Engineering Students Design Beach Wheelchair, Other Products

May 6, 2019

Louisiana State University engineering students have designed and made a motorized wheelchair with three fat wheels so a 23-year-old woman can go to the beach with her family.

Last year's seniors were unable to provide a beach wheelchair for Cheslyn Simpson of Plaquemine, but left their plans. This year's first change was much fatter wheels.

Some of their additions were just for fun, including a cup holder, cooler and Bluetooth music player. Daniel Lucas, a mechanical engineering major and the team's project leader, said it did more than make Simpson happy.

"We involved the community, we raised awareness to the fact that a purely recreational wheelchair is not available to a lot of people. We also got the community involved and hopefully inspire future engineers," he said. Simpson has a genetic disease called Friedreich's ataxia.

In 2017, her speech therapists suggested she write an essay asking for help through LSU's senior capstone design program. That's a two-course program in which teams of students work on an assigned project. There were 46 teams this year, and a dizzying variety of projects.

For instance, there were a portable lightweight wheelchair for an 11-year-old with cerebral palsy; a system to test how resistant different sugarcane chopper blades are to wear; and combat robots.

Some were utilitarian, such as neighborhood surveillance system, a smart WiFi router system, a sealed, rugged iPhone case costing $200 or less, and a container to rear fly larvae used as fish and reptile food.

Each team had to show whether or not it met the project specifications. For instance, the iPhone case was rugged enough and would cost less than $110 per phone, but was bulkier than desired and protected phones from a drop of three feet rather than the desired 10 feet.