BTN.com staff, February 27, 2016
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The challenge was simple enough to grasp: All the students of Dr. John Starkey?s mechanical engineering capstone course had to do was design something that will change the world.
?The goal is to provide something that is revolutionary,? said Kat Frangos, a student in the course.
Students are first presented with a problem statement, according to the course website. From there, they examine the nuances of that problem and research what others have done to address the issue.
After careful analysis, teams of students create new - and hopefully, better - solutions to the problem. Those solutions are then given form as a prototype or proof-of-concept.
Frangos and three other teammates designed and built the Wheelchair Access Assistant, a two-in-one invention that grants previously wheelchair-bound individuals a greater sense of mobility, stability and independence.
The design not only integrates an easy-to-assemble walker into the structure of a common wheelchair, but also incorporates a motorized seat lift to allow for seamless transition between the two.
?A common problem with wheelchairs is muscle atrophy starts early,? team member Kris Miller said. ?So you need somebody to pull you out, but what if you didn?t? We developed a seat lift that literally lifts you up to a standing position. If you need more stabilization, we have a walker that detaches. So you?re never unstable. You?re sitting, you?re standing, you?re walking.?
The idea for a convertible wheelchair was born of personal experiences. Frangos? mother, a physical therapist, relayed the struggles of moving her patients, and both Miller and team member Kimberly Fund had seen their grandparents struggle with mobility.
?People tend to get forced into wheelchairs earlier than necessary,? Frangos explained, ?because there?s not really a crossover device between a cane, a walker, and a wheelchair.?
[btn-post-package]The team had to work within a $500 budget, so they hit upon the idea of making their design an ?after-market? modification to a standard wheelchair. A motor mounted under the seat powers the hydraulic lift. The seat pad itself is crafted from memory foam, a nod to the team?s desire to make it ?everyone?s favorite comfortable chair.? The armrests serve dual purpose: locked together, with a set of legs extended, they become the handrails for the walker component.
According to Miller, the impact of their design and the implications it could have on healthcare have led this device to transcend its academic origins.
?We really got something,? he said. ?It?s no longer about a grade or getting through class and just graduating. We have a serious opportunity to help millions and millions of people.?
By John Tolley