The Cal Poly kayak

The kayak that offers cottagers with restricted mobility a trip on the water

By Lisa BendallLisa Bendall


Photo by Kevin Taylor

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More cottagers than ever are dealing with restricted mobility as boomers age and the rate of disability in Canada rises. Should that mean they can no longer get out on the water? Not if a creative team at California Polytechnic State University, in San Luis Obispo, has anything to say about it.

In a joint kinesiology and engineering project funded by the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, Cal Poly students and faculty have adapted a kayak so that it can be fully operated by someone with no use of their arms or legs. The kayak is powered by a small electric motor controlled by an onboard computer. Paddlers operate the computer using sip-and-puff technology: They suck or blow air through a straw that has a rubber diaphragm, sending electric signals to the computer as the diaphragm flexes in one direction or the other. A customized seat and outriggers enhance the kayaker’s stability.

Kinesiology professor Kevin Taylor says he was inspired in part by the Disabled Sailing Association of British Columbia, which has been using similar sip-and-puff technology in its sailboats for 16 years.

The Cal Poly team is still working on refinements to their kayak. “My intent all along has been to inspire people with disabilities to participate in physical activity,” Taylor says.

This article was originally published on September 17, 2009

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