Jan 9, 2015 | By Simon

When it comes to coming up with solving some of the world’s most pressing problems, leave it up to a group of teenagers with access to a 3D modeling program and a 3D printer.  Among those problems?  How can you hack a wheelchair to make it more user-friendly for someone with limited mobility?

Such is the problem that a group of teenage students at Cambridge, Massachusetts-based NuVu High School chose to frame and seek out a solution for in one of their hyper-intensive, technology-based classes.

The high school, which is located a stones-throw from both Harvard and MIT, focuses on developing curriculums that throw out traditional math and English classes in favor of hands-on projects ranging from robot design and CAD to 3D printing, computer programming and animation.

After being given a one-week crash course on a topic at the beginning of the term for each class, the teacher assigns the students with a design problem to tackle for the rest of the class duration... similar to how a real-world product is developed.

For a recent class this past Fall of 2014, a group of students chose to help fellow classmate Mohammad Sayed hack his wheelchair to be better-suited for his needs, starting with a laptop tray and then moving onto a canopy and a rowing mechanism design that makes it easier for Sayed to propel the chair forward.  All of course, with the aid of 3D printing.

Sayed, 16,  who came up with the original concept to hack his wheelchair before his classmates joined in, originally wanted to create multi-terrain flying and swimming wheelchair before the teacher intervened and told him to start smaller.

"Actually, I wanted to make a wheelchair that flies and go under water," said Sayed. "But [my teacher] said we need to start small and then go big."   

Using Autodesk Fusion 360, the class worked together to design and model all three modifications for Sayed’s wheelchair design for the rest of the term with the end goal of having open source designs that anybody can 3D print and use on their own wheelchairs.    

Starting with the laptop tray, the team began their wheelchair hackathon with direct input from Sayed.  The team started with a box of Sayed’s own design and further iterated on the design per Sayed’s daily needs including functionality for using and storing of a laptop.  

“We started out with a box that functioned as a computer holder,” said design team member Nuradin Bhatti.   “Although this worked as a place to store your computer, it didn't add significant value to what's already available. Inspired by the GoPro case, we made a new kind of box that had greater use.  It was a solid brick that had holes to hold your things, like your electronics and other things meant for work.”

Using a combination laser cut wood and 3D printing, the team developed a series of mechanical components and trays that were able to be 3D printed for both rapid prototyping and for the final design.  

After completing the design for the tray, the team chose to move on to a more complicated design that would drastically change how Sayed - and other wheelchair users - propel themselves forward.

Using a rowing wheelchair concept from the nineties that is currently used in the GoGrit All-Terrain wheelchair and NASA engineer Salim Nasser’s Rowheels project, the team reverse-engineered the rowing mechanism to make it 3D-printable and more affordable for those wanting to employ the use of the system.

The mechanism, which decreases the amount of force needed to propel a chair forward by using a horizontal rowing technique, is ideal for wheelchair users who are unable to propel their wheelchairs using a traditional ‘wheel-pushing’ method.

"If you are someone with atrophy and the muscles you would use to push with your biceps are getting weaker, allowing for different types of movement could mean the difference between continuing in a manual wheelchair or being forced to convert to a power wheelchair," said Sayed.

After a series of 3D printed design iterations that incorporated the use of old bike parts - including one that Sayed sent back to the drawing table because it wasn’t able to move the chair in reverse - the team ended up with a design that was nearly 100% 3D printed (separate from a metal bar that was purchased at Home Depot) at a cost of roughly $2 to $3 per part.  To solve the problem of being able go in reverse, the team used a bicycle brake handle that enabled the chair to switch between forward and reverse.

It’s projects like these that are helping put 3D printers into context for a new generation of product designers and engineers.  In addition to learning how physical designs that exist in the real world work, the students are also able to learn the nuts and bolts of working in teams and the foundations of good communication through blogging about their design process.  

"Before NuVu, I didn't do well in groups, because as a creative person you always push your own ideas," Sayed added. "Communication was sometimes a challenge, but now I've learned."


Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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Rel wrote at 7/23/2016 8:29:19 PM:

Are you going to be selling these things? Could you make the files available for others' use? Please let me know. ariel.kaitlien@gmail.com

mb wrote at 1/9/2015 11:01:24 PM:

the look on his face @ 2:39 is exactly why these technologies need to be more accessible to the masses.

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