team removes barriers to kayaking
Ocean kayaking could soon be a sport of choice
for paraplegics, thanks to the creativity of some UVic mechanical
As part of UVic engineering professor Dr. Colin Bradley’s
2002 fourth-year mechanical engineering class, students modified
two ocean kayaks that were donated by Victoria’s Current Designs
Kayaks and the Vancouver Island Canoe and Kayak Centre.
To date, the class has developed a number of working
models with flotation stabilization devices and special rudder control
systems that will allow people with lower body impairments to kayak
The flotation device is a set of pontoons placed on
the kayak so its user can lean from side to side without capsizing
the vessel. The rolling motion of kayaking makes it difficult to
stay upright without good hip control.
The rudder, which would normally be operated using
the feet, is radio controlled, explains Bradley. “It works
on the ‘sip and puff’ system (breath control), allowing
the user to move the rudder to the left or right without using their
arms or legs. We also placed radio-control buttons on the paddle
so that the rudder can be manipulated by hand.”
During the three-month course, Bradley’s students
gathered background information from users and then presented their
ideas for feedback. “You have to go through a standard design
technique of floating trial balloons, creating concepts and discussing
them with users,” says Bradley. “Otherwise you may end
up designing something that can’t be used by the person you’ve
designed it for.”
The students also had to ensure that the adaptations
were reasonably priced ($200 for a stabilizer and $300–$400
for a rudder) and easy to install. To do this they made prototypes
and refined their designs over time.
The concept of adapting kayaks with assistive technologies
first occurred to Dr. Doug Nichols, the director of UVic’s
school of physical education, in 1982 during a meeting of the B.C.
Summer Games Society.
“We were asked to devise systems which
would allow athletes with disabilities to compete on as level a
playing field as possible with their able-bodied peers,” Nichols
recalls. “The committee developed first-stage prototypes but
once Dr. Doug Tolson, the technology transfer manager at UVic’s
IDC (Innovation and Development Corporation), and Dr. Bradley got
wind of what we were doing, that’s when things really got
Bradley’s next MECH 400 class will build on
the existing prototypes and design and produce more fully operational
models. IDC is exploring the possibility of establishing a UVic
spin-off entity that would manufacture and sell assistive technologies
to people with disabilities.
Photo caption: Dr. Doug Nichols, director
of UVic’s school of physical education, tests a specially