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Mechanic can get out of his wheelchair, back under cars again

February 26th, 2012 Posted in Arts and Life

Engineering students at Utah State adapt mechanic’s creeper for disabled people.

By Steve Kent

LOGAN — Albert La Bounty, a Cache Valley resident and paraplegic of almost 25 years, has been interested in mechanical repair for a long time. β€œAt 14 or 15 years old, I was working on cars,” La Bounty said.

Following a motorcycle accident, La Bounty was unable to feel or move his legs and lower torso. He uses a wheelchair to get around. To get on the ground where he can work on the underside of a car and back into his wheelchair would be very challenging. Thanks to a collaboration between Utah State University’s mechanical engineering program and the Utah Assistive Technology Program, La Bounty may have a chance to get back to working on vehicles.

At a press conference recently, graduate student LJ Wilde demonstrated a mechanic’s creeper – a device designed to help a mechanic slide on the ground when working under a vehicle. The creeper Wilde helped design and build uses a motor to take a person from a sitting position to a lying-down position close to the ground. Once on the ground, La Bounty would be able to use his arms to move around under a vehicle much like any other mechanic would.

La Bounty came up with the idea for the device and helped the students throughout the design process by providing feedback, Wilde said.

The device was the product of a capstone engineering course, where mechanical and electrical engineering students apply the theories they learn in the classroom to use, building practical devices, said Steve Hansen, a research professor in the mechanical and aerospace engineering department. Hansen, who teaches the course, said he wants students to be involved in projects that could have a positive impact on the community. Each semester, two of the six projects started in the class focus on addressing the needs of persons with disabilities, he said.

These projects are funded through a $125,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. Hansen said as the Baby Boomer generation ages, the need for assistive technology will greatly increase. That’s one reason he started the grant-winning program, Engineering Design to Aid Aging Persons.

With the grant money and help from the Assistive Technology Lab on campus, Hansen’s students are working on other projects, such as an off-road wheelchair, a mechanical hoist to allow mechanics in wheelchairs to perform repairs on wheelchairs or scooters, and a transformable wheelchair which can be pushed, self-propelled or towed.

NW

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