Mechanical engineering students deliver "Magic Carpet"

Thursday, May 05, 2011

MADE at TU project helps disabled children at Tulsa's Little Lighthouse

Magic CarpetMany children at Tulsa’s Little Lighthouse have disabilities that limit their mobility, so a team of six mechanical engineering seniors from The University of Tulsa stepped in and created a device that gives those children a form of transportation – and a sense of independence.

Through a new initiative called Make A Difference Engineering (MADE) at TU, students in the College of Engineering and Natural Sciences are given the opportunity to learn while improving lives, communities and the planet.

A recent example is the Magic Carpet project. Students constructed a motorized platform for use at the Little Lighthouse, a developmental center that offers specialized education and therapeutic services to special-needs children up to age 6.

Many of the 64 youngsters who come to the Little Lighthouse are unable to walk, crawl or even stand on their own. Some use wheelchairs or walkers while others must be picked up and moved by adults. The TU team met with therapists and officials at the center in January and began working on a design to allow the children to move through the facility more independently.

On Wednesday, May 4, the MADE at TU team delivered the Magic Carpet, which the children can operate themselves through the use of a joystick, which allows them to better control their direction, or a simple push-button that controls motion one direction at a time, for children unable to manipulate the joystick. Staff members at the Little Lighthouse were given training, a set of directions, and a wireless remote control override device to ensure the safety of the youngsters using the Magic Carpet.

“Connecting with the kids made it all worthwhile. We’re changing someone’s life,” said team leader Chris Small, who has accepted a job at an oil and gas company in Texas following his graduation. “Seeing the Magic Carpet meet a need and fulfill a purpose makes me want to continue to volunteer my time and skills in the future.”

Anne McCoy, a Little Lighthouse therapist, said the device does much more than just help the children get around. Independent movement increases gross motor skills, visual perception skills and language development, she said.

Eli, a 3-year-old boy with congenital anomalies, has undergone multiple surgeries, including amputation of both legs, which will allow him to be fitted for prosthetic limbs. He was one of about six children who took the Magic Carpet for a test drive Wednesday. He asked his teacher to hold his hand at first, but soon he was zipping along on his own with a bit of directional assistance from one of the MADE at TU students.

Colton, 5, has cerebral palsy and difficulty seeing, but he was able to operate the Magic Carpet with a push of his foot. While both of the boys have some trouble communicating, Eli’s eagerness to climb aboard and Colton’s cries when it was time to be removed from the platform were evidence that the Magic Carpet was an overwhelming success.

Professor John Henshaw said the students achieved more than just completion of a senior project. “They put their hearts into this, and I suspect they got more out of it than even they realize at this point,” he said, adding that other mechanical engineering seniors found similar success. In all, six teams produced projects that benefit disabled children, local businesses and the environment.

Henshaw and Steve Tipton, the Frank W. Murphy Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering, continue to work with ENS Dean Steven Bellovich to find funding for MADE at TU projects. “This program not only gives students important real-world experience, it gives their work meaning and provides a tangible benefit to someone in need,” Tipton said.


Mona Chamberlin