Rolling Without Limits

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This BYU Wheelchair Rocks
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This BYU Wheelchair Rocks

A group of undergraduates put their best effort in designing and building an electric wheelchair for two adorable kids. And the reaction of the young users was just priceless.

Tanner Jensen, 3 years old, and his brother Skyler, 1 year and 8 months, are just like any other children. They are playful and they love to have fun together. They also fight over their toys and other silly stuff.

But Tanner and Skyler have special needs because the siblings have a genetic disorder known as SMA or Spinal Muscular Atrophy. SMA affects the control of muscle movement. The condition is caused by the loss of motor neurons, specialized nerve cells that carry signals from the spinal cord to the muscles in order to produce movement.

Without motor neurons, muscle weakness and wasting, or atrophy, occurs. Thus, activities like crawling, sitting up, walking and controlling head movement become impossible. In severe cases of SMA, muscles for swallowing and breathing are also affected.

Tanner and Skyler, after being diagnosed with the degenerative disease, have to use wheelchairs. But since the condition greatly affects their muscles and movement, it is extremely difficult and tiring to do the wheeling themselves.

An electric wheelchair would be very helpful for their condition. However, their parents could not afford such equipment for they are quite expensive. Also, they are not advised to use one since most power chairs are dangerously heavy for their age and difficult to carry or transfer.

Good thing there is the Brigham Young University (BYU) Engineering Capstone program. Five mechanical engineering undergrads ingeniously designed, created and manufactured a motorized wheelchair specifically for Tanner and Skyler. But what makes their project amazing and interesting is that the wheelchair is lightweight and very cheap.

The students built the wheelchair using a PVC (Permanent Virtual Circuit) frame which makes the equipment strong enough to carry a 6-year-old kid or a child weighing 22.6 kilograms. The chair was produced with just a budget less than $500, which makes it probably the cheapest electric or motorized wheelchair worldwide.

The team also designed the chair to be lightweight so that the young users will have no problems maneuvering it. The chair is just about 20 pounds or 9 kilograms, making it possibly the lightest motorized mobility chair. With such weight, the chair is easy to transfer.

The wheelchair can be maneuvered using a joystick. The young users can easily operate the chair without much effort by simply moving the joystick to any direction they want.

Esther Jensen, the mother of the boys, said that Tanner and Skyler just wanted to be like other kids. They just want to live their lives as normally as they can. For her, the new motorized chairs will change the lives of her sons.

When the team presented the lightweight electric wheelchair to the boys, Tanner became very excited. He even took the chair for a spin as soon as he sat on it.

Ian Freeman, one of the mechanical engineering undergraduates, expressed that seeing the Jansen boys made the team more motivated and determined to produce a chair for them. He said that it was great to create something that could give hope and change lives, especially for young users.

For Tanner and Skyler, their new electric chairs are life changing. They now have gained more freedom and independence and are given the opportunity to fully enjoy their childhood.

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