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Emirati student develops unique vehicle for the disabled

Abu Dhabi: It was a mistake that cost Reem Al Marzouqui an important grade in a university case, but it also led to the development of a unique vehicle to help disabled people.

The foot-controlled vehicle that Reem, a 23-year-old Emirati architectural engineering student, built can enable people with arm and upper torso disabilities to drive a car with relative ease.

“My course had required that I find out how everyday items had been modified to help people with special needs, but I misunderstood this and thought I had to make the modifications myself,” she told Gulf News.

After watching a documentary about an American female pilot with arm disabilities who found it easier to fly a plane than drive, Reem decided she had to develop a car that for such people. It took her three months and a lot of learning via the Internet, but at the end, Reem had made a car, which people could control with their feet.

“When I took it to my professor, he said he could not give me a grade because I had not understood his instructions. But he said it was a ‘beautiful mistake’ that I should try to make available for people who might need it,” Reem said.

She is now participating in Innovator 2014, an exhibition by the Technology Development Committee, which hopes to encourage innovation among residents in the UAE. The final year student at UAE University said she hopes to meet investors who can help her take her idea to the next level.

“I have already developed a prototype, and would love it if anyone could show me how I make this development marketable. It would really help people with disabilities in both arms, because most people that I have come across in such a condition do not even imagine that they can drive, and I want to make it possible for them,” she said.

The vehicle’s steering wheel, which can be operated with the feet, uses an air pressure pump in place of the hydraulic mechanism most cars use.

“The steering faces more surface friction, but it makes it easier to control when using your feet. The prototype can reach speeds of up to 120 kilometres per hour,” the young inventor explained.

Reem has also got in touch with the American pilot whose documentary inspired her, and she hopes to demonstrate the vehicle to her soon.

“In the documentary, she said that it was easier for her to fly a plane than drive, and this felt wrong to me. This is why I worked on making the car,” Reem said.

The student also hopes to inspire people to work on their ideas.

“There is so much information available online today. If you have an idea, all that is needed is some research to make it work,” Reem said.

Innovator 2014, which is open to the public on Saturday, March 8, will see nearly 200 innovators like Reem display their projects at the Zayed Sports City.