High school students in BadgerBOTS, the Madison School District's high school robotics team, built sit skis Saturday to donate across the country.
Sit skis are basically a chair on skis allowing people with disabilities to cross country ski using mainly arm strength. Users strap themselves into a mesh chair connected to two cross country skis with their legs strapped down straight in front of them.
On Saturday, students gathered with volunteers, professional engineers, teachers and parents at Isthmus Engineering and Manufacturing to build 40 of an eventual 250 sit skis that will be used at ski resorts and athletic facilities across the country.
"It really has been (the students') project from beginning to end," said Ben Senson, lead mentor of BadgerBOTS and Memorial High School aerospace engineering and physics teacher.
Ian Delaney, 17, fills a lead role in the project as the IT captain and parts manager.
"It's been really fun saying, 'Oh, I know how to do that now,'" said Delaney, a senior at Memorial.
The design for the sit skis was developed through the UW Center for Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology, or CREATe. The idea was presented by Don Becker. UW engineering students developed the original design, which has undergone minor changes.
Becker, a Madison attorney, began pursuing the project after he first saw sit skiers at the Madison Winter Festival five years ago. At that time, each sit ski cost approximately $2,000, and they were often customized to the individual, meaning the skis couldn't be shared with others.
Becker is spending $75,000 on the 250 sit skis and the project has received about $50,000 in donations, Senson said.
Now, Becker plans to oversee the allocation of the sit skis across the country by February.
"It's a little bitty snowball I put on a hill, and a lot of people have helped me push it down the hill," Becker said. "At any point, if anyone wouldn't have helped, it wouldn't have happened."
BadgerBOTS became involved with the project when asked by Isthmus Engineering and Manufacturing, which was already working with Becker.
The group has worked on the project since June. Senson estimates each student has already put in about 150 hours on the project.
"This is their sport," Senson said of the roughly 15 students taking part. "This is what they do."
Isthmus Engineering and Manufacturing makes up another main component in the production of the sit skis. It organized the manufacturing of specific parts needed for each sit ski. It also contributed the workspace for the students.
"I know that they're inspired," Ole Olson, a controls engineer and member-owner of Isthmus Engineering, said of the students. "They've become part of the community."