When Matt Duggan (BS ’14) showed up on the first day of his senior design class in mechanical and aerospace engineering, he knew what he wanted to build: a tricycle for his buddy Nick.
Nick Stone, an Army veteran and Duggan’s friend since middle school, lost his lower left leg in May 2010 from an IED explosion in Afghanistan. An avid cyclist, he told Duggan how frustrating it was trying to ride a conventional bicycle. “I wasn’t able to keep my balance for very long, and my prosthetic leg kept slipping off the pedal,” says Stone.
Duggan lost no time developing a trike prototype for the class, a capstone course taught by Joseph Mollendorf, professor and supervisor of the engineering school’s state-of-the art machine shop in Jarvis Hall.
Using funding from a longstanding NSF grant (now expired), Mollendorf had his students design devices specifically for people with disabilities. Since the grant began more than 20 years ago, UB students have produced more than 500 devices, including modified wheelchairs, knee braces—even a tiny prototype of a human-powered snowmobile. After the grant ended, the course has soldiered on with departmental funding.
Most of the class projects are crude proofs of concept, more to demonstrate feasibility as opposed to polished prototypes. Duggan, though, was determined to make a working trike that Stone could use every day.
At first, it was tough going. With two detachable front wheels, the trike was wobbly and dangerous. Before Duggan’s team could solve the design problem, his project partner graduated and Duggan ran out of money (the course budget is $100). Luckily, Mollendorf gave him an open budget—from a discretionary UB account—and an additional semester to finish up.
Things really fell into place when Stone’s uncle, who works at a ball bearing company in Buffalo, donated motorcycle bearings to improve the steering. Duggan also upgraded the tires, added rear disc brakes, and, to solve the grip problem, added a toe clip and strap that lock Stone’s shoe onto the pedal.
Finally, he spent hours outside class painting the bike, adding decals and using one of the shop’s milling machines to carve a UB emblem for the front. “I wanted Nick to be safe, but I also wanted him to be proud of riding it,” Duggan says.
It appears he was. Around Duggan’s graduation that May, he, Stone and their families met at the machine shop to tour the facility and unveil the completed trike. Stone took a few spins outside, a big grin on his face.
Duggan, who now works as a technician at Moog Inc., a precision motion controls manufacturer, plans to complete an MBA at UB and then move into engineering management. He says his senior project wasn’t really about building his portfolio or getting a job—it was about giving his friend a lift, in more ways than one.