Cycle-Leg to use Honduran used scrapped Bicycles
With prosthetic legs costing thousands of dollars, 19-year-old Parker Owen set out to see if he could make a durable, well-functioning one on the cheap.
His goal: A prosthetic leg that he could take with him on a summer mission trip to Honduras to give children and adults the gift of mobility. Written by: Rena Havner Philips | firstname.lastname@example.org
Owen studied a diagram of a bicycle, and went to a local thrift store to buy a used one for just $25.
“I was being lazy and bored on a Saturday night. I turned my computer on and started looking at a bicycle diagram, and I thought, ‘Why hasn’t anyone done this before?’” said Owen, who attends the Alabama School of Math and Science here and is from Columbiana near Birmingham.
“No idea has ever come easier for me.”
He said he doesn’t think he ever would have been able to come up with this and other scientific ideas if he hadn’t decided to attend the Alabama School of Math and Science, a public boarding school that offers college-level classes.
His teachers are proud of his efforts.
“I think it’s ingenious that by looking at anatomy books and charts of bicycles, he was able to make a leg and meet a need,” said Donald Wheeler, who has taught most of Owen’s physics classes. “I think it’s great.”
All of the parts were already, and almost obviously, there, he said.
He used the seat for the foot, bending its end 45 degrees to form a heel; inner tubes for the tendons and calf muscles; the handle bars and pedal frame for the knee.
Owen attached part of a tire under the foot for traction and used more of the rubbery tires to create the boot that the stub of a leg would fit snugly in.
He said it was surprisingly easy to put his prototype together. In fact, he said it only took him a few hours to assemble it.
He has since created a second, better model that, weighing in at 11 pounds, is lightweight and adjustable in size.
Air pressure can also be adjusted in the inner tubes to allow someone to stand up from a seated position, a complicated movement that can be challenging in creating a prosthetic leg, he said.
Owen has secured a provisional patent on what he calls, “Cycle-Leg,” and he’s taken it to a prosthetic leg expert near Birmingham who said it’s functional.
“In a way, it hasn’t been done before, to take an ordinary, thrown-away object like this,” Owen said. “Some would say it’s sculpture; some would say it’s art. But in this case, it becomes a functional, utilitarian piece made with simple hand tools.”
Anyone could make a similar leg with some zip ties, a ratchet set and a hammer, he said. Besides the parts available on a standard adult bicycle, Owen said he used three nuts, three bolts and four washers.
Owen has received about $5,000 in donations to head to Honduras this summer with a group of Methodist churches from the Birmingham-Shelby County area. Unless he gets a company to donate bicycles, he plans to go to a salvage yard in Honduras and gather some bikes, so he doesn’t have to pay shipping.
He hopes to create between 20-30 prosthetic legs from bicycles while he’s in Honduras for about a week. Meanwhile, others in his group will work on water purification and on spreading the gospel.
“How much joy is it going to be to give someone who doesn’t have mobility – and the only thing standing between him and mobility is cost – this,” Owen said, “for next to nothing.”
It would take years to get his design approved for use in the United States, Owen said, but he is hoping it will be well-received in Honduras.
“I don’t see it as the greatest thing in the world, or the next big thing,” Owen said. “I do see it as providing a function for someone who is in need.”
Owen, who is on his school’s robotics team, plans to enter “Cycle-Leg” in a national invention competition.
And in case making a prosthetic leg from a bicycle isn’t impressive enough, Owen said he has even better ideas that he’s working on. He’s currently trying to map out the nerves in a human arm so he can create a hand that would be operable with someone’s brain.
Owen, a senior, has taken 18 physics classes at the Alabama School of Math and Science, which is well above the required three.
He said he may be headed to Auburn University this fall to study mechanical engineering and theoretical physics. He wants to be an inventor and entrepreneur, as his father and grandparents are.