Brunel student Cara O'Sullivan in the MERU workshop

Brunel student Cara O’Sullivan in the MERU workshop

A solution that could bring low-cost mobility aids to the world’s poor populations may look a lot like the popular Erector Set toys sold in America. An engineering student at Brunel University London says simplified, interchangeable parts, such as those found in Erector Sets, could enable mobility device repairs to be performed quickly and affordably.
Cara O’Sullivan, age 21 years, a former student at Claverham Community College spent a year’s with the Medical Engineering Resource Unit (MERU), which spurred her idea.
“The changes that MERU products can make to the lives of children with disabilities inspired me to fund-raise to manufacture a range of the products for a charity called Kiya Survivors, which offers support to young people with disabilities and their families living in poverty in Peru and Tanzania,” O’Sullivan says.
While visiting Kiya Survivor’s physiotherapy centre in Peru, O’Sullivan explains, she realized that while the developed world donates unwanted walkers and crutches in sometimes plentiful numbers, the devices are built by a variety of manufacturers whose tools and equipment are not compatible with one another. “And so perfectly good parts from one walking aid can’t be used to repair another one,” O’Sullivan says in a media release issued by the Brunel Press Office.
“Back at Brunel, when it came to developing a project for my final year, it was clear that I could use my design and engineering skills to help not only the youngsters I had met in Peru, but those in similar circumstances around the world.
“The key element is to simplify everything—walking sticks, crutches and walkers—to design core interchangeable components which work together like Meccano [marketed in the United States as Erector] and, just like the toy, can be easily and quickly disassembled and reused.
“By being so adaptable, the walking aid will be able to meet the user’s exact needs and provide the required support throughout changes in their condition. The system is more sustainable and cost-effective because the walking aid will gradually evolve with the user rather than having to get an entirely new aid each time their condition changes.
O’Sullivan explains that the aim of the project is to produce a design manual for the modular parts so they can be made in larger numbers for craftsmen and mechanics in the third world maintain automobiles and bicycles often with no access to spare parts.
[Source: Brunel University London]