For the second consecutive year, Rowland Hall students captured the Best Young Entrepreneur award at the University of Utah Center for Medical Innovation's Bench to Bedside competition night Monday, April 9. Seniors Michael Palmer, Chris Ausbeck, Nico Edgar, Joseph Wang, and Leo Doctorman won $1,000 for SmoothStop, a wheelchair brake that provides a safer, more comfortable stop for users riding downhill.
Michael said the win left him feeling excited about the project's future. "Competition night was the culmination of a serious amount of effort by me and the team, and seeing that effort pay off was gratifying," he said.
Bench to Bedside has been a seminar class at Rowland Hall since the 2016-2017 school year. Director of Curriculum and Instruction Wendell Thomas and Upper School Assistant Principal Dave Samson joined the SmoothStop team at the Utah Capitol for competition night, and applauded their work. "They represented Rowland Hall exceptionally well," Mr. Samson said.
According to the seniors, current wheelchair braking systems are unreliable at high speeds and can thus lead to user injury. The team learned about this problem during Bench to Bedside's physician reverse-pitch night October 18.
SmoothStop, pictured below, is a simple add-on for a wheelchair—its manual disc brake is similar to a bicycle's hand brake—and it would cost one-third the price of a competing device. It allows users to access variable braking pressure, which gives greater control over the speed of their descent on a slope.
Michael said the team is evaluating how to use their $1,000 prize. They may put the funds toward visiting potential manufacturers and clients, and improving their prototype for increased durability, easier installation, and cost-effectiveness.