Jan 20, 2022 - News

YouTube star works with students to create winter-friendly wheelchair

Shane Burcaw, a wheelchair user, in a sunny room.
Shane Burcaw. Photo: Shane Burcaw.

Minnesota YouTuber Shane Burcaw is partnering with a group of St. Thomas engineering students and a local nonprofit to create a winter-friendly wheelchair that won't slip on ice or snow.

Why it matters: While wheelchairs are a year-round necessity for many, the mechanics or technology to prevent them from spinning and flipping over is lacking.

  • Chairs for outdoor use exist, but they're often bulky, expensive and, according to Burcaw, not good for everyday life.

Background: Burcaw, who was born with spinal muscular atrophy, has used an electric wheelchair since he was 2 years old. He came up with the idea after a serious crash in snow last winter.

  • His chair spun out of control and he flipped off a ramp head-first, with the 400-pound wheelchair landing on top of him.

What he's saying: "There's no snow tires for wheelchairs," Burcaw told Axios. "Until now, the solution is to not go out — but I'm an active person and don't want to be limited by the weather."

How it works: Senior St. Thomas engineering students Tuan Truong, Thatch Nguyen, Kyle Stewart, Cristian Perez and Jason Franzman are creating a mechanism for the chair, similar to a vehicle's anti-roll bar, that will prevent flipping forward.

  • Anti-slip technology will also be added into the wheelchair itself.

Between the lines: The students will retain intellectual property rights, said Jason Bright, founder of Unique Innovations 4 Unique Challenges, which is spearheading and funding the project.

  • U4UC will maintain usage rights so other students can potentially continue the group's work.

What's next: After five months of steady work, a prototype is expected to be completed within a month.

  • Once the project wraps up in May, the future is up to the students, Bright said.
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