Improving lives one project at a time

Apr 10th, 2014

By Jackey Locke

Improving lives one project at a time

The life of a young boy will be a little easier and more enjoyable thanks to Dr. Leonard Lye, co-ordinator and founder of the Newfoundland and Labrador branch of the Tetra Society of North America and some first-year engineering students.

As part of a first-year design course, students form teams and tackle design projects – projects that can’t be purchased and need to be customized for indivduals’ needs. In the winter 2014 semester, engineering students worked on an all-terrain wheelchair for a boy with a neuromuscular condition called Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 2 as their design project.

“Currently, none of the wheelchair manufacturers make anything that is suitable for his needs, and all this little boy wants to do it to be able to enjoy the outdoors,” explained Dr. Lye.

At the beginning of the semester, Dr. Lye met with the students and showed them some commercially available wheelchairs and explained why none were suitable. Throughout the semester, the students consulted with Dr. Lye as they worked on the design to ensure that their ideas were practical and reasonable.

The students were told to keep the design simple, to use easily accessible materials, and to keep the cost down.

“I was very impressed by some of the designs they showed me,” said Dr. Lye. “Some of the final designs were very creative and detailed. The students were very motivated by the fact that there were working on a real project that someone is waiting on.”

With the final design completed, Dr. Lye will meet with the client and fabricator to review the design and to discuss any necessary modifications. The customized wheelchair will be fabricated over the summer and, hopefully, the little boy who wants nothing more than to enjoy the outdoors will finally be able to do just that.

“Each semester, I am very impressed with the dedication and professionalism of some of the groups,” said Dr. Lye. “It shows that our young engineers are creative, motivated, and have a great desire to help others with their engineering skills.”

Another group of students worked on a boccia ball release system for a man with cerebral palsy, who wants to participate in organized boccia ball competitions. A design hasn’t yet been finalized.

The Tetra Society is a charity that designs and builds assistive devices that are not available commercially for people with physical disabilities. For more information on Tetra Society and the local chapter and how you can become involved, visit


Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science

230 Elizabeth Ave, St. John's, NL, CANADA, A1B 3X9

Postal Address: P.O. Box 4200, St. John's, NL, CANADA, A1C 5S7

Tel: (709) 864-8000