Research Communications

Engineering students help area teen fulfill dream of playing basketball again 

Undergraduates construct robotic wheelchair attachment

May 10, 2010

ATHENS, Ohio – Trent Glaze never thought he would be able to play his favorite sport, basketball, again.  Glaze, a student at Fairfield Union High School in Lancaster, Ohio, suffers from muscular dystrophy.

But this spring, Glaze was able to shoot a basketball for the first time since his diagnosis with the help of a robotic wheelchair attachment designed by five engineering undergraduate students at Ohio University.

The Basketball Launcher was designed and constructed by Robert Meholif, James Hayes, Brad Arnold, Robert Herpy and Schuyler Redding, all of whom are graduating seniors in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

group
Schuyler Redding, Bob Meholif, Bob Herpy, James Hayes, Trent Glaze, and Brad Arnol
d show off the
Basketball Launcher Saturday at the Academic & Research Center.


The design, the first of its kind, uses a technology much like a canon. The ball is loaded through the top opening and is propelled upward by elastic bands (which are stretched by an electric motor) when the user pushes the release lever. To aim the ball, Glaze positions his wheelchair then tilts the shooter to the proper angle, depending on where he is positioned below the hoop. The loading mechanism is controlled by a remote control, much like a key fob used for cars, making it a relatively simple task for someone with muscular dystrophy, which is marked by a decline in skeletal muscle function.

“We didn’t want this to be a robot that did everything by itself,” Meholif said.  “There is a certain level of excitement in sports and especially basketball, and we wanted Trent to feel like he was contributing to the thrill while playing it.”

Describing it as a sidecar-like addition to a wheelchair, Meholif explained that it was no easy feat completing the 8-month project that began in September 2009. Last year, Meholif’s adviser Greg Kremer attempted to get one individual to create a similar device, but with limited time and money came up short.

When the new team began to make strides with the design, however, Glaze provided more feedback to the students, which in turn helped bring the project to fruition.

The payoff came when Glaze made his first shot.

“Trent’s face lit up like a Christmas tree,” Meholif said. “Helping him to do one of his favorite hobbies again was truly a rewarding experience for us. It made all of the time and work worthwhile.”

The students have conducted multiple patent searches on the design, but haven’t been able to find anything like it. The team, who was partially funded by the National Institute for the Severely Handicapped, hopes to file a patent in the future. 

Since successfully helping Glaze, the engineering students have decided to donate the robot to him and his high school. 

“While we constructed it to be adjustable so that Trent can use it as he grows, we wanted to ensure that we were helping students with other debilitating disabilities,” said Meholif.

by Bridget Peterlin

Meholif and his teammates will present the robotic wheelchair at the 2010 Student Research and Creative Activity Expo on Thursday, May 13 from noon to 2:30 p.m. For more information, visit http://www.ohio.edu/studentexpo.