Backyard Inventions Get Ready for the Big Time


"All I wanted to do was figure out a way to get Dad on his boat again," says Handicaptain inventor Adam Begley. When his father, a longtime boater, became wheelchair bound, Begley says he felt helpless when the rest of the family would have to leave his father sitting in a rocking chair on the shore while they all went off boating. "We tried everything – gang planks, slings – nothing was safe."

So Begley started looking at a shop hoist that could pick up heavy loads; none were made to move a person. That began his four-year quest to create the Handicaptain – an electrically powered hoist attached to a beam that is attached to an existing boat-hoist structure. It swings over and back from the dock, cantilevered over the boat so its user can operate it him or herself to gently and safely get in and out of a boat.

A life-long Northern Michigan resident now living in Leelanau County, Begley worked with Traverse City's Thompson Pharmacy and Trison Engineering to develop the product, and local patent attorney Jason Young helped Begley nab a patent this spring. The Handicaptain made its debut at this year's Traverse City Boat Show, where Begley talked with a dozen wheelchair-bound boaters, all of whom have contacted him for further information. Two, he says, are on the verge of purchasing the unit. Begley is optimistic that he has developed a product that would be not only important to his dad, but also one that could help other people to continue to enjoy boating. Depending on the size of the boat, the Handicaptain runs $5,000 to $8,000, which includes installation.

Call: 231.256.2117 – See a slideshow:


Snow Bully

The snow season may have come and gone, but a local, eco-friendly invention designed to plow snow and help with yard work was unveiled recently, and instead of burning gasoline, it burns calories. The Snow Bully, which made its debut this year at the Traverse City Home & Garden Show, is essentially a rectangular steel snowplow blade that sits on a frame atop four high-quality wheels mounted on ball-bearing axles. Thanks to the curved angle of its 36-inch blade, the Snow Bully rolls forward through the snow without need for pushing and easily moves 10 inches or more of snow – even up steep hills.

"This is as green as you can get," says Jerry Schichtel, inventor of the Snow Bully. "It doesn't burn gasoline, no carbon footprints, no tune ups, no maintenance, and it's made with ball bearing wheels that slide off easily to turn it into a garden and yard cart in the summer." Schichtel, along with his neighbor Paul Starner are partnering up as S&S Ventures, LLC, to sell the local invention. "Jerry and I are both committed not to just being made in the U.S.A. but made in Michigan. We're still looking for manufacturers in northern Michigan that have excess capacity due to the economy," says Starner.

The unit, which will retail for around $250, has already started in the patent process, and a website isn't far behind. The partners hope the Snow Bully will hit the retail market by fall of 2010. The plan is to ship directly to customers through a distribution process that the company has developed. "We are committed to helping small companies generate more revenue without a major investment in inventory, floor space or warehouse space and being able to start a personal sales business with little investment. This puts money into our local economies," Starner says.

Call: 231-929-7777


Controlled Air Module

Green technology is at work behind a new air ventilation, purification and heating unit for school classrooms that was invented by local businessman Jerry Sheren and is being researched and developed by Great Lakes Stainless in Traverse City. The Controlled Air Module could potentially save schools and other buildings considerable money on energy costs while making classrooms healthier. Here's the situation: Schools are required to have 10 cubic feet per minute of air (carbon dioxide) pulled from each classroom based on the number of students in the class. Many of the units in use today – typically large rooftop fans pulling inside air outside – are outdated and inefficient, more than half are stuck open or shut, and many leak air, says Terry Berden, owner of Great Lakes Stainless, the company that's crafting the steel housing for the units.

Not only does the Controlled Air Module exchange fresh outside air for stale warm indoor air, it has the potential to save up to 88 percent of the energy lost because it retains the heat from the stale air. It exchanges the energy but does not mix the two streams of air. A variable controlled speed fan continuously pulls the conditioned air across the hot-water coil and into the room.

It also utilizes oxidation technology that coats the air and pushes it out in to the room with an invisible "blanket" of hydro peroxide and hydroxides, which kill any bacteria on the room's surfaces. In tests of units in schools in the Chicago area for the past two years, the schools using the units had a 20-percent reduction in absences due to illness.

Two units were installed this past January in Traverse City's St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Middle School, and another test site is proposed at Immaculate Conception School, also in Traverse City. A single unit sits in each classroom and is only used when the room is occupied. The patent is pending and, with potential for worldwide marketing, the units will be produced by Great Lakes Stainless, bringing new jobs to the area while creating a healthier environment for students to learn. BN

Call: Terry Berden, 231.943.7648