Engineering students team with Minden company on golf chair
Nevada Appeal News Service
Peter Axelson, director of Beneficial Designs in Minden, may have gotten more than he bargained for when he submitted a project proposal to the engineering department at California State University, Chico.
“This is one of the most dedicated groups of students I’ve worked with,” Axelson said recently from his Meridian Business Park facility, one of four wheelchair testing labs in the United States where he produces fitness and sports equipment for people with disabilities.
Axelson was referring to the four mechanical engineering undergraduates who drove through the night from Chico to Carson Valley to test the final design of their prototype: an adaptive, partially standing seat for a single-rider golf cart.
Matthew Coffman, Ben House, Ryan Brandt and Bryce Tanner have entered the project in the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America’s student design competition.
Axelson, who won the contest in 1979 for his sit ski, proposed the student project to Chico and provided the mentoring and materials necessary.
“I knew there were some golf accessibility issues,” said the monoskiing gold medalist. “We’ve been trying to develop standards for the single rider.”
Now, thanks to the four students and Axelson’s oversight, what started last semester as a rough design has become a real, marketable product.
Last Friday, the students were in Axelson’s facility adding the last components to the device; some of the parts were delivered that morning by priority mail. Later, they had transport the chair to the driving range at Genoa Lakes Golf Resort and let Axelson give it a try.
But first, Tanner gave a quick demonstration by strapping himself into his own custom harness rigged to the steel square tubing of the seat. Lifted by an actuator and two gas struts, and stabilized by a long vertical rod attached to the back, the seat holds up to 250 pounds, lifting and supporting a disabled person in a partially standing, knee-bent position optimal for golf. The seat can be removed and attached to the power base of any power chair or scooter.
In contrast, single cart seats currently on the market “just swivel some,” Axelson said.
“Some swivel and tilt up a bit,” he said.
The students’ prototype is promising, but the question remains what exactly to do with it.
“I believe they have a year to patent it before it goes into the public domain,” Axelson said.
He said if they’re not in a position to take on product liability, then releasing the design to the public ensures the technology gets out there.
“Others know it’s a possibility to do this,” he said.
On the other hand, the group of friends may want to start a company to produce the model themselves.
“We don’t know yet,” Axelson said.
House said the product costs under $500 to make.
“I really feel it’s marketable,” he said.
The students said a lot is riding on getting their seat into the RESNA finals, which attracts inventors and companies from all over the world. The event is scheduled for the end of June in Las Vegas.
“It will help just getting it out there,” House said.
Whatever happens, the students are proud to have created something new.
“In a way, it’s like our little child,” Coffman joked.