Vol. 1, Issue 1 -- March, 1995

Door Opener Design Team

(Pennsylvania Brain Trust)


By Pamela May

Ever try to open a door with both hands and arms full of "stuff"? How about while trying to fight the wind and rain at the same time? How about when the spring on the door is really strong? It's not all that easy!!!!

People without disabilities (AB's they're called) even have trouble. Well, the folks in power wheelchairs who have gained their independence by working and driving encounter numerous situations that can be virtually impossible when it comes to opening doors independently. That's what the PA BRAIN TRUST design team is trying to solve! What we hope to accomplish is the creation of a wheelchair mounted robotic device which assists power wheelchair users in opening all types of doors, both in their homes and in all types of public settings.

The PA BRAIN TRUST meets the first and third Monday evenings each month to "brain storm" about creating solutions to this need. It has been encouraging to see the enthusiasm of this group and the progress is ongoing and productive.

Members of the PA group come from a diversified arena. Two people have engineering backgrounds. One operates his own business. Four members currently use wheelchairs and have practical experience with assistive devices in their own lives. And one person has training in marketing. There are others who attend from time to time, but they are not able to be present each time.

Progress includes a "must have" list - which includes all the functions that this device must have. They have also created a "would be nice to have" list. By combining these two lists and creating solutions to them one by one, the group is now at the "turning point" and ready to "make things happen".

The team engineers have constructed manual prototype models of a device and it is being studied and critiqued by the group. The degree of participation by the user of the power chair is also being considered. The need for flexibility and expendability plus retractability with "elbows and wrists" that move are all still "under construction". The "hand" of this device is clearly taking shape with three or four "fingers" that will grasp and hold, pull and release on command or in programmed sequence. Much of the controlling of the device at this time appears to be "managed" by the user through the joy stick - or buttons that can be activated easily located in the proximity of the joy stick.

IT'S NOT ALL THAT EASY... but the PA Brain Trust design team is hard at work... stay tuned for late developments coming your way REAL SOON.