Students design wheelchair-friendly snow removal prototypes
Approximately 500 Michigan State University students took on the challenge of designing a prototype that would allow Michael Johnson, a sports car racer who uses a wheelchair, to remove snow from his driveway.
The project was assigned in Karl Gude’s Creative Thinking class, where three students’ work ultimately stood out from the rest.
Implementing a concept known as design thinking – in which solutions are developed by prioritizing the user – was a primary focus of the assignment.
The first-place winner, freshman Chloe Alverson, created a prototype in which a sprinkler system would distribute salt to the four corners of Johnson’s driveway with heaters that would line the driveway.
“I came up with my idea by focusing on something bigger than ‘How can Michael shovel snow?’” said Alverson, a journalism major. “I thought, ‘How can Michael remove snow from his driveway in a safe and efficient manner?’ This gave me more room for ideas, no matter how far-fetched they seemed.”
Second-place winner, junior Osazuwamen Usuomon, designed a prototype that includes an above-ground irrigation system that would connect to a pressurized automatic de-icer. The de-icer would be connected to both the irrigation system and an outdoor faucet.
“Meeting with Michael was not only the most important part of the assignment, but it was my favorite part,” said Usuomon, an advertising major. “If I never met with Michael, not only would my prototype not work, it would probably have been something he has already tried before.”
Third-place winner, junior Elias Naddaf, designed a prototype with a low-cost, assistive shovel for individuals in a wheelchair, supplemented with an adjustable pole for support.
“Michael told us about the daily tasks that are difficult to do while in a wheelchair. One concern in particular is the difficulty of shoveling snow,” said Naddaf, an advertising and packaging major. “It made me think, if Michael struggles with this, thousands of others who are in the same position do too. With this in mind, it motivated me to design something useful.”