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SAIT students make nature more accessible

A one-of-a-kind vehicle is empowering individuals with limited mobility to independently navigate off-road hiking trails — and SAIT students' contributions have made it more accessible than ever.

Spotlight on industry: Christian BaggChristian Bagg, Inclusion and Outreach Programmer with Alberta Parks, knows the sense of freedom that comes from exploring the wilderness — that's why he's committed to providing the same experience to people with physical disabilities. Working in collaboration with Alberta Parks' staff and volunteers, he developed the Parks Explorer — a bicycle/wheelchair hybrid that doesn't need anyone to push or pull it.

However, the Explorer's hand-crank mechanism required a certain amount of upper body strength to operate and steer, so Bagg approached SAIT for help designing a more user-friendly option.

Mechanical Engineering Technology (MET) students Ellie May Rosario, Nathan Lenner, Jose Joaquin and Timothy Huynh not only came up with a solution — but worked with Bagg to create a functional prototype.

"We motorized it to make it as a simple as possible," says Huynh. "Almost anyone could hop on and get on the trails with a push of a button."

Bagg says the motor adds an element of freedom that makes an enormous difference for the user — and when people see the new Explorer, they see much more than a wheelchair.

"From a child with cerebral palsy to an able-bodied 30-year-old, everyone has the same grin on their face while driving it. The sense of freedom is equal to someone who can't walk to someone who can."

See the Parks Explorer in action:

Designing with the user in mind

All MET students are required to work on a real-world engineering project during their final semester. Instructor Greg Ball says the Parks Explorer was the perfect fit for the students' capstone project because it included research, design, sourcing parts, testing and building a prototype.

 "Our students produced a design that was very useful," says Ball. "It's easy to design for yourself, but when you have to imagine what it's like to live differently — with a disability -and to design for that, that has a lot of value in it."

Huynh agrees: "It was a great learning process. There are so many steps to the manufacturing process that you don't appreciate until you build something like this."

Making a difference at Easter Seals

The Parks Explorer is being put to good use at Easter Seals' Camp Horizon, which hosts more than 1,200 special needs individuals each year.

Jonathon Silvernagle was one explorer eager to take a spin on the countless camp trails.

"The slogan of this camp is empowering people with disabilities and this is totally empowering — it's awesome. Going fast, turning fast and you can access more terrain!" says Silvernagle, who has attended Camp Horizon for the past two years.

Anna Garcia, Director of Operations at Camp Horizon, says the Parks Explorer has been a tremendous resource for their facility.

"It's amazing to see something go from good to a machine that blows everyone's mind and makes whoever is riding it feel like the coolest kid on the mountain, instead of being looked at in a way that suggests they're felt sorry for or being marginalized," says Garcia.

SAIT's MET program will continue to work with Alberta Parks to identify more opportunities to improve the Parks Explorer.

"We're excited to keep working on it," says Ball.

Jonathon Silvernagle enjoys the Parks Explorer on trails at Easter Seals Camp Horizon.

Jonathon Silvernagle zips down hiking trails at Easter Seals Camp Horizon.

Good ideas supported

The students received guidance from SAIT's Applied Research and Innovation Services (ARIS) as well as $4,100 from the Innovative Student Project Fund, a SAIT grant for academic projects, to support the creation of the Explorer prototype.

Local bike shop Power in Motion also helped the team with the required motor parts.

The University of Calgary also worked with Alberta Parks to make improvements to the Parks Explorer. Mechanical Engineering students Matthew Hill, Steven Stosky, Duncan Pawson, Adam Cornfield, Philip Retzlaff and Matthew Johnson created an alternate version of the explorer with custom front-end suspension and a tilting seat mechanism.

Alberta Parks hopes to integrate elements from both the University of Calgary and SAIT designs into future iterations of the Parks Explorer.

July 22, 2015

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