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Mobile maze simulates spelunking
by Bob Armstrong  (Published in South Community Review - Winnipeg’s neighbourhood news Wednesday, April 2, 2003  Published by the Winnipeg Free Press)

Three Fort Richmond schools have been testing a made-in Winnipeg invention that could prove to be the climbing wall of the next decade.

Inventor George Roy has been watching elementary and high school students crawl through a plastic maze he calls a Mobile Spelunking System, a cave-in-a-box that allows people to sample the thrills of cave exploration anywhere.

“A climbing wall simulates climbing,” he says.  “This simulates spelunking.”

Last week, students in the leadership program at Fort Richmond Collegiate explored Roy’s Mobile Spelunking System.  During the winter, he took the plastic maze to Ryerson and Bairdmore schools, where children from kindergarten to grade 6 crawled through the tunnels.

The spelunking system (built on imperial measurements) is an eight-foot cube, consisting of four levels, each two feet high.  Each level is a maze of two-foot-wide tunnels, with holes that can connect to the levels above or below.  With a variety of entrances and exits, the system can be configured in many ways, creating a single 132-foot-long tunnel or a complicated maze full of twists and dead ends.


Fort Richmond Collegiate students have fun in the mobile spelunking system (left), while inventor George Roy talks to student Katie Dutfield (above, right).

Photos by Linda Vermette / Winnipeg Free Press
 

“There literally are millions of different ways of putting it all together,” says Roy, who has a degree in recreation and has worked in coaching and camping.

He envisions the mobile maze as a fun apparatus that also teaches important lessons.

“I really want to produce opportunities for children to learn that they can enjoy things, that they can accomplish things,” he says.

Challenging the tunnel can help a child to build confidence.  It also exercises the spatial-reasoning parts of the brain.  The tunnels and mazes can turn the tables in gym class, giving small students an edge over the big, muscular athletes.

The idea started off as a hand-held wooden puzzle.  Roy made a small box out of balsa wood with moveable panels inside.  The idea behind the box was to go through some mental exercise by maneuvering a ball bearing through the hand-held maze.

“Then I though , ‘What would this be like it it was life size?’”

He make his first version of the Mobile Spelunking System out of plywood and let a summer camp try it out.  It has been tested at the camp for two years, he says, “and it’s still a hit.”

Last year he began working on the next phase of the project, working with the Oakbank company Heartland Agrivent to develop mazes out of “no-sliver, no-wear, no-tear” polyethylene.

Once he has his first model complete, he met with Bairdmore School principal Janice Low and three of her staff, including phys ed teacher Darrel Dyck, and with Ryerson School principal Val Burch and phys ed teacher Wayne Scantlebury.

Whatever skepticism there may have been in the first discussion vanished when teachers saw children crawling through the tunnels and running back into line for more.  Teachers even ventured into the tunnel.   “It exceeded my expectations,” says Roy.

The test run with leadership students at Fort Richmond gave the inventor a chance to see how older kids respond to a more challenging configuration.

“It was so much fun,” said Richa Tandon, one of the first Fort Richmond students to try the maze.  Tandon, the smallest member of her team, helped guide taller teammates through the maze in a leadership exercise.

Teammate Krysten Leroux sees the Mobile Spelunking System as a potential hit:  “I could picture it at kids’ birthday parties.”

The test runs at the schools are helping prepare the product for the marketplace.  Roy expects to sell the full eight-foot-cube version to schools and camps for about $7,500, as well as producing a smaller and less expensive version for back yard use.

He’s looking forward to launching the product in the marketplace, but to the inventor it’s already been a success.

“I’m a bit of a kid at heart,”  he says.  “It was fun putting it together and fun seeing the kids go through it.”

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