Bryan Gingg, who suffers from quadriplegia, kayaked through Morro Bay last Friday.
Gingg’s adventure was made possible due to the launch of a new and improved SoloQuad kayak — a motorized kayak that responds to a sip and puff system or joystick as a control mechanism.
Kevin Taylor, head of the adaptive paddling program at Cal Poly, developed the idea for the SoloQuad project. He said in an email that the first SoloQuad kayak was developed in 2008 but the control mechanism failed, causing Gingg to be towed back to shore.
This time, however, that was not the case.
Kevin Bezerra, a kinesiology senior, said the launch was a complete success this time around.
“The sip and puff mechanism worked without a hitch; there was no overheating of the motor,” he said. “It went about as well as you could hope for.”
Bezerra said the sip and puff system consists of a straw, which can be used to control the kayak using breathing.
“A person can control and steer the boat through the straw based on puffing or sipping air,” he said. “For example, a short puff would move the boat forward.”
Bezerra works alongside Taylor, and is also a part of the team who successfully got Gingg out on the water.
“This was a great opportunity to allow someone to go out and do something that they have been told they could not do,” Bezerra said. “In some ways we were pretty much able to break the stereotype that people with quadriplegia can’t be active.”
The idea for the SoloQuad began with Taylor in 1999. From then, the adaptive paddling program received a grant from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation to build the first prototype for the SoloQuad. After the failed first attempt, another grant from the National Science Foundation allowed for the second launch of the SoloQuad.
With a team of kinesiology and engineering students (who called themselves Team Albatross), the SoloQuad was outfitted with an electric motor and sip and puff control.
This time around, the SoloQuad consisted of a display board which allowed Gingg to see exactly what commands he was giving to the kayak, said Marian Watson, a kinesiology senior involved with the project.
“This version of the SoloQuad was basically a tightened up version of the one before it,” Watson said. “There’s a heat sensor and a display board showing what directions it has been given. And the prior team didn’t make anything waterproof, so this team went in and got that done.”
Roern Tourn, a computer engineering senior who was a co-leader and in charge of hardware for the SoloQuad, said the goal was to make a quality device.
“We wanted to make a device that could move the client on the water safely,” he said. “It gives the user personal control. To be able to give someone control back is the greatest gift that we can give them.”
The hardware that was used to make the SoloQuad will eventually be open source so that everyone can download it, Tourn said.
“It is not published quite yet but out hope is to have it available sometime after summer,” Tourn said.
Watson said having open source information is another way the adaptive paddling program can change more lives.
“The fact that people around the world will be able to download the information means that there is the potential for more of them to be built,” Watson said. “That way Bryan’s life won’t be the only life that is changed — we can help more people.”
Bezerra said the launch of the SoloQuad will not only change the lives of the participants, but the lives of those around them as well.
“If you asked people, they wouldn’t think it was possible or a good idea for someone with quadriplegia to be out on the water on their own,” Bezerra said. “With innovations like the SoloQuad, we can start breaking misconceptions.”