Engineering boffins hit bullseye for para-archery
KZN students' invention honours quadriplegic archer who died before he had a chance to use it
After a 2014 car accident left him a quadriplegic, Clinton Eccles was looking forward to reclaiming his sporting prowess, thanks to the mechanical genius of four University of KwaZulu-Natal students.
The students, Tyrone Bright, Lindelwa Dlamini, Matthew Harcus and Michaela Geytenbeek, created a quadriplegic-friendly archery device that would have enabled him to get back to a sporting lifestyle.
But before Elcces, 26, was able to realise his dream of using the device to become a Paralympic gold medalist, he died of organ failure, just two weeks before the students could unveil their project at UKZN’s mechanical engineering open day last Friday.
In a bittersweet twist of fate, the students took home awards for the best project under a R15,000 budget and the most innovative design.
Now they want to offer others the same hope they gave Eccles with their Quadriplegic Unassisted Archery Device (QUAD).
“We are hoping that our design will be recognised by world archery and that a division for quadriplegic people in para-archery will be developed,” said group leader Michaela Geytenbeek.
The first of its kind, the design allows a motor to draw the bow, which is then locked in a taut position. The person aims the bow and releases it using a mouth-controlled quick-release mechanism. Another arrow automatically reloads.
To move the bow, and to meet world archery rules of using two body parts to interact with the machine at once, the students use a frequency obtained from the heart. “The archer’s arm is placed on the armrest of the device and secured with velcro straps. Their finger touches a pulse sensor and this is fed into a device which dictates how the motor moves. The motor is coded to move one step for every pulse received,” explained Geytenbeek.
This process takes place while the system vibrates with the frequency obtained from the person’s heart rate. As a person concentrates and their anxiety levels elevate, their heart rate increases, simulating the muscle fatigue able-bodied archers experience.
The university was approached by Darren Tarr, a relative of Eccles, who had seen past creations by the university’s school of engineering.
“I have been involved in archery since 2009 and it is one of the most disabled-friendly sports. After Clinton’s accident I wanted to do my part to try to help him get involved in sports once again. I knew the university would be able to help me,” said Tarr.
It was then that the mechanical engineering team conceptualised the idea of the archery device.
Eccles’s father, Dave, said they were very proud that his son was involved in a project that could potentially help others.
“We were very proud of what he did during his period of disability. If this does work he would have left an important legacy behind. All he ever wanted to do was to prove to everyone that you can do it. His biggest thing was to help people realise that you can achieve, even if you are in a wheelchair,” said Dave.
“He was very keen to get back to sports. He was so excited about it because he saw an opportunity to even participate in the Paralympics one day,” he added.
Eccles was very involved in the creation and testing of the device.
“To see the joy in his face and see him being able to get involved in the sport, something that was taken away from him, was very rewarding,” said Bright.
“People who become quadriplegic often lose themselves because of the lack of control they have over their lives. We have used engineering principles to try and bring back a sense of independence and control,” added Dlamini.