From The Fields Of The BotFarm, We Bring You A Doggie Wheelchair!

Today we have a guest post from one of MakerBot’s awesome interns, Rebecca Hillegass. Rebecca and her comrade Jason Schapiro will be updating us from time to time on their work on the BotFarm. In this post, we hear how Rebecca used her MakerBot resources to help a friend get back on his feet.

A little background — After losing control of his back legs, my puppy, Freddy, was diagnosed with degenerative disk disease. It was unclear if he would regain the ability to walk normally. My first thought was to design and 3D-print a wheelchair to help him out. As an intern at MakerBot, I’ve gotten a lot of exposure to 3D designing and working with the bots. I was eager to apply this knowledge to my own side project.

Building Blocks by MathematicalGastronomist, in the shape of a doggie wheelchair

The frame of the wheelchair is completely made out of 3D-printed rods and connectors, which were designed using OpenSCAD (check out the files here on Thingiverse). The designs emulate building blocks, allowing the wheelchair to be easily customizable for any size dog. In addition, the blocks and connectors have built-in holes for M3 screws so that all the parts can be securely fastened together. After I printed and constructed the frame of the wheelchair from these building pieces, I brought it home, attached wheels, and designed a layout for the fabric that would be both supportive and comfortable for Fred.

I picked up stretch knit fabric, velcro, and strapping material from Jo-Ann’s Fabrics and Crafts and sized the pieces so that they were the proper dimensions for the wheelchair. I chose stretch strapping and fabric so that it would be most comfortable for Fred. I draped the knit fabric over the two sides of the wheelchair and velcro-ed it to the side rods. I also stitched the fabric around the side rods for extra support. I left space between the end of the fabric and the back of the frame for Freddy’s legs. My plan was to then criss-cross the material between his back legs to hoist them off the ground, but I got a little stuck on the last part, and haven’t had much time to go back to the drawing board yet. (Another idea I’ve recently considered is draping fabric along the bottom of the frame – in front of the wheels – to allow his legs to rest on the suspended fabric instead of on the ground).

As for wheels, I originally attached them directly to the bottom of the frame, but am now considering picking up spoke-wheels with larger diameters to attach onto the sides of the frame (this time incorporating an axle into the construction). I previously dismissed this idea because I wanted wheels that could swivel to provide a larger range of motion. However, the axle  construction seems more stable.

As you can see, this project is still a work in progress – if you have any experience with doggie wheelchairs, or any ideas of how to create a supportive fabric framework, I’m eager to hear suggestions!

Also, a disclaimer: I can’t vouch for the reliability or safety of the wheelchair since it’s still in testing stages, but I hope one day it can be a cheaper alternative for those makers who need to help out their furry friends.

PS: Freddy is taking physical therapy like a champ – doing better everyday!

Special thanks to my fellow intern, Jason Schapiro, for helping out with the project!