BSE senior design team designs device to help paralyzed mechanic
The senior design capstone projects in the College of Engineering often have broad applications and can benefit companies or large groups of people.
But a team of biological systems engineering students this year is helping an auto mechanic who was paralyzed in an accident get a cherished part of his life back.
Seniors Steven Cahoy, Nate Meduna, Andrew Minarick and Rohan Sarmah have worked since the start of the academic year on a design for a creeper – a flat panel on casters or wheels on which a mechanic lies and then slides under a vehicle.
After the accident, the mechanic was unable to lower himself onto a creeper or get into a seated position to get off the device.
A retired engineer, John Davis, used wood from a ping-pong table to fashion a device that makes the process a little easier but still requires other people to help the injured mechanic get on and off the creeper. That’s when he turned to the college for help in creating a more permanent and stable solution.
From a video that showed how the mechanic was using the prototype and looking at the device in person, the students were impressed by what Davis created, but they could see the challenges that were ahead.
“The first time I saw it, I was amazed to see all he was able to do with that wood,” Meduna said. “There were a lot of moving parts, though.”
“We all looked at it and realized that the ability to reproduce that prototype was pretty low,” Minarick said. “It wasn’t going to be manufacturable.”
“And, it didn’t fit a lot of the specifications for this particular paraplegic mechanic,” Sarmah said. “We knew we had to change it, but it was a good start.”
The engineering students went through multiple design iterations until settling on one that meets the wide variety of needs created by the project.
“We wanted something more efficient and that would cost less for the consumer when it is produced,” Cahoy said. “We figured the least amount of working parts, the better. Our early designs had some flaws, so we tuned them up. Our final design has just eight total pieces.”
While the design hasn’t been turned into a scalable, producible device, the engineering students said helping one person has been immeasurably rewarding.
“The mechanic, he’s going to be working on cars however he can,” Cahoy said. “This device might help him feel more like his old self again, help him realize he can do what he did before. We hope it’s empowering.”
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