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Improving transport wheelchairs

Transport wheelchairs are a commonly used assistive device, but could they be improved? Yes, says a group of five mechanical engineering students. Their capstone project—enhanced transport wheelchair leg support—addresses a limitation in current technology that the team discovered.

Photo of student teamTeam members, left to right: Megan Schaefer, Emily Payne, Chase Young and Kyle Sherrets (not pictured: Niki Glass).

Transport wheelchairs, those that are typically used in a hospital or care setting, are designed with the ease of transportation in mind. To improve the design, the students created an electric actuator system prototype aimed at reducing the number of steps needed to move patients’ legs from the ground, a common practice that occurs when a patient is transported from a wheelchair to a hospital bed. The final design attaches to existing transport wheelchairs.

“[We observed that with current technology] the transition required many steps to move the footrests out of the way of the patient and detach them from the chair,” said mechanical engineering student Emily Payne. “In the final design of the leg support prototype, the team was able to create a product that did not need to be detached from the chair when transporting patients and it allowed the user or stakeholder to easily control the movement of the user’s legs.”

Her teammates included mechanical engineering students Niki Glass, Megan Schaefer, Kyle Sherrets and Chase Young. The students were enrolled in the year-long Product Design Capstone Course 4684, taught by Annie Abell.

Photo of final wheelchair prototypeWith two electrical switches, the height of the thigh or calf support may be adjusted so that the user's feet are comfortably elevated.The team began with the intent to meet three primary objectives: create a product that satisfies a problem in a real-world setting, design a product to ensure ease of assembly and analyze potential faults of the product.

During autumn semester the team researched a variety of assistive devices and noted the challenges that patients and caregivers had with their use. They visited residential nursing facilities, assisted-living locations and a physical therapy office, and reached out to organizations, such as Age-Friendly Columbus. After selecting a project and meeting general constraints, the team built and tested a series of prototypes and created an installation guide. At the conclusion they also used design software to predict fault points and provide a recommendation for future work.

“This class is research-heavy and focused on user-centered design,” said Assistant Professor of Practice Annie Abell. “We focus on conducting research to uncover problems, understand constraints and empathize with the users involved in our projects, and the student teams use this research to define the challenge that their team will take on.”

“These student projects are a good example of lesser-known types of mechanical engineering projects that highlight a more people-centered approach to use engineering skills to solve problems for society.”

All undergraduate engineering students at Ohio State are required to complete a one- or two-semester-long capstone design project prior to graduation. The experience not only provides the opportunity for students to use their engineering skills on a real-world project, but also allows them to refine communication, teamwork and project management skills. Projects are featured at department-level and college-wide showcases.

"It was great to be able to work on a project from start to finish,” commented Young. “From researching and defining the problem to developing a working prototype of the final product, it gave everyone an inside look and hands-on experience of what it is like to take an idea and make something out of it.”

Read more about the team’s project on their webpage: https://u.osu.edu/au18mdc/.

by Holly Henley, department communications coordinator