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Ford donates Transit Connect van to CDR WellCar project

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

LAWRENCE — What started as a University of Kansas Center for Design Research request to use the design of a vehicle as the basis of a project called the WellCar has resulted in a donation of the real thing — a Ford Transit Connect van.  

Ford recently delivered a brand new Ford Transit Connect van to the CDR on Bob Billings Parkway. The van will be used by CDR Director Greg Thomas and students in his ADS 560 Topics in Design class to develop the first functioning prototype of the WellCar, a vehicle that will enable nurse practitioners to bring an array of comprehensive, prevention-based patient care services to the doorsteps of rural patients.

A WellCar prototype is scheduled to hit the road early in 2015.

“A number of other companies such as Abbott Point of Care, Vidyo, Sprint, Cornerstone Integration and Intel had already agreed to support the project,” Thomas said. “So we needed a vehicle, and now we have one. The fact that Ford donated this vehicle is incredible external validation of our WellCar concept.”

The WellCar Transit Connect will be equipped with several medical devices. The van will be set up to transfer medical data securely through its own Wi-Fi hotspot to a hospital for immediate evaluation. A nurse practitioner can then administer treatment, including prescribed medications, if needed.

But Thomas specifically did not want a large van. He wanted a discreet vehicle, one that would not draw undue attention to the fact that a person was being seen by a health care professional.

“The CDR had already done several projects with Ford, so we were aware of the Transit Connect,” Thomas said. “It was the only van we found interiors that were completely private, whose interior could be customized to meet our needs.”

So last October, Thomas reached out to ask Ford’s permission to use the Transit Connection as the basis for the WellCar’s design. To his surprise they offered to donate a van. In May, a Ford vehicle transfer truck backed up to the CDR with a special delivery for Thomas: a brand new Transit Connect.

“We are pleased to work with the University of Kansas,” said Minyang Jiang, Ford brand manager for Transit Connect, Transit and E-Series. “Transit Connect is a proven compact van that offers a unique combination of efficiency, cargo capacity and maneuverability, making it a great fit for the WellCar program.” 

Students enrolled in Thomas’s industrial design and engineering studio will create the specifications for the installation of medical equipment, then integrate the equipment and connectivity into the WellCar Transit Connect. Upfitting will be completed by Kranz Truck Equipment in Kansas City, Missouri.

“This is a great opportunity for students to work on a real-world project that will specifically enhance health care in rural areas,” Thomas said. “They will conceptualize it, plan it and then figure out how to incorporate and design technologies into the WellCar.”

The Center for Design Research is part of the KU School of Architecture, Design & Planning.  

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