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BYU engineering students design priceless gift: improved mobility

PROVO, Utah — Recent BYU grad Ryan Larson can read the Book of Mormon again and again. He won’t find mention of wheelchairs or hand-trikes.

But when he stops and ponders ancient verses such as Mosiah 18:8-9, perhaps such modern-day instruments — and the people relying upon them — enter his mind.

It was Alma who taught, “And now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens that they may be light;__“Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God.”

Lightening another’s burden. Comforting those seeking peace. Witnessing of God “at all times” and in “all things.” All are divinely guided actions of people practicing “pure religion.” It’s about taking one’s own unique talent and making it an offering to a spiritual bishops’ storehouse.

Larson likely wasn’t thinking of such elevated matters after being assigned to help design a hand-trike assembly that can attach to wheelchairs created by LDS Charities. He only knew he would be part of a team designing and prototyping the apparatus as part of his graduation capstone project.

But almost immediately the returned missionary and his fellow engineering students/team members — Cameron Johnson, Nicole Laws, Jon Barley, Travis Ward and Andrew Funk — realized their work was about far more than college credit.

For Larson, the project marked an opportunity to combine professional training with charitable impulses. “I really wanted to mesh my engineering background with projects that can benefit people’s lives,” he said.

It’s hoped their work will soon be offering legions around the world new levels of mobility — including the freedom to move about more quickly, comfortably and at greater distances.

Mobility — a life-altering gift

The Church-operated LDS Charities has been in the wheelchair business for almost two decades, providing some 700,000 durable wheelchairs to people with disabilities of all backgrounds in more than 130 countries.

But for many who have to travel long distances, often along rough dirt roads, the wheelchair is not enough.

Enter Larson and his fellow BYU students.

LDS Charities challenged the students to design and prototype a hand-trike assembly that attaches to the ultra-durable wheelchairs created by LDS Charities. The one-piece apparatus they developed weighs just over 10 pounds and allows people to pedal with their hands instead of their feet. It’s multi-geared, designed for continuous motion and includes steering features and brakes for safe travel. And it’s ergonomically sound, protecting users from repetitive motion injuries.

It’s also relatively inexpensive. In mass production, each hand-trike would cost less than $90.

The students “hit all the points we’re looking for,” Eric Wunderlich, manager of the LDS Charities Wheelchair Initiative, told BYU News. “I’m pretty happy with the way they developed something that’s fairly easy for the users themselves. They don’t need someone to help them put it on and take off. ... This is a product that will be a life-changer for a lot of people.”

Larson said one of the most valuable steps in the design process was working with wheelchair users who shared real-world, practical suggestions and insights on improving their initial prototype.

“The difference between our first and second designs was drastic,” he said.

“I would love to have one of these trikes,” said tester Weston Daley in a BYU report. “This design is exactly what I’ve been looking for — something that I could hook on to my daily wheelchair and not have to go buy a separate full trike that’s out-of-this-world expensive.”

Daley added that 25 minutes of travel in his wheelchair would be reduced to five minutes using the hand trike.

LDS Charities hopes to eventually produce 5,000 hand-trikes per year and could begin placing the products with wheelchair users, worldwide, by the end of the year.

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