Kids' Cool Chair Creation

A student with CMT and teammates win awards for easy-access wheelchair backpack holder

by Quest Staff on July 9, 2009 - 5:22pm

When a group of Wethersfield (Conn.) High School students was brainstorming ideas for a science project, they looked no further than team member Griffin Latulippe for an idea that vaulted them into the international spotlight.

Griffin Latulippe (front left) and the Eagles team from Wethersfield High developed a hinged backpack holder for wheelchairs, seen just to the right of Latulippe’s chair. The team has posted a slideshow of the development process on their Web site.

“We liked the idea of solving a problem I have in school, which is getting my books out of the pack on the back of my wheelchair,” said Latulippe, 15, who has Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease and uses a wheelchair for mobility.

The challenge was to design and build an assistive device for a person with a disability. Voila! The concept of the Easy Access Transport System (E.A.T.S.) was born.

The seven-person team, the Eagles, ranged from freshmen like Latulippe to seniors. They spent more than two months designing a device that would allow him to swing his pack on hinges and bring it around to his lap so he could get to his books. They started with a cardboard prototype, then fine-tuned the design in lightweight wood, then created a sturdy wood demonstration model.

In the National Engineering Design Challenge competition, sponsored by the Ability One Program and the Junior Engineering Technical Society, the Eagles made it all the way to the finals in Washington, D.C., in February, where they won for having the best presentation.

And the best was yet to come.

Latulippe can easily access his books thanks to the E.A.T.S. design, which allows him to pull his backpack around to the side of his chair. “The more I use it, the more I love it,” he says.

Going on to international competition sponsored by Invent Your World, the Eagles and E.A.T.S. competed against teams from Croatia and Kenya. Fifteen judges from around the world evaluated the teams’ projects via teleconference. The Connecticut students came out number one in their category and took home a $1,000 cash prize.

Latulippe said they’ll use the money to further refine E.A.T.S., possibly creating both manual and motorized versions in plastic.

He has a personal interest in E.A.T.S., of course. “The more I use it, the more I love it,” he said. “It gives me a greater degree of independence than I’ve ever had.”

Although Latulippe’s first brush with the world of engineering was rewarding, it’s not a career he plans to pursue. Biochemistry is where he has set his college sights.

“I like that type of study,” said the serious scholar.

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