There were new toys and playground equipment for children with cerebral palsy. Household devices like door openers and light switches for a child who is gradually losing the use of his muscles. A swing set for a family with three physically challenged children. And even an accessible tree stand for a wheelchair farmer who loves to hunt deer.
For the students and their professor, Dr. Mike Boyette, the projects served as tangible evidence of their ability to apply the concepts theyve been learning for four years to real-world engineering challenges.
As part of Boyettes senior design engineering class, Biological and Agricultural Engineering 451, the students worked in groups of four or five to design a device, develop a budget, buy or make the parts and assemble the final product. They also had to prepare written and oral reports, just as any working engineer would have to do.
To develop workable solutions, the students started by asking questions. The groups working with Kevin, an 8-year-old with muscular atrophy, for example, were asked to design devices that would help him maintain his independence for as long as possible.
First, they needed to know more about the nature of the disease. How does it affect Kevins mobility now? And what does the future hold? They also considered his physical environment during a visit to his home to see how the house was arranged, what its electrical system would support and how his wheelchair operated.
They also considered the pros and cons of existing devices designed to solve related problems, plus the implications of relevant standards and local, state and federal laws.
Their solutions included a remote-activated door opener that incorporates a greenhouse louver motor, cable spindle assembly and pneumatic device designed to allow Kevin to go in and out of his house to play. They also built a remote-control car with a bulldozer-like bucket that allows Kevin to scoop up toys hes dropped. And they developed a mechanical light-switch attachment that allows Kevin to turn lights on and off from his wheelchair.
Four students worked with a Franklin County farmer who wanted to take up deer-hunting again. Since he suffered spinal damage several years ago, Wayne Gupton has been able to get around using a wheelchair and a golf cart. But because he can no longer use traditional deer stands, he hadnt been able to get up high enough to see deer before they detect him and run away.
Decked out in a camouflage hunting outfit, student and aspiring doctor Antonio McGuire demonstrated their solution: a ladder rigged with a chair that Gupton can lean against a tree. To move the chair from the ground to the top of the ladder above the legally required eight feet Gupton would turn a crank attached to a pulley-and-cable system.
Coming up with the solution, group members recounted, was perhaps as difficult as actually building what they dubbed the Rebel Yell.
First, group members explained, they considered a hydraulic tree stand, but its $4,000 to $5,000 price tag was too steep. Then, they entertained the ramp theory until they did enough math to determine that the ramp would need to be 96 feet long.
They even considered attaching a periscope and a gun to a pole, but upon second thought, figured that hunting that way wouldnt be much fun.
Once they settled on the tree-lean idea, they equipped the ladder with a manual reversible ratchet winch, which allows Gupton to lift himself up and down in the chair. They also added a brake that stops the pulley from spinning, and the chair from falling, if he lets go of the winch. At the top of the ladder, they installed a stop to keep Gupton from winding the chair off the top of the ladder.
To the seat itself, the students added a safety belt, padded arm rests and even a cup holder. The finishing touch: camouflage paint to make the device inconspicuous to deer. The total cost, said McGuire, was just $460.
While all the groups pointed out changes theyd like to make adding wheels to the Rebel Yell, making the light-switch adapter less intrusive and more aesthetically pleasing, and finding ways to cut the $700 cost of the remote-control car, for example Boyette said he was truly impressed with the final products.
Although new to teaching undergraduate students, Boyette has 25 years of experience as an engineer, both in private industry and with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service.
His goal in the course was to give students a real feel for what its like to be a working engineer. And, he said, the students proved that they are well on their way to meeting that goal.
These are really neat projects, he said. Its been just amazing and rewarding as a teacher to see these students come together in groups, ask questions, conduct research, test their ideas and then get into the shop to build these projects.
really proud of what a professional job theyve done and the way
this will help other people.