Students develop fishing rod for disabled anglers

(PHOTO) By Steve Kuchera Knight Ridder Newspapers (KRT) DULUTH, Minn. _ A group of University of Minnesota Duluth students are going into business. In just one semester, four engineering students are trying to develop a working prototype of a mechanized fishing rod and reel that physically disabled anglers can use. Four marketing students are working with them, doing extensive market and product research and developing plans for selling the device, named HandiCast. “It’s nice to work on something that will bring value to society,” said Mariia Kouznetsova, one of the School of Business and Economics students involved in the project. This is the first time students from different schools at UMD have worked together on such a project. It may not be the last. If all goes well, the students will work with UMD to create a company named “Limitless Opportunities,” where future groups will either improve existing projects or design, create and market new ones. The whole idea is to give students from marketing and from the College of Science and Engineering a foretaste of the business world, where people from different disciplines commonly work together on projects, said marketing instructor John Kratz. Students began this year with a 2001 prototype rod and reel. The device _ cobbled together from a Snoopy rod and reel, a couple of motors, a few gears and switches and some wires and duct tape _ was designed and built by a previous group of UMD engineering students to allow a quadriplegic person to accurately cast a fishing lure. In November 2001, it took first place in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers international design competition. The prototype had to meet strict competition guidelines. That’s no longer the case. “The engineering students are free to alter it in any way to make a better piece of equipment,” marketing student Chris Bremner said. “We’re aiming for a 20- to 35-meter casting range,” up from the few yards required for the competition, engineering student Eric Hesse said. “From the original rod, we ordered larger motors and a longer casting rod,” engineering senior Andrew Eldien said. “We’re also putting the whole device on a rotating base.” The students are refining the controller, aiming for a 4-by-6-inch box similar to a video game controller. Anglers will use the box to control the base’s rotation, the drawback of the rod, the cast and retrieval speed. “I try not to get too involved in the details,” said mechanical and industrial engineering professor David A. Wyrick. “I let the students do the design and then ask questions that make them think about what’s going on.” While the engineering students are developing and refining HandiCast, the marketing students are trying to determine whether people would buy it. “Our whole goal is to develop a comprehensive business plan and test the feasibility of this product from all perspectives _ cost, marketing, price, distribution,” Kouznetsova said. Toward that end, students have talked to people who work with the disabled. They will present the HandiCast idea at a conference this month. They’re also researching a possible patent for HandiCast, making sure they’re not infringing on an existing product. An extensive search has found nothing similar, Bremner said. There have been some problems along the way. During the first few weeks, the engineering and marketing students didn’t understand each others’ jargon, said marketing senior Megan Vesaas. “It’s been a real learning experience for students and teachers because it’s all new,” she said. ___ ‘copy 2003, Duluth News Tribune (Duluth, Minn.). Visit the Web site of the News Tribune at Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.