea of producing true independence meant not falling short of this goal. This vision resonated with Sundberg- Ferar’s values and ambitions of user centered design that creates real human impact. It was this shared mutual passion that sprouted an amazing partnership and an equally amazing product.


In our first meeting with DESῙN, we were presented with a usable prototype which demonstrated the fit, form, function and usability vision for a new product concept: a robotic arm based device to help people with upper extremity issues eat with independence.

OBI: Robotic Feeding Device

Our work with Obi focused on fulfilling the following responsibilities in accordance with DESῙN’s requirements and specification:

  • General maturation of aesthetics & styling. This included implementing many iterations of a proper spoon shape, error proofing the insertion and removal of components, and refining visual language and contours of the enclosure parts.
  • Maturation and implementation of the user interface touch points and visual indicator layout.
  • Fabrication, assembly and bench testing of multiple proof of concept prototypes including a low volume run of 10 looks-like, works-like units for user feedback tests and a formal model of the finished design for pre-production marketing efforts.
  • Structural maturation of enclosure pieces for fluid ingress protection, non-visible cable routing, servo motor housing, and design for manufacturability considerations such as snap fit and error proofing features.
  • Design and fabrication of production fixtures for inspection and calibration.

Sundberg-Ferar also conducted user research with DESῙN’s prototype prior to further development to explore, evaluate, and verify user needs.  After a key implementation round, SF also executed the company’s user validation protocol with fully developed prototypes, including user-site setup, monitoring, conducting surveys, and interpretation of the results.

The complexity of 6 servos, medical device standards, precision fitting components and ambitious cost targets provided major challenges with this project. DESῙN trusted SF to continually perform engineering and design support services over three major development cycles due to the consistent quality of their work.

According to Jon Dekar, CEO of DESῙN, “Sundber-Ferar played a vital role in the maturation and fulfillment of our vision. Sundberg was given challenging usability, product and engineering specifications and consistently delivered quality results.”

Our work played a pivotal role in facilitating a user experience that was not only enjoyable but also emotionally resonant with the user and their caregivers. The design challenge underscored the significance of seamless collaboration between engineering and industrial design working together to achieve a shared goal.

OBI: Robotic Feeding Device

“Sundberg-Ferar played a vital role in the maturation and fulfillment of our vision. Sundberg was given challenging usability, product and engineering specifications and consistently delivered quality results.”

Jon Dekar


Human Impact

Many people have experienced the difficulties of relying on others to eat. Jon Dekar learned this firsthand by witnessing a family member who experienced severe health issues.  He looked to solve this problem through consumer robotics and passionately pursued a new business venture with the help of Sundberg-Ferar. Today, Obi has enabled countless people with disabilities to enjoy a meal with friends and family without assistance. It’s no exaggeration to say that Obi has changed their outlook and helped families and patient/caregivers regain dignity at the dining table.

During the program, SF witnessed Obi’s impact firsthand. Throughout the field studies and prototype evaluations, it was not uncommon for users to be brought to tears by the emotional relief that is enabled by this personable robot. The potential for normalcy and the burdens relieved by Obi clearly change lives for the better. This is what product development and innovation is all about.

Business Impact

Demand for Obi has outgrown national borders and the product is now distributed in more than 20 countries. Obi also holds 10 US patents, and has been awarded both a place in the 2016 R&D Top 100, and the Gold Medal in the 2018 Medical Design Excellence Awards.

It is a rare and rewarding opportunity to collaborate with a company like DESῙN and contribute to a project that has had such a meaningful and positive impact on the lives of so many. To some, Obi represents a reclaimed measure of their dignity; to others, it feels like a new super power. To those who assist this group of people, it is a small but meaningful respite and changes eating from a necessary chore into an opportunity to interact and connect with others through sharing a meal. May we all be so fortunate.

If you’d like to learn more about Obi, visit their website: https://meetobi.com/

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