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Students design device to assist disabled bicycle riders


A professor's bicycle accident and his difficulty riding home with an injured arm was the inspiration for an award-winning team project at U-M-Dearborn.
Mechanical engineering students (left to right) Justin Black, Aron Grajek, Jim Szymusiak and Sam Seldon show off the device they designed as a class project to assist arm-disabled and amputee bike riders. (Photo by U-M-Dearborn)

Four mechanical engineering students, under the direction of faculty adviser Professor Alan Argento, designed a device to assist arm-disabled and amputee bike riders with better control of their bikes while riding on rough, uneven terrain.

The project—created by students Justin Black, Aron Grajek, Sam Seldon and Jim Szymusiak—tied for first place overall in the College of Engineering and Computer Science's annual senior design competition. The other first-place finisher was a computer and information science team that designed a Parametric Model Converter project, with students Don Barnes, Paul Bowers, Seema Kapur and Inna Stashko working under the direction of Professor Bruce Maxim.

The mechanical engineering students began work on their project after seeking advice from Argento, who told them a story about falling off his bike, injuring an arm, and having a difficult time riding home with only one healthy arm.

"He told us how hard it was to steer the bike because of the loose terrain, pot holes and rocks in the road," student Sam Seldon says. "His arm became very tired from constantly having to fight to keep the bike going in a straight line. He thought that it would be nice to have a device that could help a rider to better control a bike using only one arm.

"We immediately saw the potential of such a device," he says. "If it could be successfully designed, built and installed onto a bike, it could really help a lot of people. We loved the idea and immediately adopted it as our project."

The students developed a survey to gather ideas and experiences of arm-amputee and disabled bike riders, and performed a subjective evaluation of one-handed riding on a conventional bicycle.

Instability—especially while turning sharply, hitting bumps or going over rough terrain—was found to be the biggest concern of one-handed riding.

Seldon says the team came up with four initial design ideas to assist bikers and address the instability issue: a cable disk brake system, a hydraulic system, a computer-aided manufacturing system and a magnetic brake system.

"We decided that the cable disk brake system was the best choice because its design was simple, it was easy to build, it was cheap to build and it would be easy for a person to maintain," Seldon says.

The design is a disk brake that is clamped and attached to the handlebars of a bike. The device helps to hold the front wheel steady and allows the frame of the bike to work with the arm to resist the lateral load on the wheel while riding over rough terrain.

Seeing the system installed on a bike for the first time thrilled the students. "A lot of times when prototypes are built and tested, a flaw in the design is discovered that prevents the system from working properly," Seldon says. "We spent a lot of time analyzing our system analytically to make sure that the stresses within each part were acceptable so that no part of the system would fail, and I was glad to see that our time was well spent."

The most rewarding part of the project, Seldon says, was working on a device that has the potential to help a lot of people.

"In the past, I have done design projects that fulfill the requirements of the class, but really don't have any value outside of the classroom," he says. "It was really great to finally be able to work on something that has application in the real world."

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