Unlike most cold-climate wheelers, Dave Kott can’t wait until the first snowfall at his Minnesota home. It’s then that he can put to the test his newly improved, homemade snow plow that runs with the use of actuators, similar to his Wheelchair Reacher. Now, if you just envisioned one of those handheld reacher/grabber gizmos, you need to think on a much larger, holy-smokes scale, because his inventions are destined to change the way we get things done from the seat of our chairs.
Modeled after how an excavator works, Kott’s Reacher can lift, move and haul items up to 40 pounds. That means everything from picking up a dropped screw in his workshop to hauling trash barrels down his driveway. A toggle manipulates actuators that work the unit, which is fitted with a claw at the end. The actuators are similar to a vehicle hydraulic actuator that opens and closes a hatchback, but is motorized. The wooden base, using old wheelchair wheels, will soon be made out of metal.
Road to Fruition
A master plumber, Kott was running a successful contracting business when he sustained a C5-6 complete injury in a 2006 dirt bike accident. He has made small steps in the 10 years since, working toward a new livelihood.
“I started the plumbing up again but didn’t like just managing things,” explains Kott. “I began taking general classes toward an engineering degree but decided that wasn’t the road. Because I really liked the drafting and computer-aided design work I had done, I switched to that to build things.”
Unable to move his fingers and with limited hand use, Kott knew he needed adaptive shop tools to create his ideas. He and a friend developed simple adaptations — including a handle on a saw and a piece to hold wood while drilling — to allow him to work more on his own.
“It started there and I kept picking at things and moved further along and eventually was able to do more and more on my own,” he says. “All the while I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do for a living. I knew it wasn’t sitting behind a desk. I wanted to be in the shop, but was like, ‘Who’s going to hire me in their shop?’”
He designed his Wheelchair Reacher in his head five years ago and waited until he could afford the Fusion360 software and cutting system needed to bring the mechanical device to reality. In early 2013, Kott sold his house to move in with his girlfriend but was sidelined by a pressure ulcer that took two years and surgery to heal.
In mid-2015, Kott used $18,000 of equity from his house sale to purchase a CNC plasma-cutting table, which includes a computer, plasma torch and cutting table. This setup enables him to design what he envisions onscreen, and with a tap on his keyboard, send data to start the cutter.
Kott also creates and sells fire pits at art fairs and does custom artistic signage and decorative elements for the home. He recently began working with a snow plow company — making parts for its plows — and eventually wants to expand to hire employees. He envisions a scale version of the Reacher that would fit onto a power chair arm and run off its toggle. He has a part time employee now and would like to grow his business.
“This is a very broad industry, but that’s the challenge of it,” Kott says. “It’s going to be a lot of trial and error, learning the best applications for customers.”
Kott is excited to try out his new snow plow, but, as with any mechanicals, knows there may be bugs to work out.
“There’s always some things that may break or not work, but I can fix anything as I go,” he says.
As for stressing his Permobil C300, Kott says in seven years he’s only had to replace one gearbox, as he keeps everything under the chair weight limit.
Soon, after the first good snowfall, he will go from using a wooden plow base that attached to his chair with store-bought gate latches, to a new metal unit fitted with latches he created himself that automatically attaches when he drives up to it. Using a 42-inch Craftsman plow blade, instead of engaging the tilt on his wheelchair to dump as with the previous prototype, he’ll toggle the new unit to lift up as he moves forward to dump the fresh, white snow.