Detroit — From every problem, springs invention. For University of Detroit Jesuit High School senior Alden Kane, he had a unique problem to solve: Design a build and device that would allow a paraplegic mother to easily transport her baby while using a wheelchair.
Working with the University of Detroit Mercy’s engineering and nursing departments, Kane got to work sketching designs, building a prototype out of PVC pipes and eventually finding a solution with an invention all his own.
When presented with the challenge in March 2015, Kane went right to work with how he could accommodate the mother who wanted to take a walk with her baby.
“Once I started the design process, I wasn’t overwhelmed, but I was filled with these original ideas,” Kane said. “It was then the process of taking down the 15 to 20 ideas and melting it down to one idea.”
After completing a model out of PVC pipe in May — and spending days in a wheelchair to get the feel of the mobility capacity of someone who is wheelchair-bound — Kane was satisfied and started working on the final model, which he completed in July.
The design is the result of a partnership between UDM and U of D Jesuit, in which U of D Jesuit students work with professors in coming up with an original design that has real-world application.
“The whole premise of our design course is we don’t allow the students to use an existing design,” UDM College of Engineering professor Darrell Kleinke said. “There was nothing on the market that was affordable and usable for this person, so we started with a mom and a need.”
Shereen Jones is the mother who is benefiting from Kane’s invention. Jones had a mid-July due date, which put pressure on Kane to complete the project on time.
“Her due date was very much an extra motivation; she wanted the chair one week after the due date,” Kane said. “It was great to meet her and talk to her about what she wants and doesn’t want. Talking to her was a big help, figuring out the workability of the device, where to put a diaper bag, whether or not she could unhook the stroller and how she can move around in the chair.”
Kane’s invention is one of many that have come from the collaboration between UDM and U of D Jesuit. To date, none of the inventions have made it to market, but professors said Kane’s has that potential.
“We try to have a multidiscipline approach to solving problems for people who have disabilities,” said Molly McClelland, College of Health Professions and nursing professor. “It’s a collaborative project where we try to have both disciplines working together. This is just one of many projects we have, but at the center of them all is a real person.”
McClelland feels it’s important for students to look at their classwork as an opportunity to help others, drawing upon the tradition of a Jesuit education.
“It’s very much keeping with the mission of U of D Jesuit and Detroit Mercy,” McClelland said. “We’re here to serve people and to create a real social impact.”
Kleinke said students in his class this fall will look at Kane’s invention and see how they can improve upon the design, and Kane already has ideas on the next version of his mobility device for paraplegic mothers.
“I look at it right now, and it is a great product, but there are still some improvements that can be made,” Kane said. “I’d like to sell the intellectual property rights to a bigger company, that way they can take what’s already there and make it available to larger amount of people. I’d love to work with a larger company to make those improvements right now.”
Kane just started his senior year at U of D Jesuit, and is looking at colleges around the country to study biomedical engineering or aerospace engineering, with aspirations for medical school or NASA after his undergrad. Kane reports UDM, Michigan, Notre Dame, Cornell, Michigan State and Vanderbilt are on his college radar.
“I learn all this stuff in school — chemistry, physics and biology — but you normally don’t get any practical application until your capstone class in college,” Kane said. “When I learned I was going to be working with Dr. Kleinke, I was really excited to garner some real-world skills.
“I love community and service. It’s a big part of the mission at U of D-Jesuit, combing my love of service and science.”
To see a video of Alden’s invention, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZsCDkCip0I