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A driving simulator developed by students at Cape Peninsula University of Technology is expected to make driving more accessible and affordable for people with disabilities.
The project was started when Milnerton resident Nicky Abdinor, 33, who was born with no arms and shortened legs, was introduced to Dr Mugendi M’Rithaa, a professor of industrial design at CPUT.
Abdinor founded the non-profit Nicky’s Drive which funds car adaptations for people with disabilities.
She has been driving a specially adapted car, which was donated to her, since 2001. The car came from Britain.
She drives using her right shoulder and the car has a joystick hydraulic steering system.
Abdinor said: “Being able to drive means complete independence and mobility and you can’t put a price on that. If you have your car serviced and you are without a car for a day or two you feel annoyed; for a lot of disabled people it’s like that every day.”
Her car has, however, become unreliable and she has been in need of a new one for years.
“The technology used in the car has been available in the UK for more than 20 years but is not available in South Africa. I need a vehicle that can transport my motorised wheelchair. It has always been my dream to get somebody in South Africa interested in developing this technology.”
CPUT took up the challenge.
The project is headed by M’Rithaa and Professor Oscar Philander from CPUT’s Adaptronic Advanced Manufacturing Technology Laboratory, who have been working closely with Nicky’s Drive and CPUT’s disability unit.
M’Rithaa said students and staff in CPUT’s mechanical engineering and industrial design departments, the Adaptronic Advanced Manufacturing Technology Laboratory and the Human Performance Laboratory have been working on the project.
“What we are unveiling is a prototype car in the form of a simulator,” he explained. “It can simulate the dynamics of driving for Nicky. It can also be used for training and assessment for other people with disabilities. The controls are programmable through a touchscreen on the dashboard.”
Philander said the students had created the joystick steering system and developed the software to operate it.
He said Abdinor’s old car had belonged to somebody else first and wasn’t set up for her, but the new joystick was modelled specifically for her level of disability.
Philander said the technology was extremely cost-effective compared with imported technology.
The simulator would be used to test and mature specific adaptations for Abdinor, then for others with disabilities. The technology would then be transferred to a car she had bought. - Cape Argus