Well, last night was a tough one. We worked on the wheelchair all evening and we finally--with blood sweat and tears--got to a point where were are proud to show off our work. We are still having a few issues with the wheels not spinning quite strait. This can be fixed with some hardware modifications. And yes, we do know it needs a cushion. But aside from that, we think that we have nailed down the general design for a wheelchair that we hope will someday change many lives. This entire project can be completed for virtually nothing. The hand truck and bike can be found in scrapyards. Electrical conduit and gas pipe can be found in old houses and abandoned buildings. Only a few pieces (if any) of simple hardware are needed for purchase for this design. We estimate the average cost of production if this were made in a slum or other impoverished neighborhood to be around 10-20 USD.
      We are also proud to say that although we used power tools on occasion to speed up work, no power tools are necessary to construct this wheelchair. The tools needed are common and require little to no skill to use. The builder would need access to a hacksaw, hammer, wrench set, screwdriver, and a hand drill. 

      With a little more work and a little more time, we are sure that we will hone our design and complete the final product of this endeavor that we can test.

Vanessa and I got together and decided it was high time to try out our wheelchair. We used a box-lash to tie on the support for the back caster wheel. then we cut it to size and anchored it with a screw. A bit of duct tape finished it off and we added the back wheel by inserting the rod into the pipe. Bravely deciding that Vanessa's safety was more important than my own, I took the first test.
The chair worked fairly well till we noticed a bit of a problem with weight distribution. The chair is front heavy. We're planning on solving this by moving the back wheel farther back and possibly adding another. We can also move the front wheels forward a bit too. Another issue is that the axle we used on the front is too weak. Bike wheels are designed to be held on both sides by a short bolt and a fork-shaped piece of metal, but ours are anchored only on one side each causing a bend in the axle. I will be stopping by Cycle-Re-Cycle in Benton Harbor to try and obtain these parts and hopefully use them in our design. On the plus side, our home made caster worked well and the frame is very sturdy. When it is finished, we believe it will be very functional and we're optimistic about the final pr
Last night I went to ACE hardware. (They actually know my name there now.) I bought a 7/16" threaded rod and some nuts and washers. I used the threaded rod as and axle and was able to bolt on the bike wheels. I drove the rod through a wooden frame made of 2X4's I cobbled together in about an hour. The project is a recognizable wheelchair now. I may need to adjust the spacing between the wheels in orde to give the user more room, but the tweaking is rather minimal. Vanessa is working on getting seat cushions ready and preparing a mannequin/scarecrow for our prosthetics demonstration. I will be focusing on attaching the back wheel(s) and working out those simple but inevitable bugs within every project. We are both very pleased with how everything is turning out.

We hit a dead end earlier this week trying to mount the bicycle wheels on the wheelchair. The home-made casters we made push the chair up too high. The seat was at waist level and the bike wheels would them have to be mounted way too low in order to keep the chair level. This presented two problems: 1, A disabled person would have to climb in order to even sit in the chiar. 2, The user would have to have impossibly long arms in order to reach the wheels. We debated on how to solve this for quite some time. Things looked pretty grim, but my mom, Debra Mead, ended up finding a solution. She works as an Occupational Therapist at a local PACE program, and has to deal with wheelchairs, lifts, and motorscooters all the time. She suggested that we mount the turning wheels, the casters, in the back. I thought this through and decided it was the best solution. We will use cheap conduit to house the casters. and mount the bike wheels higher on the frame. This way, the foot plate can be as low to the ground as the patient wants, and the seat can be lower too. 
Ok, so last week was a huge step for me. Remember how I said all the cadding and drilling and putting together of this project is not my cup of tea? Well, as it turns out, it's just not my usual cup of tea. Last week Daniel and I got to work carving out holes for our casters on the wheelchair, and we needed to bend the frame. I felt like a fish out of water surrounded by very scary, noisy, instruments of destruction. (I've used power tools an average of NEVER times in my life.) When Daniel asked me if I wanted to try working on the holes, I was nervous, but I decided that my days of being a sissy-girl were over. I drilled, I filed, I hammered, and most of all, I felt empowered as I excitedly watched my progress. I'm happy to report that I did 50% of all the manual labor on our wheelchair, and I really enjoyed it! This project is turning out to be quite the learning experience, in more ways than one!
The caster wheels are done. They are on the frame and work great. We ended up using a "T" connector for one of the axle mounts. It allowed us to easily insert the axle. Without it, we would not be able to fully assemble the wheels because all the connectors screw in.
According to my predictions, the hardest parts of this project are over. The fame is bent and those tricky front wheels are finished. The only challenge left is the bike wheels. I worked a bit on preparing them for the project. If all goes well, the whole thing will be finished by the end of the week. Vanessa is working on padding for the seat and back. This is important as it must provide the user with comfort and prevent pressure sores in long-term use. We are very happy at how smoothly everything has gone.

Me pounding away.
Ok, so there is one good thing about having a school that is under construction: you can hammer away at a piece of metal with a ball-peen hammer for an hour and nobody notices. That is what we had to do in order to crush the metal tubing of the hand truck enough to bend it into the shape of a chair. It involved a lot of noise and Vanessa and I both throwing all our weight into it to bend the thing, but it got done. The bends however are a weak point in the structure of the chair. We are planning on fixing this with triangular wooden braces to improve stability. The casters for the front wheels are done and fit perfectly in the holes we drilled. The project is looking more and more like an actual wheelchair every day.

Vanessa tries out the feel of the chair.
A lot has happened! We found all the parts we needed at ACE Hardware. Koodos to ACE. We are making the casters for the wheelchair our of steel gas line pipe. We got these parts from the hardware store but actual users in the third world would commonly encounter these parts around a junkyard or abandoned building. We decided against the rebar because after feeling it, we decided it was too weak and too rough to be an axle. The casters we are now using work PERFECTLY in the holes we drilled. Will post pictures soon.
  Before I elaborate on the amazing, exciting news we have, here's a quick update: Daniel and I have decided to finish up our arm and leg prototypes before we move on to our wheelchair. However, the prosthetics only have minor details we need to sort out, and it shouldn't take more than a few days. Once we have all our ducks in a row, we'll get our rebar at the end of the week and finally tackle our wheelchair prototype. 
      And.... drum roll please? Daniel and I need a project to work on after we finish our wheelchair and we read an article about "WeeBot," (Today in OT) a robot that helps babies who are developmentally challenged learn how to walk. Basically, a baby sits on a robot that acts like a Wee fit board, and when they lean in the direction they want to go, the robot moves them in that direction. So for babies that can't learn how to crawl, this is a huge development!! It already has inspiring results, and Daniel and I have decided for our next project, we want to make one! I'm in raptures because I love kids and I want to go into pediatrics, and Daniel has been dealing with robots all year on the robotics team. We'll let you know how it goes, but right now, we're pretty excited!

We have been updating the website. We will get the rebar Sunday. Right now we are super busy with Robotics and tennis Tryouts, we haven't been able to find the time!