Colorado State Engineering Students Design Wireless Door Opener for Wheelchairs

Note to Editors: Photos of the students and the project are available with the news release at

A team from Colorado State University’s electrical engineering senior design program is a step closer to helping individuals with disabilities open doors using a wireless connection.

The team – electrical engineering seniors Jon Kay, Garet Scranton and Jason Hall – designed and built a low-cost, wireless electronic system capable of interfacing with the current push-button system to open a door automatically when a person using a wheelchair approaches the door. The entire system was designed from scratch in a two-semester period for less than $200, resulting in a working prototype currently installed and being tested in the General Services Building on campus.

The system itself consists of two separate parts. One part is mounted inside the mechanical-door opening mechanism that can be found on current handicapped-accessible doors, typically external and restroom doors. The other part is enclosed inside a weatherproof box and can be attached anywhere on the wheelchair.

The unit attached to the wheelchair detects when a user decelerates toward a door and then sends an "open" signal to the mechanical door-opening mechanism to open the door.  While similar to push buttons on walls that open doors for wheelchair users, this system allows wheelchair users with limited or no hand movement to get through doors. It also circumvents problems with the push buttons such as malfunctions and poor placement.

"It is a very rewarding experience to take an idea from paper to a working prototype over the course of the year and see it really make a difference in someone’s life," said Kay, project manager for the team, which worked on the project with Olivera Notaros, adjunct professor and head of senior design in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

The team’s prototype still needs some work. "Both Garet and Jason will be continuing the project into the fall semester 2008, and I am completely confident that they will work out the kinks and get the door opener ready for manufacturing and marketing," Kay said.

Recently, the team placed in the top eight among electrical engineering projects in CSU’s Engineering Days event.