Purdue student engineers' design helps people sit in, stand out of wheelchairs

February 25, 2015  

Wheelchair design

Purdue student engineers have incorporated an electric seat lift and walker into a design that could help users independently sit into and stand out of a wheelchair. Purdue Research Foundation's Office of Technology Commercialization has applied for a patent on the design by Katherine Frangos, William Graves, Kris Miller and Kimberly Pund. The design can be licensed for further development and manufacturing. (Image provided)
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Medical device manufacturers can license, develop and manufacture a Purdue University design that incorporates an electric seat lift and integrated walker that could help users more easily sit into and get out of a traditional wheelchair.

Four graduates of Purdue's School of Mechanical Engineering created the Wheelchair Access Assistant for their senior design project. The alumni and their hometowns are Katherine Frangos, Conroe, Texas; William Graves, Huntington, Indiana; Kris Miller, Terre Haute, Indiana; and Kimberly Pund, Ferdinand, Indiana.

The Wheelchair Access Assistant incorporates an electric seat lift and a walker that are attached on a traditional, factory-manufactured wheelchair. The seat lift is activated by pressing a button; the walker is deployed by extending the wheelchair's armrests, locking a crossbar, and lowering scissor legs to the ground and locking them. A video that shows Graves testing the Wheelchair Access Assistant is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vtf6l4JDZTQ.

Pund said the team considered several concepts for its senior design project before they agreed to work on one that would make a difference in many people's lives. She said her father, Charles Pund, provided the broad initial idea of a wheelchair with a seat lift.

"His mother - my grandmother - was a victim of Alzheimer's, and when the disease progressed it became more and more difficult to help her stand from her wheelchair," she said. "She had a lift recliner that greatly helped her to get in and out of the chair without assistance. This is what inspired my father, and he shared his idea with us."

Graves said traditional wheelchairs are designed for ease of transport rather than ingress and egress. He said it puts strain on an aide to physically help a wheelchair user in and out of the wheelchair, which can happen several times over the course of a day.

"We began the project by understanding the mechanics of the standing motion, which can vary as people age due to strength and joint limitations. We wanted to create a design that assisted the user through the desired motion and to an upright position," he said. "By understanding the kinematics required to stand, we were able to create an ergonomic design."

Frangos said the team spent hours to develop a design that attached an entire seat lift assembly to the main frame of a traditional wheelchair.

"Mike Sherwood, the School of Mechanical Engineering's Manager of Technical Services at PEARL, or Product Engineering and Realization Laboratory, helped us finalize our design and weld the metal frame of the seat lift together," she said. "We miscalculated the ground clearance for our first prototype, but our second functional prototype was successfully integrated into the wheelchair."

Miller said John M. Starkey, associate professor of mechanical engineering and the team's mentor, challenged the team to integrate another device into the wheelchair. Weeks of brainstorming led to including the walker, but the team struggled with how to deploy and store it within the constrained space of a factory-produced wheelchair.

"We split into two groups, and Katherine and I spent a night writing everything we had in our head onto a whiteboard, and the idea of how we wanted to deploy and house our device came to us," Miller said. "We wanted to prove the idea and the math behind it, so we used cardboard and paperclips to put together a simple prototype."

The team's seat lift and walker device is designed to be easily installed onto a conventional wheelchair by removing the existing seat and armrests. It can be set onto the bars of the existing seat with the brake switches attached to the legs of the front wheels. The walker glides are connected to the seat lift structure so it is installed at once.

Every senior design project is entered into the Malott Innovation Competition, a two-day event held at the end of each semester, and the Wheelchair Access Assistant won third place. Miller said the team was approached by faculty, judges and their friends about pursuing a design patent.

"Thomas J. Malott said he hoped we continued with the design because he thought it had a lot of potential to help people," he said. "Hearing that from a former Siemens CEO pushed us to reach out to the Purdue Research Foundation's Office of Technology Commercialization to see what more we could accomplish."

Pund said Purdue engineering majors are expected to complete several projects related to their classwork, but most are able to explore a topic of any subject matter for their senior design project.

"Purdue's curriculum encourages students to think outside the box to find solutions to real-world problems," she said. "Graduating from the School of Mechanical Engineering is the greatest accomplishment of my life thus far, and I intend to challenge myself to accomplish even greater things, as Purdue graduates always have been taught to do."

Purdue Research Foundation's Office of Technology Commercialization has applied for a patent and seeks industrial partners to develop the design further and manufacture it. For information on commercializing this innovation, email innovation@prf.org.

About Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization

The Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization operates one of the most comprehensive technology-transfer programs among leading research universities in the U.S. Services provided by this office support the economic development initiatives of Purdue University and benefit the university's academic activities. The office is managed by the Purdue Research Foundation, which received the 2014 Incubator Network of the Year from the National Business Incubation Association for its work in entrepreneurship. For more information about funding and investment opportunities in startups based on a Purdue innovation, contact the Purdue Foundry at foundry@prf.org. For more information on licensing a Purdue innovation, contact the Office of Technology Commercialization at innovation@prf.org. 

Writer: Steve Martin, 765-588-3342, sgmartin@prf.org 

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