ORLANDO, Fla. (KFSN) --A wink, a grin, even a frown. Usually they're just expressions of how we're feeling. But thanks to a group of enterprising college students, one of those facial expressions is all it takes now for quadriplegics to steer their wheelchairs.
Charlie Merritt's reality shattered in an instant on a sunny august day in 2014 when he broke his neck diving into shallow water.
Merritt told Ivanhoe, "I remember floating in the water, face down, basically feeling like I was going to drown."
Paralyzed from the neck down, the former marine has been able to get around with the help of his wife and an expensive motorized wheelchair. But enterprising mechanical engineering students at the University of Central Florida had a better idea.
Joey Teblum, mechanical engineering student at the University of Central Florida in Orlando told Ivanhoe, "Since we're all students at first, it's a little scary because we see this device that we made being used by somebody. But then when we see it works perfectly, pretty much flawlessly, it's an amazing feeling."
They created a 3D device that controls wheelchairs with simple facial movements. Sensors attached to muscles send electrical 'commands' to direct Charlie's chair.
Christian Rodriguez, mechanical engineering student at the University of Central Florida in Orlando told Ivanhoe, "For people to just put it on and within five minutes, it's barely a learning curve for most, and just control it like they're using a joy stick with their hands."
Merritt explained, "For me, it gives me not only a sense of independence, but also that I'm not burdening the people around me to have to use their assistance."
Unlike other disability devices, the college senior design project, which is not yet being mass produced, is very affordable. This device will cost less than $400, compared to several thousand for similar designs.
It only took a year for the students to take the idea and turn it into reality. The design and technology come from Limbitless Solutions, a non-profit student group of University of Central Florida students. In 2014, the group unveiled and distributed $350 3D bionic arms for children at no cost.