Technology and Website

High school students’ technology helps this man who uses a wheelchair mow his lawn again

Rob Piper says he loves cutting his grass, so much so that he even considered launching his own lawn-cutting business.

But around five years ago, the Windsor, Ont., man was injured in a cycling accident — he’s been using a wheelchair ever since.

Piper said he took to Facebook to say how much he missed it and was eventually connected to the technology program at St. Anne Catholic High School to find a solution.

“I’m so excited,” he said.

“The boys and girls did an amazing job on it. Tried it out for a couple rows and … ready to go cut the whole neighborhood.”

Rob Piper’s wheelchair now connects to a lawn mower to allow him to cut grass, something the Windsor, Ont., man loved before getting injured five years ago. (TJ Dhir/CBC)

Mike Costello, who teaches manufacturing and technology at St. Anne, said he and a group of students researched ideas online for connecting a wheelchair and lawn mower, began to engineer a couple of designs and built a few prototypes.

“We thought, ‘We’re going to build it out of a metal-based lawn mower,’ only to find out that you couldn’t buy an electric lawn mower that was metal based,” said Costello.

LISTEN | Rob Piper joins Windsor Morning

Windsor Morning7:57Lawn Mowing Aid

Some students at a Lakeshore high school are giving a local man a chance to cut his own grass. They’ve developed a device to allow him to connect his wheelchair to a lawn mower.

Eventually, said Costello, they were able to “hack away” at different ideas on paper until one worked.

“So we had to go back to the plastic … it couldn’t support the wheels and the framework … so we decided to build a frame that would support the lawn mower itself, hold up the lawn mower.”

The machine is an electric lawn mower that connects to an assistive device, enabling Rob to remain in his chair.

A St.  Anne High School student assists Rob Piper as he prepares to mow his Windsor, Ont., lawn.
A St. Anne High School student assists Piper as he prepares to mow his lawn. (TJ Dhir/CBC)

Grade 11 student Jake Polewski said designing the machine was tricky, but it made him feel a sense of accomplishment.

“Seeing him (Rob) be able to have some independence in his life and be able to do something for himself. I’m sure it makes him feel good.”

Jake said the wheels were too small on their first prototype and Piper’s wheelchair changed during the design phase — interrupting how he mounted to the chair and extra padding for under his feet.

Piper said that when he first got behind the mower, he fought back tears.

“I was crying on the inside but didn’t show it on the outside. I was so happy, so grateful that they’ve done this for me.”