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'Engineering that truly matters'

'Engineering that truly matters'

Shawn Robinson March 09, 2022

A local man with cerebral  palsy received the gift of going on family bike rides again — just in time for his 27th birthday — thanks to a group of engineering students who designed an electric bike with a trailer that can be easily transported and pulled by his family.

“We used to be a very active family, and Kain used to be very small,” said Kain Hubler’s mother, Erica Hubler, in a meeting with the first group of students working on the project. “And when he hit 14, he shot up to 6-2. We used to pull him. It’s uncomfortable for him. It was too hard for us. We were missing out on that as a family. So if we go, he has to stay home. It’s not inclusive. So he doesn’t get to participate in family activities like he used to because we don’t have anything adaptive we can use for him.”

Kain Hubler and his mom, Erica, out for a ride.
Kain Hubler and his mom, Erica, out for a ride.


Members of the group presented Kain’s family with the trailer in October at Kettering Laboratories.

The students endeavored to create a design that incorporated Kain’s wheelchair, rather than requiring Kain to transfer from his wheelchair to a bike, and at the same time safely secured Kain and the wheelchair. From there, they designed an electric powering mechanism for the bike. 

Twelve senior design students worked on the project for two years along with Kain’s occupational therapist and family. A National Institutes of Health grant enabled the University of Dayton to partner with United Rehabilitation Services on the project. Kim Bigelow, professor of mechanical engineering; Allison Kinney, associate professor of mechanical engineering; and Becky Blust ’87, director of the School of Engineering’s Innovation Center, among others, mentored the students. 

Jake Lucca, an industrial engineering technology major who graduated in May 2021, was part of the student team. “I’ve learned a lot school can’t teach you,” he said. “I think this is a project we’ll all look back on for the rest of our lives, and it will be a big learning experience for all of us.” 

Bigelow said she was struck by how well the students adapted to experiences outside of engineering, like working with Kain’s family and occupational therapist to understand his needs and preferences, as well as the wrench thrown into the project by the pandemic.

However, Bigelow said, their reward of delivering Kain’s family their bike far exceeded their hurdles.

“The students worked so much harder when they knew that’s what’s at stake.”

“The students worked so much harder when they knew that’s what’s at stake,” Bigelow said. “It’s because they want to deliver on a promise to this family, and they know what that will mean to them.”

Projects like this, she said, change a life — and change the students: “They’re going to know they do engineering that truly matters.”