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Cal Poly students invent robotic wheelchair for disabled surfers

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Angel Russell
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Cal Poly student inventors tested their all-terrain wheelchair for adaptive surfers during the AmpSurf VetSurf event in Pismo Beach Friday

Cal Poly University engineer students have invented a robot that can help disabled surfers get in and out of the water. The students tested the all-terrain wheelchair during a demonstration Friday, June 11 in Pismo Beach. 

“I think this is the coolest thing," said Dana Cummings, founder of AmpSurf, a nonprofit which teaches pepole with disabilities how to surf. "This thing looks like a tank with a seat and a surfboard and the racks.” 

Cummings, who lost his leg in 2002, thinks the invention is a game changer. 

“This is going to revolutionize getting people that are paralyzed out into the water on their own,” Cummings said. 

Lauren Knott, one of the robot's creators, said without its use, people with disabilites like paraplegia would physically require someone else to help them get out in and out of the water.

This invention takes away that need for another pair of human hands — instead letting the surfer do it on their own. 

“They can take themself out to the water," Knott said. " They can get off the wheelchair, get their board ready, start paddling out and then they can click a button, a smart device they have on them that will send the chair back up the beach to go park.”

Knott said she knows some people may be hesitant about seeing the self-driving wheelchair, but they programmed it to make sure it stays out of peoples' way. 

“The way we’ve done this is, the chair has some image recognition capabilities," Knott said. " So while it's parking itself back up the beach, it scans for people to make sure that no one is in its way, so it doesn’t hit anyone.”

Although it's only a prototype now, Knott has high hopes for what the future holds for the students' invention.

“I would love to see this turn into a product that people can buy individually and use to really change their lives as adaptive surfers,” Knott said.

Next steps would be securing funding to help this product go mainstream.

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.
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