"To be able to do something like this as a freshman in college, with practically no engineering experience, is amazing, and something that is unique to Duke.”
-Alexandra G, Class of 2023
Bridge II Sports is a Durham-based non-profit organization whose mission is to provide seamless and independent access to adaptive sports equipment for those with physical challenges or disabilities. Due to space constraints, however, this specialized equipment -- which includes wheelchairs and bicycles – must necessarily be stored on high up shelves or elevated wall hooks in the organization’s warehouse, making it near impossible for athletes to easily and independently access and utilize it.
To address this dilemma, Bridge II Sports called upon Duke’s First-Year Design students to devise a solution that would allow individuals with a wide variety of physical capabilities to readily access the sports equipment on their own, with little to no additional assistance required. Students Alexandra Gray, Ben Eisinger, Hadrien Pratte-Ness, Sarah Macia and Stephen Yeap Weller – highly motivated by the opportunity to solve a real-life problem for these inspiring athletes – rose to the challenge!
In an attempt to streamline the entire design process, the team decided early on to “divide and conquer,” with each member tackling a specific task. It quickly became apparent, however, that breaking the project down into separate functions proved instead to actually be counterproductive. “It was something where we all needed to work together; we all had important contributions… and by trying to assign each person to something individually, we were discounting the fact that, if one team member gets stuck, there are four other team members with different ideas that can possibly help them out.”
Luckily for the team, this realization came before it was too late: according to Gray, the students “completely changed [their] approach and focused on the project as a team.” While the simpler tasks continued to be assigned to one member or another, everyone worked together when tackling the broader and more difficult design challenges. “It really is a team effort, and I think our final solution is a reflection of the work of the entire team.”
The results of the team’s collaboration were both innovative and inspiring: they devised a compound pulley system that greatly reduced the functional weight of the various types of sports equipment, allowing the athletes to lower the pieces via a rope with a triangular handle attachment. A cord lock safety mechanism was also attached to the pulley to ensure the rope didn’t slide if inadvertently released, and because the various pieces of equipment had unequal weight distribution due to the placement of gears on just one side, a guide rope was also installed to ensure the equipment traveled up and down without swinging perilously from side to side.
All team members attributed their success not only to their close collaboration and communication with one another, but also to the accessibility and availability of their advisors and instructors throughout the entire course of the project; the experience and expertise of these mentors proved instrumental in helping the students push past the many “bumps in the road” they encountered along the way. Gray describes how their technical mentor, Kevin Geshmann, “really helped us see that, although this course taught us a stricter process to follow, engineering is something where you have to be willing to say ‘alright, that didn’t work,’ and accept the failure to keep moving forward. I’m really grateful for the opportunity to have worked on this project, and for the amazing facilities and the resources at Duke. To be able to do something like this as a freshman in college, with practically no engineering experience, is amazing, and something that is unique to Duke.”