University of South Carolina

Rachel rides, thanks to engineering students

Eight-year-old Rachel Crawford will soon have her own bicycle to ride, thanks to a group of USC engineering students.

Rachel was severely injured in a train accident in India when she was about 3 years old. Her mother was killed, and Rachel spent the next several years in an orphanage in Mumbai. Mark and Pam Crawford of Columbia found her there and brought her home in October 2008. She eventually lost her right leg just above the knee and she has very limited motion in her left leg.

Her dream was to ride a bike.

“There was no way anybody could figure out how to get her on a bike,” Pam Crawford said. She wears a prosthetic on her right leg, “but the limiting factor is her left leg.”

So Crawford turned to the University of South Carolina’s College of Engineering and Computing.

“I said, ‘I wonder if somebody in engineering could help?’” Crawford said. “I went through the list of engineering (faculty), and I saw somebody in robotics, so I cold called (David Rocheleau). He answered the phone, and I said, ‘I have this really weird question.’”

Pam Crawford explained Rachel’s situation to Rocheleau, an associate professor in mechanical engineering who focuses on design work. “And he said, ‘Actually, our seniors have to do a project….”

A week later, he called her back and said they’d give it a try.

As part of the senior capstone design course, engineering students are required to select an assignment for the workplace. Typically, students work with a company to find a solution to a problem. In this case, the students would use their mechanical engineering expertise to develop a bicycle for Rachel that didn’t require the ability to use both legs to pedal.

“We had an overwhelming response from student teams that wanted to work on this project,” said Rocheleau, who was the adviser to the team that worked on Rachel’s bike. “It’s something they could wrap their hands around.”

Students Rex Garrison, Jeremy Kostoff, Sayeedur “Babby” Rahman and Nick Lizer spent this past semester figuring out the best way to get Rachel on wheels.

Friday, Rachel got her first test drive on the purple bicycle. The students and Rocheleau wanted to be sure the size and design worked for her. The bicycle allows her to input power through her right leg, but there is also a small motor mounted on the rear of the bicycle for extra help.

After a few tentative minutes on the bike, Rachel started riding around on the pavement in front of the Swearingen Engineering Center.

For the USC students, it was a chance to put their classroom learning to use -- and to see real-life results.

“Every little kid likes to ride a bike,” said Kostoff, a senior from Florence. “This is a lot more personal than the other projects. You can see the immediate impact.”

“We were worried about how she’d handle the fixed gear, and she’s handling it fine,” said Rahman, who is originally from Bangladesh but lives in North Augusta. “You can see the reward of your labor. It feels good. It’s the reason we took on this project.”

Garrison, a senior from Columbia who will graduate in August, agreed.

“It was a challenging project. But it lets us do some real engineering work,” he said. “It’s good to know we can help her. It’s rewarding because it makes an impact on somebody’s life.”

For the Crawfords, it means a summer of family bike rides for Rachel, her parents, her two sisters and her brother.

“It’s been a very rewarding project,” Rocheleau said. “The thing I’m most pleased about is how involved the students are and how enthusiastic they are about it. They know they are contributing. To me, that’s the nice thing about it. And of course, Rachel is a wonderful, energetic kid.”

By Office of Media Relations

Posted: 05/28/10 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 05/28/10 @ 5:30 PM | Permalink