Need a Lift?

TMMK and TMNA engineers partner with the University of Kentucky’s students and football team on a mobility solution that gives Kentucky Children’s Hospital patients a memory to last a lifetime

January 29, 2020
Good to Go -- University of Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops high-fives Maximo Shemwell, who found himself in the driver's seat of the high-tech pushcart developed in part by TMMK engineers. (photo courtesy University of Kentucky)

The University of Kentucky football team had a heck of a season, capping off their second straight eight-win campaign with an exciting win over Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl on New Year’s Eve.

But in the long run, those on-the-field exploits just might pale in comparison to the difference they made off the field. Members of the team joined forces with the school’s engineering students, Kentucky Children’s Hospital and team members at TMNA and Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky (TMMK). That coalition of talent, skill and passion rallied around what came to be known as the “Lift Them Up” mobility project.
 
Its tangible output: a high-tech pushcart that allowed several of the hospital’s young patients to participate in the fun and fanfare of the school’s home football games.
 
Mobility Marvel -- The pushcart incorporates a wide array of innovative features, including a custom-built suspension, racing seat with seat belt, a paper-airplane shaped roof  and GoPro cameras.
 
“This project was the result of a challenge to all of TMMK’s engineers from Susan Elkington, our plant president,” says Matt Kubarek, the lead engineer on the project and a manager in TMMK’s stamping department. “We wanted to utilize our engineering skills and expertise in a way that could impact the community in a positive way. We landed on a unique and exciting opportunity for a child to lead the football team into the stadium, who otherwise might not be able to attend the game at all.”

While the TMMK engineers headed up the project, they leaned heavily on the expertise of TMNA's PEMC Tilt Lab that serves as kind of engineering think tank that designs and tests out new ideas. Together, they incorporated input from the hospital as well as a select group of university engineering students — including junior Luke Fortner, the Wildcats’ starting right guard and a member of the Southeastern Conference Academic Honor Roll.
 
Multi Talented -- When not applying his engineering skills to this project, Luke Fortner (79) exceled on the field  as a standout tackle on the UK's football team. (photo courtesy University of Kentucky)

Everyone Wins
 
Their collective challenge was to construct a cart with interactive features that would also be safe for a child battling a health condition. Highlights include the suspension, racing seat with seat belt, a paper-airplane shaped roof to offer protection from the elements and GoPro cameras to record the experience so the child could relive it again and again.
 
Along the way, the students involved in the design and construction of the cart benefitted as well.
 
“I thought pairing passionate students with the engineers from Toyota would be such an unforgettable experience and would really impact their careers,” says Nelson Akafuah, associate director of the UK Institute of Research for Technology Development. “Talent that I never saw in class started to emerge when they interacted with the engineers. The more we can give students this type of exposure, the better engineers we will produce.”
 
“The experience I gained in this project was critical in my development as an engineer,” says Fortner. “To have the opportunity to work with professional engineers was eye opening and taught me a lot of crucial skills no matter what I decide to do later in life.”
 
A Winning Team -- Here's a group shot of the many Toyota team members representing TMNA and TMMK who lent their time and talent to help bring the pushcart to life. This was taken at the PEMC Tilt Lab that had the space, tools and expertise needed to turn the concept into a reality.

Ultimately, though, this team effort was all about the children. TMMK truly helped them start their impossible.
 
“I am thankful and humbled by the generosity of our friends at Toyota, the ingenuity of our engineering students and the dedication of the UK football team,” says Dr. Scottie B. Day, physician-in-chief at the hospital. “These individual groups came together in a unique way to create an unforgettable experience for the children of Kentucky. We know our patients are champions. And now every fan of UK football knows it, too.”
 
By Dan Miller

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