The University of Massachusetts Amherst
University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Three Prize-winning MIE Senior Design Projects Are Useful and Humanitarian

Best year-long team: Convertible snowboard to ski boot prototype from the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department's Fall Senior Design Competition
Most popular team: wheelchair brakes prototype from the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department's Fall Senior Design Competition

The Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) Department recently held its fall-semester poster contest, and the three winning teams produced a trio of brilliant and practical inventions aimed at solving key engineering problems. The three winning teams conceived an inexpensive and comfortable alternative to ski boots, an assistive steering aid for a physically challenged young boy and his power chair, and a nifty wheelchair brake redesign.

During the fall semester, 21 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 during the poster session. The course was taught this semester by Professor Stephen de Bruyn Kops and Senior Lecturer Bernd F. Schliemann.

The prize for the Best Year-long Team went to Team 6 and its Snowboard Boot to Ski Binding Adapter. The winning team was composed of Derek Gaines, Jeremy Hall, Serena Russell, Meghan Glade, and Jonathan Zuber.

“The goal of this project is to develop an alternative to currently available ski boots that makes skiing cheaper and more comfortable without compromising user safety or experience,” as the team members wrote. “The final design is an adaptive binding which interfaces between widely available snowboard boots and modern ski bindings, affording the user the comfort of a snowboard boot with the functionality of a ski boot.”

The design consists of a base structure and ankle support brace made out of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, as well as three fastening straps which secure the snowboard boot within the binding. The base adheres to the geometric requirements described by the relevant International Organization for Standardization criteria to ensure proper fit with all standard ski bindings.

“In accordance with maintaining standard applications of ski boots, ankle support, and other general functionality, the boot must be up to par with existing ski boots,” said the team members. “The three straps allow the design to be adjustable to shoes of different sizes and also play the important role of securing the user to the binding. Future iterations of this project could focus on examining the large-scale manufacturability of this product and further increasing its compatibility with a wider variety of snowboard boots.”

The award for the Best Semester Team was presented to a nursing collaborative of Matthew Short, Michael Horner, Joon Koo, Cooper Lerner, and Maura Doherty, who together produced a Power Chair Steering Device for a five-year-old boy named Carter with debilitating nemaline myopathy.

“Due to his condition, he has little to no muscle growth and cannot control his power chair,” explained the team about the need for its new device. “The current chair is configured with a standard armrest and joystick, which requires more strength and control than Carter can provide.”

The group aimed to design a fixture or support which better positions Carter’s hand for joystick operation, while also significantly relieving pressure on his arm and aiding with prolonged use. The team had to become familiar with Carter’s range of movement and strength, which led to brainstorming for ideas.

As the team members concurred, “After multiple design iterations, a final over-arm sling fixture was decided upon, analyzed, and fabricated. The fixture was tested for both physical and emotional specifications. It was not enough to simply test if the sling improved movement, it also had to make Carter comfortable and happy.”

The final prototype is a non-invasive, easy-to-install, assistive steering device that allows Carter the freedom to manipulate the joystick in a controlled manner.

The prize for the Most Popular Invention was assigned to Team 8, which came up with a clever new design for wheel chair brakes. “The main objectives of the brake design are to recreate the mechanism so that it better secures to the frame of the wheelchair, can be easily adjusted for varying wheel diameters, and is functional for riders with limited mobility,” wrote team members Olivia Mosolgo, Joshua St. Martin, Miles Reto, Tanner Oliveira, and Samantha LeValley.

The wheelchair brake-redesign project is a year-long project sponsored by Wheel Equal Inc. that focuses on reconfiguring the current braking system on standard wheelchairs. In the fall, the project’s focus is redesigning the existing brake mechanism and developing a three-dimensional prototype. In the spring, the focus will be shifted to manufacturing, testing, and preparing the final prototype for market distribution.

“The overall goal of the project is to redevelop the brakes so that riders have chairs with longer lifetime, better ease of use, and increased mobility,” as the team explained. “Two wheelchairs donated by Ki Mobility are used for sizing requirements and will be used for testing when the final prototype is developed.” (January 2019)