A ‘Breakthrough’ For Sailors With Disabilities

Published on July 5th, 2015

When Tyler Fleig of Portsmouth (RI) was trying to choose a senior project last summer, he sought advice from Paul Callahan, his boss at Sail To Prevail in Newport.

Fleig has been an instructor for the past two years with the organization, which creates opportunities for children and adults with disabilities to overcome adversity through therapeutic sailing. For two years before that, he was a volunteer for the organization.

Fleig told Callahan that he wanted to combine his work at Sail To Prevail with his experience in robotics that goes back to his years at Portsmouth Middle School. For Fleig’s senior project, Callahan suggested adapting a 2.4 meter sailboat for use by quadriplegics.

“People around the world have been trying to crack that for a decade,” Callahan told Fleig. “That will keep you busy over the winter.”

Sail GP

Callahan, a quadriplegic himself who competed in the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London, is the chief executive officer of Sail To Prevail.

Paraplegics are able to sail the 2.4 meter, but not quadriplegics.

“The way it is rigged and set up, it would be impossible for a quadriplegic to sail it,” Fleig said. “They don’t have the range of motion or strength to sail it in its current setup.”

Using his knowledge of robotics, Fleig set out to create electronic and mechanical systems that would allow quadriplegics to have control over the 2.4 meter boat and sail it at a Paralympics level. That included developing power-assisted sail controls so that the sailor can bring the sails in or out by pushing a button.

Fleig said he logged about 45 hours on the project, including about 20 hours with his mentor. He spent about $1,500 on the project, most of that coming from a major robotics company that requested not to be identified publicly.

“It went really well,” Fleig said after he trialed the system. “There are some minor changes I need to make. Right now, the project is in the prototype phase. It’s not to the point where it would be commercially available.”

“This is quite a breakthrough,” Callahan said of what Fleig accomplished. “He basically revolutionized this one-person boat so that hundreds and even thousands of challenged people around the country and the world will benefit.”

The Newport Daily News, full story

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