Luggage harness wins engineering prize

Photo by William Woody—Brandon Duval, right, wears a harness with a Bungee-cord system that would allow someone to pull luggage in a manner that keeps the bag steady without bumping the wearer. Duval and fellow Hotchkiss High School physics students, from left, Isaac Fisher, Cody Spiker and Zach Larmer designed the device as their entry in the National Engineering Design Challenge. Not pictured are team members Ryan Spor and David Murry.

A simple creation earned six Hotchkiss High School students a national prize and allowed a team member’s father to travel easier while using crutches.

The six members of teacher Richard Hypio’s physics class worked since the beginning of the school year to design a product that would help a person with disabilities, a requirement to enter the National Engineering Design Challenge. On Friday, that product, which the team named “the caboose,” earned the Best Overall Design award and $2,000 at the National Engineering Design Challenge Finals in Washington, D.C.

The caboose consists of shoulder straps and a belt worn around the torso. A Bungee-cord system on the back of the device connects to a fastening strap that wraps around the handle of any luggage with wheels. The device allows people to tote luggage behind them hands-free, and the Bungee-cord system keeps the luggage from bumping into the wearer’s legs and holds it steady while riding a couple steps behind the wearer on an escalator.

The inspiration for the caboose was team member Zach Larmer’s father, Paul. Paul Larmer was born with limbs that didn’t grow properly, and, as a result, he has used crutches when walking since the age of 3.

Zach Larmer and teammates Ryan Spor, David Murry, Cody Spiker, Brandon Duval and Isaac Fisher interviewed Lar- mer’s father and found air travel can be a hassle for him.

“I’m pretty good at it because I’ve been on crutches my whole life, but my bag would turn over, and sometimes I’d leave my computer at home” to lighten the load, Paul Larmer said.

After a half dozen prototypes, the boys had a device well-suited to Larmer’s needs and so eye-catching that judges last week awarded the Hotchkiss students first prize at the challenge. It beat out inventions such as a pen that uses magnets to help a person with tremors write clearly and a swiveling, motorized wheelchair.

“One of the judges said he’d like a caboose, too,” Fisher said. “We’re thinking of getting a patent and selling the idea.”

Zach Larmer said the team likely will fine-tune the design of the caboose.

Paul Larmer said he plans to use the caboose on the six to 10 work trips he takes each year. His son said he doesn’t often notice his father’s disability.

“It’s nice to be able to help that one little thing he needs help with,” Zach Larmer said.


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