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Tough all-terrain wheelchair takes user off-road

An Austin, Texas, high school robotics team full of young tinkerers builds a tough off-road wheelchair for a young man with cerebral palsy.

All-terrain wheelchair wheels
A closer look at the wheel design.
Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

Cerebral palsy has left California resident Danny Cope in a powered wheelchair. There is a trail running out back behind his house. Due to the limitations of his wheelchair, he never had the opportunity to take that trail. Thanks to the work of a group of students, he can now get off the pavement and onto more rugged terrain.

All-terrain wheelchair
Danny Cope with his brother, Benjamin Cope. Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

The students are part of LASA Robotics, the robotics team at the Liberal Arts and Science Academy, a high school in Austin, Texas.

The group worked on the wheelchair for two years. Many local businesses donated supplies, while FedEx donated the shipping for the large package from Austin to California.

The wheelchair itself is a futuristic-looking marvel. Rather than go for big wheels or treads, the team chose a series of smaller wheels, designed to move the chair up and over obstacles. In test drives, Cope was able to move at a fair clip over dirt and grass, and roll right over rocks.

The LASA Robotics students participate in competitions, conduct public demonstrations, and work on community-outreach projects. The wheelchair is part of a more recent initiative of non-competition engineering projects.

First Robotics Competition Team 3189, another high school robotics team located near Cope, will help maintain the wheelchair.

Cope communicates through a machine that translates his words into a voice. He had this message for the LASA Robotics team: "Thank you so much for this wheelchair that must have taken you all so long to build. It's the coolest wheelchair in town by far." It may well be the coolest wheelchair in the world.