DETROIT (7/30/2015) — For two rising sophomores at the University of Detroit Mercy, engineering and constructing a lift for motorized wheelchairs to navigate stairs is more than a co-operative (co-op) experience. It provides freedom and accessibility to persons with disabilities.

Titan women’s golfer Molly Laird (Farmington Hills, Mich. / Harrison) and men’s lacrosse’s Austin Ross (Warren, Mich. / Mott), rising sophomores in Mechanical Engineering under the direction of Drs. Darrell Kleinke and Nassif Rayess, are constructing a portable motorized device that will allow a powered wheelchair to navigate a flight of stairs. 

Work on the project began in May further developing a senior capstone project. Using the Computer Aided Design (CAD) program, SolidWorks, Laird and Ross engineered the lift digitally before construction.

Most experiences for rising sophomore co-ops would end at this stage. “UDM is awesome. We have hands-on experience with machining equipment,” says Laird.  “Typically, students do not get to work with machines until their junior or senior years. We are gaining that experience before starting our sophomore year.”

The wheels used on the lift drive the design. “Once we determined what wheels would work well, we completed the design,” says Ross.  “The wheels are critical to the function of the lift, so we needed to engineer it with that in mind.”

Other issues the two sophomores factored into the design are portability, safety and weight.

Laird, whose aunt is in a wheelchair, wants to improve the mobility of individuals in wheelchairs. “I know this project will make a difference in someone’s life.”In addition to their co-op experiences, both Laird and Ross are student-athletes in golf and lacrosse, respectively. 

The lift is expected to be fully functional by mid-August.

This project is funded through a grant by the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network program of the Kern Family Foundation and through the philanthropic giving of Mr. Raymond Okonski.

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