Mechanical engineering students from the University of Kansas swept a national contest designed to make amusement park rides more accessible to people with limited mobility.
Working in four-member teams, the KU students took first, second and third place in the Access to Fun contest sponsored by the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions.
The contest hat trick came as staggeringly good news to members of the department.
"I was surprised," said Assistant Professor Lorin Maletsky, who taught the Mechanical Engineering Design Process course in spring 2005. "We've never done this before."
Each team proposal was judged by experts gathered by IAAPA and the U.S. Access Board, the federal agency responsible for developing rules governing access in America.
The winners of the Access to Fun design project are:
First place: Tyler Docking, Matthew Hess, Carla Hines and Francis Hitschmann
Second place: Chris Anderson, Jesse Burns, Chris Dvorak and Tanner Rinke
Third place: Adrien Bender, Randy Clover, Paul Rankin and Mark Wolfe
The contest, which was open to professional engineers, design firms and universities, asked the teams to develop an assistive device for transferring people who use wheelchairs into and out of amusement ride seats. In particular, IAAPA sought designs for transfer devices that will work for rides with seats that are lower than load and unload platforms, such as a water flume ride. These types of rides pose unique passenger transfer challenges, especially for people who use wheelchairs. Designs were required to fully meet the applicable specifications in the U.S. Access Board's ADA Accessibility Guidelines and also be compatible with park operations and affordable for small operators.
Maletsky normally has students in his junior-level course complete a project tied to a broad and open-ended theme. One student brought this contest to Maletskys attention shortly after the start of the spring semester. Several criteria for the competition fit the structure of the course so Maletsky allowed teams to use the design competition as the basis for their class project. Four of the teams in Maleskys class chose the competition task for their project. Three teams submitted their design to the contest.
"I was impressed," Maletsky said. "I'm always impressed by what the students produce." Students who took part in the project gave it serious consideration, he said. Team members studied regulations outlined in the Americans With Disabilities Act and some even traveled to a nearby amusement park during the off-season to better visualize a typical log flume ride and gather information from park engineers and staff.
The KU teams won a monetary award of $5000 for first place, $500 for second place and $200 for third place. The first place team also won funds to construct a realistic mock-up of its design to be showcased at the IAAPA Attractions Expo 2005 Annual Conference and Trade Show, Nov. 14-19 at the Georgia World Congress Center, Atlanta. The students will have to complete the mock-up project as an extracurricular activity, however such experience may prove helpful as the students build their senior design project in the spring semester.
"We hope this exercise has stimulated a train of thought on a design to enable individuals with limitations to use more amusement park rides," said J. Clark Robinson, IAAPA President and CEO. "Each of these teams demonstrates great ingenuity."