Ben Salter of Hertfordshire University was named the year’s top Student Innovator at The Engineer Technology and Innovation Awards for a project to develop fingertip controls for racing car drivers unable to use foot pedals.
In his final year of a BSc in Motorsport Technology & Management , Ben led a team which developed the controls to allow paraplegic racing driver Marc Ellis to use the throttle, brake and gears with as much control as an able bodied driver.
The system consists of two carbon fibre rings mounted onto the steering wheel that operate the throttle and the brake. The larger ring is on a moving mount 2.5cm inside the steering wheel, and when pushed down, fully opens the throttle. The smaller ring is attached to strain gauges that detect pressure so that the brakes are applied as more pressure is applied to the ring.
‘The controls work in exactly the same was as if you’d pressed the foot pedal,’ said Salter.
The gear system uses microswitches mounted on a flexible paddle behind the steering wheel that can be reached by the fingers. When pulled toward the driver it activates the microswitch to change up a gear and pushing it away, changes down a gear.
The system has the potential to become a commercial success, available to any paraplegic driver. A further project will package it for assessment by official regulators, after which it could come onto the market.