October 2009

University of Rhode Island - Assistive Technology Devices

In 2002, NCIIA supported the creation of Assistive Technology Devices, a two-semester course at the University of Rhode Island. Within the course, interdisciplinary teams of engineering and business students create a novel assistive technology device aimed at the community abroad. Teams work through the entrepreneurial process of product design and commercialization and present the results to a group of businessmen and engineering alumni. The course has impressed faculty around campus, and URI is soon to offer a university-wide course based on the sequence.


Program structure and goals

Assistive Technology Devices is a two-course sequence in which multidisciplinary E-Teams comprised of undergraduate senior engineering and business students design, prototype and attempt to commercialize assistive technology devices.

At the beginning of the fall semester, faculty members from two engineering departments and the college of business administration offer a list of general topics to student teams. The topics come from problems suggested by the Slater Hospital, special-education schools, nursing homes, and physical therapy centers. A broad range of assistive technology issues are addressed:

  • Mobility enhancement
  • Communication
  • Environmental control
  • Access aid
  • Ability switches
  • Voice activation
  • Specialized sensors
  • Human-computer interface

Teams are asked to:

  1. Propose a novel device from one of the general topics, or propose their own.
  2. Perform patent searches and a marketing study to help them design products that have a good chance of commercialization.
  3. Come up with a detailed product design, making realistic estimates of manufacturing cost.

At the end of the first semester, teams submit a proposal that includes a short business plan, a design, a budget and a plan to build a working prototype. Through a competitive process, extra funding is awarded to the teams whose products have the best chance at commercialization. This money supports their work in the following semester in building prototypes, creating more detailed business plans, and seeking commercialization opportunities. At the end of the spring semester, all teams make presentations detailing the results of their development and commercialization efforts to a group of businessmen and engineering alumni, with the idea of attracting further support for the teams’ activities.

The overall goal of the program is to give participating students first-hand experience in the entrepreneurial process, with a focus on socially beneficial assistive devices. This process includes:

  • Risk-taking
  • Setting high goals
  • Performing a marketing study
  • Product development
  • Prototype development
  • Writing a business plan
  • Seeking commercialization opportunities

History and context
Since 2000, the Assistive Technology Laboratory at URI and the Slater Internship program have involved students in the research and development of assistive technology devices for use in the Rhode Island Slater Hospital. The patient population at the Slater Hospital consists mostly of quadriplegic, paraplegic and cerebral palsy patients. Examples of student-developed devices are:

  • A single-switch environmental control unit
  • A voice-activated environmental control unit
  • A voice-activated nurse call bell
  • An ultrasonic remote door control
  • Wearable ability switches
  • Multi-port sip-and-puff switches

Over time, engineering faculty members at URI realized that, while certainly valuable, the Slater Internship program was limited in scope because the student-developed devices were aimed only at hospital settings. Professor of Mechanical Engineering Dr. Musa Jouaneh re-developed the Assistive Technology Devices sequence to take the student innovations out of the hospital and apply them to the community at large. Says Dr. Jouaneh, “We wanted to open the program up to address the needs not only of the severely disabled, but also the elderly and moderately disabled individuals in the community at large.”

“Assistive device technology for everyday people in the community is not an area addressed much in industry. We wanted to come up with a way to help these people.”

E-Teams
E-Teams are required to be multidisciplinary, and must have engineers from at least two different engineering departments and one to two business students. In the first year of the course, four E-Teams formed from twenty-one students; in the second year, five teams formed from thirty-two students. Of those nine teams, four applied for Advanced E-Team funding, and though none were approved, one is resubmitting.

Innovative and entrepreneurial outcomes
Some examples of innovative assistive technology devices the E-Teams have developed are:

  • Self-lowering shelf assembly
  • Easy window opener
  • Automatic page-turner
  • Improved manual wheelchair drive system

Thus far none of the E-Teams have successfully commercialized their product, but the team developing the automatic page-turner is headed in that direction.

Challenges and lessons learned
One of the primary difficulties faced in the sequence is getting students from different disciplines to communicate and work as a team. Says Dr. Jouaneh, “Engineering students bring a different perspective to the table than management or marketing students. Reconciling the two and ensuring effective communication between team members can be a challenge.”

A second challenge arises from the less structured, open-ended nature of the sequence. “It’s a different type of course,” says Dr. Jouaneh. “In a lot of courses, the goals are very clear and the course structure is rigid. In Assistive Technology Devices, it’s up to the students to create their own opportunities. Some students struggle with that.”

Future prospects
The innovative approach of the Assistive Technology Devices has impressed faculty around campus, and URI is soon to offer a university-wide course similar to the sequence. The sequence itself continues to grow and develop.

Supplementary materials
Course syllabus

Curricular Models

Curricular Models are in-depth descriptions of NCIIA-supported course and program development projects.

Listed below are the currently highlighted models.

University of Rhode Island - Assistive Technology Devices

In 2002, NCIIA supported the creation of Assistive Technology Devices, a two-semester course at the University of Rhode Island. Within the course, interdisciplinary teams of engineering and business students create a novel assistive technology device aimed at the community abroad. Teams work through the entrepreneurial process of product design and commercialization and present the results to a group of businessmen and engineering alumni. The course has impressed faculty around campus, and URI is soon to offer a university-wide course based on the sequence. >>

Appalachian State University - Ergonomic Design for Special Populations

In Appalachian State University's Ergonomic Design for Special Populations, teams of students research the special population of their choice to determine the group's needs, problems, and the obstacles they face, then design an original product to solve one of the identified problems. Though Appalachian State lacks the resources to produce E-Teams that intend to commercialize products, several inventions have been produced in the class: an ergonomic keyboard, a hand-held MP3 player, and a shower hot air drying system for people with reduced mobility. Course enrollment grows each year, and the faculty hopes the course will become a requirement in the curriculum. >>

Clark Atlanta University - ENGR 110 Engineering Computer Graphics

In this project, an NCIIA planning grant supported the incorporation of E-Teams into the required introductory engineering design course at Clark Atlanta University. Professor Sriprakash Sarathy used a start-up venture model for the course, in which students formed E-Teams and competed against each other to solve a given problem. Four E-Teams formed in the pilot semester, all charged with developing a concept for a product, performing market research, and assessing cost and the price of their product. Though some E-Teams attempted to commercialize their products beyond the class timeframe, an improved support system needs to be in place for most students to pursue commercialization. >>

Ramapo College of New Jersey - Invention: Creative and Legal Perspectives

In this course, students form E-Teams and develop prototypes to solve problems based on everyday needs. The purpose of the course is to motivate students to invent, and supply them with the minimum expertise necessary to produce, market, and protect an invention. One E-Team from the pilot course, Photoworks, received Advanced E-Team funding to continue development of their inexpensive device for viewing, modifying and printing photos from positive or negative film. Ramapo's limited resources limit the frequency with which the course is offered, but it remains popular and quickly fills to capacity when available. >>

University of Colorado at Boulder - Creating Appropriate Technologies for the Developing World

In 2002, NCIIA funding supported development of the Center for Appropriate and Sustainable Technology (CAST) at UC Boulder. Two courses were modified using NCIIA funds: Engineering Projects and Sustainability and the Built Environment. In the courses students learn the basics of sustainability and create novel devices to combat water, sanitation, energy and health problems in developing communities. CAST is firmly established at UC, but according to program creator Dr. Bernard Amadei, there is much work to be done. >>

 

Global Entrepreneurship Week

NCIIA is pleased to be a partner of Global Entrepreneurship Week.

From November 16-22, Global Entrepreneurship Week will connect young people everywhere through local, national and global activities designed to help them explore their potential as self-starters and innovators.There are plenty of opportunities to be involved: take a look and register to be a partner!

Intellectual Property Primer

If you're responsible for creating or revising your institution’s intellectual policy (IP) statement, you may be wondering where to start. You can review policies from other institutions, but without a little background, the whole process can seem overwhelming.

We created this primer to give you a place to start. We interviewed IP professionals from a variety of backgrounds, and discovered that although they didn't always agree on the elements of a good policy, their ideas frequently overlapped.

Funding for breakthrough technologies that help people in poverty

The deadline for  Sustainable Vision grants proposals is October 16.

Sustainable Vision grants fund educational programs where breakthrough technologies are created and commercialized for the benefit of people living in poverty in the US and abroad. Grants of up to $50,000 are available for faculty at US universities.

Read about previously funded projects (like Penn State's Mashavu networked health system, right).

Read the guidelines and apply.