University of Delaware
Four mechanical engineering students are retrofitting a recumbent bicycle to enable people with limited mobility to get back on the road.

Senior design savvy

Mechanical engineering seniors adapt bicycle for individuals with physical disabilities


1:18 p.m., Nov. 26, 2012--After years of being physically active, Vickie George, the co-founder of Yes U Can, found her mobility decreasing due to progressive multiple sclerosis (MS). While she is able to create her own power, her muscles need stimulation to get going – particularly her arms and legs.

One day while talking with Wayne Hunter, the outdoor program director of the Yes U Can Corporation — an organization dedicated to getting those with physical disabilities moving — George expressed a desire to bike outdoors again.

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The University of Delaware's Assistive Medical Technologies Club is working to provide special devices from ride-on cars to walkers to children with mobility limitations.

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“The next thing I knew we received an invitation from the Department of Mechanical Engineering to sponsor a senior design project,” George explained. 

Senior design is a capstone design program that enables mechanical engineering students to work with industry sponsors to address a real world problem. For many students, it is their first taste of working for industry and applying their knowledge to produce a useful product. 

“We are trying to integrate design tread in at least one course every semester, from freshman to senior year, to reinforce the connectivity between basic science, analysis and design. In addition, students learn how to meet deadlines, think outside the box, work in teams and collaborate with industry to address their challenges,” explained department chair Suresh Advani.

Mechanical engineering senior design team, Matthew Klixbull, Devin Prate, Daniel Evans, and Christopher Leonard willingly accepted the challenge of retrofitting a recumbent bicycle to accommodate George’s unique needs. 

“Right now, Vickie is very limited in her hand use and we don’t know if she is going to keep this movement,” Klixbull explained. 

George retains enough movement in her left hand for the team to implement a joystick that would allow her to steer the bike. A stepper motor, wired to the steering column, will enable George to turn the bike by varying degrees. Ultimately, the team would like to incorporate a specialized harmonica that allows George, or another driver, to blow or suck in air to maneuver the bicycle.

“It’s an intimate experience because we need to know a lot about her movements—what she can do, what she can’t do and what she may not be able to do in the future,” he added.

In a separate project for the non-profit, junior mechanical engineering students are customizing a four to eight person boat that would allow a person with a disability to participate in rowing with other athletes.

George is continually moved by the students’ efforts, “Their sensitivity is just amazing. They seem to ask the right questions and work through the process mentally where they have a complete understanding, more than most people I know.”

About Yes U Can

After being diagnosed with progressive MS in 1995, Vickie George wanted to maintain her physically active lifestyle. In 2004, she started Yes U Can with Debora Woolwine, a non-profit organization devoted to inclusion for physically disabled who are interested in physical fitness and athletic recreation. 

The program expanded in 2010 to include an extension program at UD, first working with students from the College of Health Sciences to assist people with a disability in fitness facilities, and now collaborating with the mechanical engineering department to retrofit outdoor fitness equipment for physically disabled individuals. 

Article by Sarah E. Meadows

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