Children can have a difficult time learning how to use an electric wheelchair. The sensitive control stick on the chair can send it careening in all directions until the child masters the movements.
But Trinity Davis, an 8-year-old patient at The Watson Institute in Sewickley, is having an easier time learning to use her wheelchair because of a device designed and built by two Mars Area High School juniors.
“There are so many kids that don’t have the motor skills to do this,” said Mitch Wesley, 17, who with his twin, Mark, designed a box that restricts movement of the wheelchair’s control stick and then used a 3-D printer to make it out of plastic.
The box has two slits across the top. When it is fitted over the control stick of Trinity’s wheelchair, it allows her to move the control stick only from side to side. After she masters those movements, the box can be retrofitted to allow her to move the stick forward and backward, and then the box can be taken off when she has mastered all directions, Mark said.
Before Trinity received the box, a physical therapist had to be with her all the time to make sure she didn’t go out of control, Mark said.
"It's exciting to see how proud she is as she moves around on her own,” said Trinity’s mom, Kelley Davis.
The twins, who live in Adams, became involved with Trinity, of Koppel, because their mother, Anne, is Trinity’s physical therapist.
Mark said they got the idea after their dad, Bill, made a similar box out of wood and a fabric fastener for another patient.
Mark and Mitch used the AutoDesk Inventor Computer Aided Drafting program in their Engineering by Design classes to design the box.
"We're really proud of their dedication and application of their science/technology skills on this project, and their willingness to help out Trinity," said Bill Wesley, a science teacher at Mars Area High School.
Mitch said he and his brother took measurements from a wheelchair at the high school that is the same as Trinity’s and then made a prototype out of cardboard. When the design was finalized, it was printed using the 3-D printer, which liquefies plastic and then layers the plastic until the design is finished.
Ray Machusko, technology education teacher at the high school, provided technical guidance but said the twins did the entire project themselves.
“It’s impressive to see how they used it in a real world application,” he said. “Everything they came up with, they did on their own. They took all the measurements. They took all the schedules and drawings.”
Mr. Machusko said it is amazing what can be done with computers and 3-D printers. “Those machines are worth their weight in gold. We are fortunate in Mars to have that equipment.”
Mark and Mitch, who both plan careers in engineering, agreed.
“We realized that, especially in engineering departments, one of the major bragging points [of colleges] is, 'We have a 3-D printer,’” said Mark, who is thinking about studying mechanical engineering. “They were surprised that we were working with it in high school.”
Mitch, who is considering computer engineering, said they would like to find more opportunities to design devices to help physical therapy patients.
The two play baseball for Mars Area, are lifeguards and are active in the children’s liturgy at St. Kilian Church in Cranberry. They have helped with holiday programs at The Watson Institute and have worked with Habitat for Humanity.
Sandy Trozzo, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.