Hands-on Activity: Off-Road Wheelchair Challenge

Contributed by: Inquiry-Based Bioengineering Research and Design Experiences for Middle-School Teachers RET Program, Department of Biomedical Engineering, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Photo shows a competitor in a sporty wheelchair racing up an asphalt road.
Engineering solutions can help people with physical disabilities to take on physical challenges.
copyright
Copyright © 2004 Microsoft Corporation, One Microsoft Way, Redmond, WA 98052-6399 USA. All rights reserved.

Summary

Students further their understanding of the engineering design process (EDP) while being introduced to assistive technology devices and biomedical engineering. They are given a fictional client statement and are tasked to follow the steps of the EDP to design and build small-scale, off-road wheelchair prototypes. As part of the EDP, students identify appropriate materials and demonstrate two methods of representing solutions to their design problem (scale drawings and simple scale models). They test the scale model off-road wheelchairs using spring scales to pull the prototypes across three different simulated off-road surfaces.

Engineering Connection

Engineers follow the engineering design process as they create solutions that improve the lives of many people through the development of assistive technology devices. For example, advancements in wheelchairs, prosthetics, and hearing and visual aid devices illustrate the humanitarian aspect of engineering.

Pre-Req Knowledge

A familiarity with the engineering design process and recognition that the process works in a cyclical fashion rather than a linear process with a beginning and an end.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Identify and describe the steps of the engineering design process.
  • Describe how to use the engineering design process to develop solutions to problems.
  • Explain the reasons for their selected designs and material choices.

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Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

  • Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Develop a model to generate data for iterative testing and modification of a proposed object, tool, or process such that an optimal design can be achieved. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Design involves a set of steps, which can be performed in different sequences and repeated as needed. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Given a design task, identify appropriate materials (e.g., wood, paper, plastic, aggregates, ceramics, metals, solvents, adhesives) based on specific properties and characteristics (e.g., strength, hardness, and flexibility). (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Identify and explain the steps of the engineering design process, i.e., identify the need or problem, research the problem, develop possible solutions, select the best possible solution(s), construct a prototype, test and evaluate, communicate the solution(s), and redesign. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Demonstrate methods of representing solutions to a design problem, e.g., sketches, orthographic projections, multiview drawings. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Explain examples of adaptive or assistive devices, e.g., prosthetic devices, wheelchairs, eyeglasses, grab bars, hearing aids, lifts, braces. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
Suggest an alignment not listed above

Materials List

Each group needs:

  • cardstock strips
  • cardboard strips
  • plastic drinking straws
  • plastic coffee stirrers
  • hot glue gun with hot glue sticks
  • scissors
  • 3 rulers, one per student
  • measuring tape
  • graph paper and pencils
  • client model, such as a doll or an action figure (or any object to represent a person that students can measure to gain dimensions for the wheelchair prototype and that could ride in the wheelchair during testing)
  • Off-Road Wheelchair Packet, one per student
  • computers, for internet research

To share with the entire class (for testing):

  • simulated grassy field surface made from a cardboard box cover base (12 x 19 in [~30 x 50 cm) lined with a piece of high-pile carpet
  • simulated sandy beach surface made from a cardboard box cover base (12 x 19 in [~30 x 50 cm) lined with sand and fish tank gravel
  • simulated wooded trail surface made from a cardboard box cover base (12 x 19 in [~30 x 50 cm) lined with randomly placed straw and cardboard scraps
  • 3 spring scales

Introduction/Motivation

Photo shows a handicapped wall sign composed of an icon of a person in a wheelchair.
Engineers who design assistive technology offer people with physical disabilities more in life than a reserved parking spot.
copyright
Copyright © 2004 Microsoft Corporation, One Microsoft Way, Redmond, WA 98052-6399 USA. All rights reserved.

(optional; If time permits, show students a movie or film that shows people overcoming disabilities through the help of engineered technology. See suggestions in the Additional Multimedia Support section.)

People with physical disabilities are faced with many challenges. Not only must they overcome the physical challenges presented by their disabilities, but they also must deal with the perception of "being different." The engineering community has developed many assistive devices to help people with disabilities live a life that is as independent and as "normal" as possible.

What is an assistive technology device? (Listen to student ideas.) An assistive device is a device that is designed (or sometimes a device that is adapted) to assist a person with a disability to carry out a task. Can you think of some examples? (Listen to student ideas. Possible answers: Canes, crutches, wheelchairs, walkers, eye glasses, prosthetics, and replacement body parts.) Whether the assistive device is very advanced, such as a prosthetic foot for running, or very basic, such as a grab-bar in the shower, does not matter. All these devices were designed by engineers to help all members of our community feel as capable and independent as possible.

Vocabulary/Definitions

assistive device: A device designed and constructed to assist people in carrying out tasks. Also called assistive technology devices.

bioengineering: A field of engineering that solves problems related to life sciences by the application of physics, chemistry and mathematics concepts, as well as the engineering design process.

biomedical engineering: A field of engineering that collaborates with doctors, surgeons and other medical professionals to produce technology to promote the lives of patients.

engineering design process: The iterative process through which engineers develop solutions to meet an objective. The steps of the process include: identifying a problem, brainstorming, designing, constructing, testing, analysis and evaluation, redesigning, retesting, and sharing a solution. Science, mathematics and engineering science concepts are applied throughout the process to optimize the solution.

mechanical engineering: A field of engineering based on designing and constructing mechanical systems through the application of physics, mathematics and material science concepts, as well as the engineering design process.

Procedure

Background

Our society's technological knowledge base is increasing at an astonishing rate. With this increase in knowledge comes an increase in the quality, design and access to assistive devices. As the number of injured soldiers has increased, the government has invested more resources into the development of assistive devices designed to help them. For example, Dean Kamen, who is known for the development of the Segway, was funded by the U.S. government to create a new prosthetic arm to people who have lost arms. Kamen's Luke Arm is leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessors. (As time permits, shows students videos on this topic; see suggestions in the Additional Multimedia Support section.)

Even with the recent advancements in assistive device technology, low-tech solutions continue to meet the needs of end-users. For example, the Rough Rider wheelchair, by Whirlwind International, combines many existing technologies, such as mountain bike tires for the main wheels and shopping cart wheels for the front wheels, to produce an inexpensive wheelchair that is capable of handling the everyday surfaces encountered by people with disabilities. It is especially designed to handle rugged terrain easily and has been proven in more than 25 countries with thousands of riders in the worst of conditions.

Day 1: Introduce the project; students define the problem. Day 2: student teams brainstorm solutions, discuss pros and cons for each solution, and choose the best solutions. Day 3: Create scale drawings for selected design. Days 4 - 6: Construct, test and redesign the scale model prototype. Day 7: Final prototype testing, complete packet, and present prototypes to the class.
Suggested seven-day project schedule for the activity.
copyright
Copyright © 2011 Jared Quinn, WPI

Before the Activity

  • Gather and prepare supplies for the student groups.
  • Make copies of the Off-Road Wheelchair Packet.
  • Prepare three simulated off-road surfaces for prototype testing. See the Materials Lists for materials to line or fill the bases of three cardboard box covers.
    Three computer-generated images illustrate three surfaces: grassy field (gray and fine), sandy beach (brown tones), wooded trail (brown chunks with randomly located blue strips).
    Test student prototypes on three types of surfaces to represent a grassy field (plush carpeting), sandy beach (sand and fish tank gravel), and wooded trail (straw and cardboard scraps).
    copyright
    Copyright © 2011 Jared Quinn, WPI

With the Students

  1. As a class, discuss the idea of a physical disability and assistive devices.
  • Have students describe in detail their favorite physical activities.
  • Ask: How would you feel if you could no longer physically do those activities?
  • Ask: What if technology could help you to continue to do your favorite activities?
  1. Introduce students to the off-road wheelchair challenge project.
  • Describe a fictitious 18-year-old competitive mountain biker who was injured and is now confined to a wheelchair. This athlete is the end-user (client) for the design project.
  • Hand out the packets to students.
  • Read aloud the project introduction and client statement from the packet.
  1. Divide the class into groups of three students each.
  2. Direct the groups to follow the steps of the engineering design process to design and build a scale model prototype of an off-road wheelchair for the client. Use the model client for measurements. Have them complete the packet as they go along, and use it as a guide for each step of the process.
  3. As students move through the process, have them conference with the teacher at the following points before moving ahead.
  • Identify the need (problem statement, function, constraint, objective)
  • Research
  • Develop possible solutions (minimum of three)
  • Select the best solution
  • Blueprint and prototype
  • Test and evaluate
  • Communicate solutions
  • Redesign (future recommendations)
  1. Have groups begin by completing the definitions for mechanical engineering, bioengineering and biomedical engineering on page 1 of the packet. If they are unsure of any definition, have them use the internet to research that field.
  2. Identify the need: Have students write problem statements, considering information provided in the introduction and the client statement in the packet. Have them write paragraphs for each of the following:
  • How the wheelchair functions (what it does)
  • The objectives for the wheelchair (what it is)
  • The constraints (include materials, timeframe, etc.)
  1. Research: Have students use the internet to research past and present wheelchair designs, off-road bikes and mountain bikes, as well as why people need wheelchairs. Have them keep records of all relevant information found, as well as website sources.
  2. Develop possible solutions: Require each group to develop at least three possible designs for their off-road wheelchairs, documenting them in the packet. Suggest group brainstorming to come up with designs together and/or have students individually draw their own ideas to share with the group.
  3. Select the best solution: Together as a group, discuss the pros and cons of each design and decide which of the possible designs (or a combination of more than one design) is the most promising design solution to meet the objectives and constraints. Remind students to be prepared to explain to the teacher the reasons for their decisions.
  4. Blueprint and prototype: Have students complete final design drawings that include labeled dimensions and materials. Make the drawings clear enough that another person could readily learn what is needed and how to create the prototypes. Once the final design is complete, use the provided materials to construct the prototype.
  5. Test and evaluate: Once student groups have finished building their wheelchair prototypes, have them test them on the three simulated off-road surfaces. Do this by attaching a spring scale to the prototype wheelchair and pulling it across the length of the surface. Direct students to notice on the spring scale how much force is being applied to pull the wheelchair and record the maximum force. Complete three trials on each surface and record data in the table in the packet. Also describe each trial in words below the table, as well an evaluation that explains whether the design was effective, and provide reasons.
  6. Communicate Solutions: When groups are ready, have students present their prototypes to the class. Include in the presentation descriptions of how they developed the designs, how the tests went, and prototype evaluations. Have the rest of the class ask questions and offer comments.
  7. Redesign (future recommendations): Have students finish their packets by writing recommendations on ideas for further research, and what they would improve in a redesign.
  8. Have students turn in their completed packets for grading.
  9. As time permits, lead a class discussion to compare results and conclusions.

Attachments

Assessment

Pre-Activity Assessment

Class Discussion: Informally evaluate students' prior knowledge about engineering and the engineering design process, assistive technologies and disabilities.

Activity Embedded Assessment

As We Work: During the course of the activity, students work on the Off-Road Wheelchair Packet, which serves as formative assessment of their abilities to follow the engineering design process while creating and testing off-road wheelchair prototypes.

Design Drawing and Prototype: Examine students' drawings and prototypes to gauge their abilities to demonstrate methods of representing solutions to design problems.

Post-Activity Assessment

Final Documentation: Evaluate students' completed Off-Road Wheelchair Packets as summative assessment of their abilities to accurately use the engineering design process to create and test wheelchair design prototypes. Evaluate their vocabulary word definitions and answers to other questions to gauge their comprehension of the process and project components. Example answers:

  • Problem Statement: An 18-year old competitive mountain biker is injured and now confined to a wheelchair. To remain active and enjoy traveling across terrain that is inaccessible by a conventional wheelchair, this athlete needs an all-terrain wheelchair to improve his/her quality of life. We will approach solving this problem by creating a small-scale prototype for the all-terrain wheelchair.
  • Function: The all-terrain wheelchair should allow the client to access and travel across terrain that is inaccessible by a conventional wheelchair.
  • Objective: The all-terrain wheelchair prototype should be able to roll across the three simulated surfaces: a grassy field, a sandy beach, and a wooded trail. We also aim for our prototype to use minimal force to roll across these surfaces.
  • Constraints: Construct the all-terrain wheelchair prototype with the provided materials and within the seven class periods provided.

Final Prototype: Examine students' completed drawings and wheelchair design prototypes to gauge their abilities to demonstrate methods of representing solutions to design problems.

Graphing the Results: Using the data from the test results, graph the amount of force applied for the three types of surfaces. Students can find the average of the force amongst the three trials and use that as the maximum force applied for each surface. Discuss final results and determine which surface resulted in the highest force.

Additional Multimedia Support

Show students a movie or film that shows people overcoming disabilities through the help of engineered technology. Suggestions: Kiss My Wheels by Miguel Grunstein and Dale Kruzic (56 minutes), Not on the Sidelines: Living and Playing with a Disability by Ben Achtenberg and Karen McMillan (Fanlight Production, http://www.fanlght.com; 26 minutes).

Watch Dean Kamen's Prosthetic "Luke Arm" Be Awesome at the Grocery Store (Gizmodo; 1:25 minutes): http://gizmodo.com/5670842/watch-dean-kamens-prosthetic-luke-arm-be-awesome-at-the-grocery-store

Dean Kamen: The Emotion behind Invention (TED talk; 19:33 minutes): http://www.ted.com/talks/dean_kamen_the_emotion_behind_invention.html

Wheel chair back-flip (YouTube; 3:36 minutes): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NJvgT60-mk

Off- road chair for yard work, hunting and fishing (YouTube; 8:23 minute): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sPSf517GVd0

Katie bot III, extreme mobility wheelchair (YouTube; 1:58 minutes): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yr8d9QAc5RQ

Four-wheel drive wheelchair on different surfaces (YouTube; 3:05 minutes): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wThIIpmvCPg

Track drive wheelchair goes to the beach (YouTube; 4:05 minutes): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7I0ThOC3VAA

References

Adee, Sarah. "Dean Kamen's 'Luke Arm' Prosthesis Readies for Clinical Trials." IEEE Spectrum. February 2008. Accessed November 28, 2012. http://spectrum.ieee.org/biomedical/bionics/dean-kamens-luke-arm-prosthesis-readies-for-clinical-trials

Assistive Device (definition). 1998. MedicineNet.com, MedicineNet, Inc. Accessed July 19, 2010. http://www.medterms.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=2372

Bellis, Mary. Inventors: History of the Wheelchair: The first dedicated wheelchair was made for Phillip II of Spain. About.com, New York Times Company. Accessed November 28, 2012. http://inventors.about.com/od/wstartinventions/a/wheelchair.htm

Kaye, H. Stephen, Kang, Taewoon, and LaPlante, Mitchell. Wheelchair Use in the United States, Disability Statistics Center, Abstract 23. May 2002. University of California-San Francisco. Accessed November 28, 2012. http://dsc.ucsf.edu/publication.php

Magar, Prashant. History of Assistive Technology. Buzzle.com. Accessed July 21, 2010. http://www.buzzle.com/articles/history-of-assistive-technology.html

Reinhart, Kevin A. The History of Assistive Technology. 2010. eHow-Health, Demand Media Inc. Accessed March 29, 2011. http://www.ehow.com/about_6802248_history-assistive-technology.html

What Is Assistive Technology? The National Center on Accessible Information Technology in Education. University of Washington. Accessed July 22, 2010. http://www.washington.edu/accessit/articles?109

Whirlwind Wheelchair (description and photos). 2012. Whirlwind International. Accessed November 28, 2012. http://www.whirlwindwheelchair.org/roughrider/

Contributors

Jared R. Quinn; Kristen Billiar; Terri Camesano

Copyright

© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2011 Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Supporting Program

Inquiry-Based Bioengineering Research and Design Experiences for Middle-School Teachers RET Program, Department of Biomedical Engineering, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Acknowledgements

Developed by the Inquiry-Based Bioengineering Research and Design Experiences for Middle-School Teachers RET Program under National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Teachers grant no. EEC 0743037, and collaboration with Overlook Middle School, Ashburnham-Westminster Regional School District, Ashburnham, MA. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: May 4, 2017

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