A graduate student in mechanical engineering at the U, Nicolas Brown is the leading member of a team that is improving the lives of people with spinal cord injuries by creating a dock to help them participate in water activities.
Jeffrey Rosenbluth, medical director of the Spinal Cord Injury Acute Rehabilitation program, hosts camps for people with spinal-cord injuries, and every summer the camp does a boating excursion. Brown and Rosenbluth observed how risky it could be to transfer from a wheelchair to a boat on a sandy, uneven, unshaded beach.
They proposed the problem to the Department of Mechanical Engineering Ergonomics and Safety Laboratory, headed by Andrew Merryweather. Merryweather enlisted the help of 125 first-year engineering students to develop conceptual solutions to this problem. The top 10 ideas were turned over to Brown for development. After 18 months of research and development, the Portable Accessible Dock (PAD) was manufactured.
While being transported, the PAD looks similar to a 30-foot box trailer on pontoons. On the lake, the sides of the PAD open up to become a shaded, stable, flat structure with mechanical systems needed to better facilitate wheelchair-to-watercraft transfers. These systems include modification of a personal watercraft lift, to bring boater and boat out of the water and onto the dock, and a ramp-and-winch system that pulls an 18-foot sailboat out of the water and onto the dock.
“Nobody told me I couldn’t put a storage trailer on a pontoon boat, so I went ahead and did it,” Brown said. “People questioned it, but it worked,” he said. With his development, a transfer that once took 45 minutes now takes 15 minutes and is much safer.
The PADS project is still being developed and will officially launch in summer 2018. The team continues to work on this project to make the device more safe for the patients.
Find this article and a lot more in the 2018 “Student Innovation @ the U” report. The publication is presented by the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute to celebrate student innovators, change-makers and entrepreneurs.