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Seats designed by a University of Colorado Boulder engineering class for the Milwaukee Bucks are garnering national attention —including from other NBA teams. Players used to sit on folding chairs, and the new bench is temperature-controlled and height-adjustable. (Courtesy of Milwaukee Bucks)
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A University of Colorado Boulder class designed state-of-the-art seats for the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, and the design is gaining traction among other teams tired of cramming tall players into metal folding chairs.

Professor Jack Zable worked with the Bucks director of performance, Dr. Troy Flanagan, when Flanagan approached him in 2016 with a problem.

Bucks players were too tall for the folding chairs used for the team bench, and combined with the cold seats, Flanagan worried it was negatively impacting their performance.

“It was his idea to have seats that could adjust to any height, from the smallest basketball player to the tallest, and to have heating in the seats so the muscles in your legs would stay at a certain temperature, so when you got in the game after sitting for a while your muscles would be ready to go,” Zable said.

Bill Walton warms up before taking a seat to call the University of Colorado vs. Oregon men’s basketball game on Thursday. Walton during the game gave CU a shoutout for the heated, adjustable seats students designed for the Milwaukee Bucks.(Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Zable put a team of 10 students to work, including Garrett Cook, who is now a civil engineer in Denver.

“To see a bunch of our ideas, our teamwork and our collaboration come to life is really cool,” Cook said. “We were at the beginning of this project that might span throughout the NBA.”

Students tested and retested the ergonomics, the angles and the padding as well as heating mechanisms and how to raise and lower the seats.

The final product was 10 chairs powered by an electric motor to raise and lower them with the press of a button. Built-in heating elements keep players at a toasty 107 degrees, which Flanagan said is the ideal temperature based on research done with British cyclists.

“They’re the most over-engineered chair on the planet,” Flanagan said, laughing. “They’re pretty technical, even though they look great. There’s a lot of research and development behind them that makes them special.”

Flanagan said players love their seats, which were installed in the team’s new stadium in 2018.

“From a performance perspective, the players really feel like they’ve got an advantage by having chairs that are not only more ergonomic and don’t make you stiff but also keep you warm,” Flanagan said.

The Bucks’ bench is the envy of every visiting team, Flanagan said, and players from visiting teams often test them out and wish for their own. They even got a shout-out from Bill Walton during the CU vs. Oregon men’s basketball game on Thursday, and the Toronto Raptors are in the process of upgrading their bench from folding chairs to the same heated, adjustable seats.

Cook said his senior design class helped him learn to accept that his first attempt at solving a problem often isn’t the right way to do it.

“You can have a really good idea, but the client’s idea is always changing and even though they may like your initial design, it’s important to keep an open mind and keep a bunch of ideas in your back pocket,” Cook said.

Zable is still teaching senior design classes, and this year his students are working on designing a non-electric heating pad that stays at 120 degrees for two hours.

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