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Middle School Students 3D Print a Wheelchair for a Special Kitten

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Ray is measured for his new wheelchair. [Image: Carrie Barron]

As the owner of a one-eyed cat, I have a soft spot for animals that some might consider flawed or, well, a bit odd. So do the people at the Odd Cat Sanctuary, a rescue in Salem, Massachusetts that specializes in rehoming cats (and the occasional dog) with disabilities, behavioral issues, advanced age or other conditions that would make them difficult to home, and even candidates for euthanasia, at other shelters. One of those Odd Cats has more than one condition – Ray, a six-month-old Maine Coon kitten, is blind and can’t use his back legs due to a spinal disorder that he was born with. But none of those things stopped Carrie Barron from falling in love with him and adopting him.

According to Barron, Ray is a very happy cat who loves listening to Enya and is good at pulling himself around with his front legs, even up the stairs. He plays with Barron’s other adopted and foster cats and does quite well despite his conditions. Barron’s neighbor, Portsmouth Middle School teacher Erin Bakkom, thought of a way to help Ray get around even better, though. She had read a story about students in British Columbia who 3D printed a wheelchair for a disabled cat, and wondered if her students could do the same. She contacted Michaela Pugh, the emerging technology assistant at the local public library, and asked if her eighth-grade class could use the library’s 3D printer.

Pugh agreed, and Bakkom teamed up with Brian Stewart, the technology instructor at Portsmouth Middle School, to help the students come up with designs. Barron brought Ray to the school to meet the students, and they came up with both two- and four-wheeled designs for him. Stewart suggested using Razor scooter wheels, which were attached to the 3D printed body of the wheelchair, and Velcro straps were added to hold Ray in place. The two-wheeled design was created by student Austin Snow, but Ray has already outgrown it.

“We’ll save it in case there’s ever another kitten in need,” Bakkom said.

There’s a good chance of that, especially with the Odd Cat Sanctuary nearby, and as Ray isn’t the first kitten to be helped with a 3D printed wheelchair, he likely won’t be the last. He now has a new four-wheeled model, which was designed by student Noel Jackman, but he isn’t a huge fan of it so far – he’s already knocked a piece off of the cart while trying to escape from it. That’s all part of the design process, says Pugh, and Barron is confident that Ray will adapt to being on wheels.

[Image: Carrie Barron]

“We have been working with Ray and getting him more comfortable with the wheelchair,” she said. “We are working to modify it a bit as the initial design allowed him to pivot, but we are hoping to have the modified chair ready very soon.”

Even if Ray never gets used to using a wheelchair, however, the project won’t have been in vain. The kitten does well dragging himself around with his front legs, and the Portsmouth Middle School students have learned valuable lessons in 3D design and 3D printing. According to Bakkom, the school is now looking into the possibility of getting grants for its own 3D printers.

“I was obviously very excited when she emailed me,” said Pugh. “This is what our goal was, to have people come up with real world applications and it gave us a chance to work with students and help them with their designs so they could see the whole 3-D printing design and redesign process.”

Discuss in the 3D Printed Kitten Wheelchair forum at 3DPB.com.

[Sources: ABC News / Seacoast Online]

 

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