Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) mechanical-engineering graduate John Roberts has scooped the European Student Innovation Campus Trophy at the European Student Innovation Campus Finals, Innovact 2014, in Reims, France. He is now the European Student Innovator for 2014.
Roberts won the trophy and a €3,000 award for his wheelchair-enablement device called PyraAid. A native of Carrigaline in Co Cork, he was short-listed as one of just 20 European Student Innovation Campus finalists from 419 entries from across Europe. He was the only finalist selected from Ireland.
The CIT graduate's final-year mechanical engineering capstone project, which dealt with the advanced design, development, prototype manufacture and testing of PyraAid, arose from his multidisciplinary third-year engineering and business group’s ‘mini project’.
[caption id="attachment_13504" align="alignright" width="852"] The PyraAid wheelchair-enabling device[/caption]
Pyra-Aid is a novel retrofitted, momentum-powered wheelchair enablement device to aid in mounting of steps or kerbs. The three-wheeled pyramid configuration PyraAidself-propelled solution requires no power and little maintenance. It is easily attached and detached and is compatible with children’s wheelchairs.
Speaking after his win on 2 April, Roberts paid tribute to his multidisciplinary engineering and business third-year student colleagues Siobhán Hickey, Alan O’Reilly, Laura Hannon, Sandra Hayes, Thomas Thornton and Stephen O’Brien, who he said were central and crucial to the early inspiration and development of the enablement project.
“Their support and encouragement persuaded me to continue on the project as a most challenging and rewarding final-year capstone mechanical engineering project,” he said.
INSPIRATION AND DEVELOPMENT
[caption id="attachment_13501" align="alignright" width="586"] The PyraAid mounting a kerb[/caption]
Structured and user-centric multidisciplinary team brainstorming exercises led to inspiration arising from a most unlikely source – the humble but effective three-wheeled industrial hand truck used to transport loads over steps and stairs. The designer’s practical experience as a metal fabricator prior to becoming a student was a contributing factors in the decision to advance the project.
The progressive design optimisation, development and testing of PyraAid was undertaken. Design criteria included efficiency, stability, safety, ease of attachment/detachment, universality, manufacturability, sustainability, aesthetics and cost.
All of this required advanced analytical, computer-aided design and experimental techniques. State-of-the-art material selection and manufacturing methodologies were employed to achieve material optimisation and three iteratively developed prototypes of PyraAidwere manufactured and tested both in the laboratory and in the field.
[caption id="attachment_13499" align="alignright" width="446"] Anti-tipping device[/caption]
Safety was central to the design, which includes a novel, pendulum design, anti-tipping device. Operational efficiency testing led to further innovations, including a quick-application universal prototype attachment/detachment mechanism, a step structure support system (wheel rotation restriction) and a low-cost functional castor alignment system. A significant mass reduction of 80% was achieved for the child-friendly Mark 3 prototype.
“Sustainability was also addressed in the design – the PyraAid has a long life and makes optimum use of existing materials,” said Roberts. “It can be retrofitted, is wheelchair upgrade transferable and requires no external power. PyraAid Mark 3 optimised alloy material is high strength, lightweight, corrosion free and bacterial growth retardant – this is very important for hospital environments.”
Field performance step/kerb mount tests of Mark 1/2/3 prototypes have been very promising. The castor-alignment device optimisation has shown significant potential for operational improvement. In the near future, Roberts hopes to carry out further extensive testing with a broader range of subjects. In addition, he said, market research indicates a worldwide market opportunity for a wheelchair enablement device such as PyraAid.
"It has been a great experience and it's great to see I wasn't expecting to win because the competitors were so strong in the category, but it has been a great experience and it's great to see how everyone interacts so well [in Reims]," Roberts concluded.
An illustrated pictorial progress summary on the design, development and testing of the PyraAid wheelchair aid can be viewed here. See the video below for more details on PyraAid.