Engineering students build tool for man with quadriplegia

Posted on

A group of engineering students from Grand Valley State University who designed and built a special lawn mower for a man with quadriplegia performed a demonstration May 1.

The lawn mower was also at the Padnos College of Engineering and Computing’s Project Day April 19, when visitors and students tested the tool.

The project began in 2009, when Jim Lobbezoo and Rachel Eagle-Jeffreys, rehab nurse specialist for Spectrum Health, brainstormed ideas to increase Lobbezoo’s independence after a car accident caused him to become quadriplegic. They noticed a need for products people with quadriplegia can use, so they pitched the idea of designing new tools to universities in West Michigan.

John Farris, engineering professor at Grand Valley, got involved and formed a team of students. They designed a vacuum cleaner with sip and puff technology in 2010 before moving on to build the lawn mower. The sip and puff technology allows Lobbezoo to mow the lawn by puffing through a straw connected to a remote controller that controls the mower. 

“It’s about more than just the lawn mower,” Eagle-Jeffreys said. “It’s about improving one’s quality of life, increasing independence and raising awareness about a need for products people with quadriplegia can use. Ever since we’ve been able to find ways for Jim to do normal activities, he went back to school, and is really motivated to help other people cope with injuries.”

Eagle-Jeffreys said she has enjoyed working with Grand Valley. “It really says something about the students and the university when they are willing to work on this project and help to improve someone’s life. I’m very impressed with John and his students for putting in this much effort.”

The team from Grand Valley thanks Spectrum Health Neuro Rehabilitation Services for helping fund the project and local business owner George Hofasker for donating the first lawn mower.

The current team of students are Trevor Rolph, Ryan Mattox and Travis Spealman.