Students develop electric swing for girl with special needs

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Alexis Truax sits in the swing that holds up to 250 pounds and can be used indoors or outdoors. Courtesy Sarah Truax

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) A group of engineering students at Grand Valley State University recently delivered a custom-built electric swing to help a girl with special needs.

The students built the specialized swing for Alexis Truax when her mother Sarah Truax contacted the School of Engineering after seeing a news clip about students creating a specialized wheelchair.

Alexis Truax, 6, is one of 14 people in the world with an unnamed genetic mutation that has caused blindness, inability to speak or walk, and developmental delays, her mother said.

Sarah Truax said her daughter is soothed by the repetitive motion of swinging back and forth but pushing a manual swing for hours takes up valuable time. While the electric swing does the pushing for her, Truax can make dinner or tend to other responsibilities while she watches her daughter, she said.

Truax said she looked for swings available on the market but couldn’t find much besides swings for infants.

That’s when she called the school and asked for help. 

The project was organized by assistant professor of engineering Mahdi Norouzi and students in a machine-design class. The students began by visiting the Truax home and taking measurements. 

Norouzi said students developed prototypes using grant funding and built the swing with support from the engineering department.

“When I think of this project, I just think our students did a really excellent job and know that the machine we’ve built will help Alexis for a long time,” Norouzi said.

He said specialized projects allow students to utilize what they are learning in the real world.

“This lets students get hands-on with the work instead of just engineering the piece in concept and on paper,” Norouzi said.

Some students focused on design while others focused on assembly and testing. Students learned what did or did not work after testing the first prototype. The second prototype is the one they delivered to the family.

The swing developed by the students holds up to 250 pounds and can be used indoors or outdoors, so it can be used for many years to come, Truax said.

Connor Green, one of the students involved with the project, said this build was the most significant project he had ever done, especially with challenging electrical controls, but said he learned about advanced concepts and said the experience was fun at the same time.

“When this started off, I was most worried about getting a good grade, but seeing the family here picking it up and seeing how it will help them for several years is a really big personal payoff,” Green said.

David Drogowski, a senior mechanical engineering major, said he has a background in machining and fabrication, so he enjoyed the experience of spending time in the machine shop and learning practical aspects of the build instead of just the design and theory.

“It was great to spend time in the shop and watch our design become a successful reality,” Drogowski said.

Once the swing was finished, Sarah Truax, her husband Nicholas Truax and Alexis visited the GVSU downtown campus to pick it up. The students showed them how to use it, and Alexis tested it out.

“We're so thankful to live in a city that has the colleges and students and teachers that are willing to think outside the box and provide something that is going to improve her quality of life,” Sarah Truax said.

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