Three-and-a-half-year-old Jonathan Eby, son of faculty member
Barbara Hawkins, test drives the special tricycle. Looking
on is one of its builders, engineering co-op student Eric
Auer. [Darren Stone photo]
Ticket to ride
UVic ingenuity builds a unique
tricycle for blind children
Being able to ride a bike is something most kids take
for granted. But its an activity that poses obvious challenges
for blind children.
A prototype tricycle developed by the University of
Victoria Assistive Technology Team (UVATT) enables sight-impaired
children between the ages of three to six to ride freely, without
the worry of colliding with walls or other obstacles.
These children have limited opportunities to
get vigorous exercise and often have poor muscle development and
tone, says Dr. Nigel Livingston (biology), co-ordinator of
UVATT. "Besides, just like any child, theyd get a thrill
from riding around on a bike.
UVATT, formed in 1999, is a group of about 40 UVic
faculty, staff and students who volunteer their time and expertise
to develop and test new devices for people with disabilities. Included
on the team are machinists, computer scientists, electrical engineers,
biologists, physiologists, psychologists, neuroscientists, technicians,
One of UVATTs first projects involved the design
of a communication system based on brainwaves for severely disabled
Victoria teenager Claire Minkley (The
Sept. 20, 2001). The Claire project, as it became
known, gained national and international media attention for its
novelty and potential. The project is still ongoing.
Last fall, Livingston made a short presentation to
therapists at the Queen Alexandra Centre for Childrens Health
in Saanich, outlining UVATTs objectives and capabilities.
Within a month, the health centre presented Livingston with a three-item
wishlist, including a tricycle that could be used to encourage movement,
social interaction and play by blind or sight-impaired children.
Livingston turned for help to UVic engineering professor
Afzul Suleman, whose mechanical engineering 350 course requires
students to work in groups to design a specified device. Over the
next two months five studentsPaul Francescutti, Tom Owen, Craig
Rice, Anne Stukas and Jane Watsonworked with UVATT and the health
centre to come up with a unique tricycle design. The students
were a pleasure to work with, enthusiastic and very talented,
This past summer UVATT hired Eric Auer, a fourth-year
engineering co-op student, to transform the design into reality.
The goal all along had been to keep costs to a minimum, so two discarded
tricycles were scavenged for parts. The resulting hybrid was made
adjustable for children of different ages and sizes. The seat was
also lowered to increase stability and ease of contact with the
The tricycles key features are two ultrasonic
sonar vision sensors mounted on the handlebars that
beep when the rider approaches objects or obstacles. Theyre
the same as those used in Jaguars in their reversing systems,
says Livingston, who sought technical support from the engineers
at the sensor manufacturer in Ontario. He was also assisted by Pat
Kerfoot, the electronics technician in UVics biology department.
The prototype tricycle has already been to the Queen
Alexandra for initial testing. After final adjustments are made,
a second one will be built and delivered to the health centre, which
is planning to showcase them in a live Webcast to childcare development
centres across B.C. The bikes will then go to the homes of two of
the health centres outreach childrenone in Langford and the
other in Port Alberni.
In the meantime, the UVATT team is working on extending
the tricycles sensor rangefrom eight to 15 feetand designing
a tricycle for a young boy with dwarfism. Other devices are also
in the works.
These projects demonstrate how UVic can be an excellent
resource for the community, says Livingston. Theres
a huge need for special devices or technology for the disabled,
but theyre generally not available because theyre so
expensive to develop. At UVic we have all this fantastic expertise
and equipment, so its just a question of bringing them all
together. For more information on UVATT projects, or to volunteer
or make a donation, call Livingston at 721-7121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.