On December 10, the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) Department held the fall-semester poster competition for its senior capstone design course, and the three winning teams produced a trio of brilliant and practical inventions aimed at solving key engineering problems. The three winning teams conceived of projects to increase the dexterity achievable by prosthetic limbs, improve healing for surface wounds in the elderly, and redesign brakes for wheelchairs to improve their ease of use and mobility.
During the fall semester, 22 teams of senior MIE students and some of their College of Nursing collaborators took their engineering ideas from the concept stage to the actual presentation of designs, climaxing in the contest during the poster session.
One of the two Judges’ Awards in the competition was won by the “Robotic Joints” year-long project team of Jordan Doucette, Ruairi Moore, and John Ditmore. As the three team members said in their final report, “In today's robotics industry, specifically pertaining to the field of prosthetics, robotic joints have a lot of limitations in the areas of dexterity and degrees of freedom. These limitations are generally the results of rigid actuators and simplistic joints. Current affordable prosthetic hands are limited to a single active degree of freedom in the fingers.”
To address these limitations, according to the team members, their project will increase the dexterity and degrees of freedom in prosthetic joints, which will greatly improve the range of motion for a prosthesis.
“The overall objective of this project is to create a more dexterous and affordable joint that allows for the incorporation of vibratory touch sensors and passive inputs,” wrote the team members in their report, which covered their work to design an innovative joint that can mimic the dexterity of its biological counterpart and will set up the spring-semester half of their project pertaining to design improvements and actuation integration.
The team of Alan Wu, Ismael Tahoun, James Blake, Eric Bater, and Grace Kromah-Saydee was the other Judges’ Winner with its “Renovare: Micro-Pump System.” As the team members said about their corporate sponsor for the project, “21st Biotech’s motivation for producing the Renovare Micropump System is to address the discomfort and lack of productivity induced from surface wounds, specifically on the elderly.”
The team members added that the effects of micromechanical stimulation on a portable pump system reduces the time to heal in the elderly. They wrote in their final report that “The minimum design goals are to design a pump that connects to a microfluidic channel network with no leakage, displacing operating liquids at a specified flowrate, for a desired amount of time.”
According to the team, the functionality of their product already exists on the medical market, however, not as portable first aid and “definitely not below the cost of $100 per item.” In response, “Renovare addresses the expensive price, size, and need for external equipment or a medical professional; cost will be less than $100, size will be smaller than your thumb, and [Renovare] will not need any external equipment or an accompanying medical professional.”
The “Wheelchair Adjustable Brake” system conceived by Panagiotis Androulidakis, Patrick Ryan, Sam Schmitt, Matt DelRosso, and Shifa Adhikari was the Peoples’ Choice winner at the contest. Their work is actually a redesign project, sponsored by Wheel Equal Inc., to improve on the wheelchair brake designed during an MIE capstone project last year. This semester’s team had last year’s working prototype in hand to make changes which would lengthen the lifespan of the brakes, improve their ease of use, and increase the wheelchair mobility. The updated design prototype was fabricated and validated.
The team members said that their new adjustable brake uses a push/pull lock system and is expected to be easily adjustable with wheelsets of varying diameters. “This is to eliminate the cost of repurchasing a wheelchair just because the tires are starting to wear off,” they wrote. “The wheels can be switched out and new sets can be attached without having to use any tools or modifying the frame or hub.”
In addition, a sliding tube connecting the clamp to the braking mechanism was incorporated into the design. This change provided for continuous adjustment that the previous mechanism lacked while also having the added benefit of being significantly less-expensive and time-consuming to manufacture. (January 2020)