LOGAN — Albert LaBounty always loved working on his car, but lost the use of his legs in an accident 20 years ago.

Thanks to mechanical engineering students at Utah State University, he can do that again. The mechanical "creeper" was designed and built by students, working with USU's "Assistive Technology Program."

"So we have teamed up with the assistive technology with the Center for Persons with Disabilities to provide projects directly related to persons with disabilities," said Steve Hansen, a research professor in the mechanical and aerospace engineering department.

The students custom built a "creeper" for LaBounty. The device makes it possible for a person to easily slide from a wheelchair, and within about 40 seconds, via a control box, be lowered into position and ready to work under the vehicle.

The creeper gets about 3 inches off the ground and can easily be pulled in and out from under the vehicle, explained L.J. Wilde, a USU grad student.

"You could tell when Albert got into that chair he was really excited to get underneath that car to see a lot of the things he hadn't seen in a long time," added Andrew Shupe, another USU student. "He was really excited to use it and demo it."

“Once he got down and was able to move underneath the vehicle, it was second to none to watch the look on his face,” added Wilde.

USU received last fall a $125,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop projects to help the disabled, or anyone who has a progressive disorder, where mechanical help is needed. And the school wants to hear from anyone in Utah who might benefit. USU says the more difficult the challenge the better. Individuals can contact Hansen at steve.hansen@usu.edu or 435-797-4343, or visit utahatprogram.blogspot.com and leave a comment.

"So we're looking to the public, if there are problems that could be eventually solved by our senior engineers, that we could do them as design projects," Hansen said. "We have money to pay for them." And if the device works, the person can keep it.

"To us, this is a very big deal," said Clay Christensen, assistive lab coordinator. "We don't take it lightly, and every project, small or large, is treated equally."

The projects aren't geared only toward people with disabilities. Last year, 70 million baby boomers turned 65, Hansen said. As they get older, they will need assistive technologies too.

USU has enough funding to work on these projects for the next five years, and all finished devices will include USU's colors and the Aggie "A."

E-mail: kmccord@ksl.com