Professor, students build scooter based on Tai Chi principles

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Motorized scooters controlled through the use of handlebars are a frequent sight on sidewalks, but a Purdue University professor and his students have built a scooter that relies more heavily on the rider’s sense of balance.

Henry Zhang, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering technology, along with four students, spent several months building a hands-free, two-wheeled, self-balancing scooter based on the principles of Tai Chi, a form of Chinese martial arts that centers on focusing the mind and staying aware of your center of balance.

Ryne McHugh, a graduate student in mechanical engineering technology, demonstrates in the hallway of Knoy Hall how to ride the scooter he helped build. Henry Zhang, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering technology, along with three other students, built the hands-free, two-wheeled, self-balancing scooter based on the principles of Tai Chi, a form of Chinese martial arts. The scooter has no handlebars, but instead is controlled by the rider shifting his or her Tai Chi poses. (Photo provided)

Ryne McHugh, a graduate student in mechanical engineering technology, demonstrates in the hallway of Knoy Hall how to ride the scooter he helped build. Henry Zhang, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering technology, along with three other students, built the hands-free, two-wheeled, self-balancing scooter based on the principles of Tai Chi, a form of Chinese martial arts. The scooter has no handlebars, but instead is controlled by the rider shifting his or her Tai Chi poses. (Photo provided)

The scooter contains a platform to stand on, and the on-off, and turning functions are initiated by the rider via a remote control. Zhang said that what makes their machine unique is that there is no handlebar for driving or steering. Instead, these actions are controlled by the rider shifting his or her Tai Chi poses. The scooter is driven forward and backward through the rider’s self-balancing, and its turning is controlled by optical encoder signal feedback that monitors the angular displacement of the remotely triggered DC motor with gear reduction.

The machine was designed and built in Purdue’s Multidisciplinary Design Lab at the Department of Mechanical Engineering Technology. Zhang and his students did the wiring, coding and assembly. The scooter has multiple functions and safety features with a real-time controller, latching relay system, drives and motors. Multiple sensor fusion perceives the movement of the rider and feeds the signals to the controller to slow down or accelerate the machine accordingly. The machine is powered with three 24-volt, 40-amp rechargeable batteries. The scooter’s top speed is about 15 mph.

Zhang said his goal with the project is to use the scooter as a tangible example of what he terms “hands-on, minds-on” interdisciplinary projects for learning and research that students can pursue if they study in the College of Technology.

Students working with Zhang on the project were Qiong Li, Danny Rodriguez and Ryne McHugh, all graduate students in mechanical engineering technology; and James Walls, a freshman in electrical and computer engineering technology.

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