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TTU News


thumb MECapstonesFour young men stood on the back of an old pontoon boat to act as counterweights to the 500 pounds of steel they added to the front end as a kayak holding Michael Boyd, of Cookeville, was lowered into the water.

Boyd has been kayaking for several years, since a spinal cord injury paralyzed him from the waist down and kept him from skydiving, whitewater rafting and other adventure sports he loved. With the help of six mechanical engineering seniors at Tennessee Tech University, he now has an easier way to get into and out of his kayak.

“The whole purpose was to improve the quality of life for a person who enjoys paddling,” said group member David Clifford, of Gallatin.

The students were part of a mechanical engineering capstone design course with Meenakshi Sundaram, professor of mechanical engineering, in which people with disabilities and companies pitch ideas for original projects for students.

With help from another team, children with special needs will ride a mechanical horse to get used to the motion and feel of riding.

Another class, taught by mechanical engineering professor Stephen Canfield, created a motorized tricycle for a three-year-old boy with cerebral palsy, a trampoline with increased resistance to jumping for a five-year-old boy with a severe form of autism, a lift to help a 10-year-old girl with little to no function in her lower body get into and out of a pool without help, and several other projects.

The engineering students who designed and built the kayak transportation system developed their ideas after several sessions of brainstorming with Boyd. After two tests of their design, Boyd has ideas for improvements to make the system available to others with disabilities.

“I’d say we’re onto something. This could be great,” said Boyd, who met Clifford at the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Cookeville. “I don’t do any of this for myself. I’ll get there anyway. I want other people to be able to use these things as well.”

“That’s part of my madness, to introduce this to mechanical engineering as a project to possibly get more folks off the couch,” he said.

With financial support from Tech-REDI, an economic development program at TTU, the students bought an old pontoon boat. They cut out a long rectangular section in which to fit the kayak and added a lift system to raise and lower the kayak into and out of the water. Boyd moved from his wheelchair to a chair on rails with help from two of the students, who then pushed the chair out for him to lower himself into the kayak.

The entire system, nicknamed the Paddler’s Friend, took the team about six weeks of several 12-hour days of work to complete.

“None of us have ever worked in a group this big,” said Korey Bowman, of Cookeville. “When we graduate, we’re all going to be working with larger teams, so it was a really good experience.”

Most of the six students in the team already have jobs lined up after graduation, and one plans to go on to graduate school. The rest of the team included AJ Morgan, of Mount Juliet; Tucker Fritz and Alex White, both of Lenoir City; and Austin King, of Sevierville.