Assistive Technologies (ATs) can be the single most important factor in determining whether people with disabilities can participate fully in society. However, the abandonment rate for new ATs is disconcertingly high, with inappropriate design for the user being one of the most common reasons for failure.
The University of Pittsburgh’s Human Engineering Research Laboratory (HERL), which marries efforts on research- and user-driven innovations with the expertise of outside business collaborators, has had success commercializing ATs in the past, with five spin-offs to its name. This proposal seeks funding to augment a current NSF-funded HERL program, called Research Experience for Undergraduates, to support projects and educational activities related specifically to AT product development done by undergraduates. NCIIA funding will be used to support multidisciplinary teams of undergraduates working on innovation-focused projects, workshops focused on design innovation and commercialization, and tours of local companies that support early-stage product design in the AT industry.
The ultimate goal of the expanded program is the development of highly promising AT products that can be launched after completion of the NCIIA-funded project, improving the quality and increasing the quantity of highly impactful ATs.
The Center for Critical Care Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh discovered that some patients experience decompensation during transport while on oxygen support. Decompensation is a life-threatening problem that occurs when a patient's oxygen supply tubing develops a kink or when oxygen depletes within the storage cylinders. No device exists to indicate the flow of oxygen through a patient's tube. In fact, the only current method of determining if a patient is experiencing decompensation is to see if their face turns blue.
In response to this need for an oxygen flow monitor, this E-Team developed the Spindicator, a device made up of a cylindrical tube, an inline impeller, and gas inlet/outlet. Oxygen flowing through the tube forces the impeller to spin. To make impeller monitoring easy, the team painted the impeller two distinct colors that a person can detect from a minimum of six feet away. If the device fails, the inline impeller design facilitates oxygen flow to the patient. The Spindicator attaches to the nasal attachment or face mask just below the patient's face.
At a preliminary survey at the UPMC Presbyterian Hospital, 72% of those surveyed expressed extreme support of the product. Across the US, about 1,500 hospitals need to provide oxygen to approximately sixty-six million patients. If the Spindicator sold for $5 to $10, hospitals would pay only $250,000 to $440,000 each year for the product.
The team originated from a NCIIA-funded class, Product Realization. Three undergraduate students, with skills in mechanical and industrial engineering, worked on the team. They worked with four engineering school advisors and two medical/industry advisors. One of these advisors is a doctor from UPMC Presbyterian and headed the clinical trial for Spindicator.
According to the American Hospital Association, there are 6,400 hospitals in the US, and most of them own endoscopic equipment. Endoscopes and laparoscopes are narrow, tube-shaped optical devices that allow surgeons to see inside a patient's body without making incisions. The devices minimize trauma in surgery and therefore shorten patient recovery time. However, scope performance depends on the image quality they deliver, and many factors contribute to image quality deterioration, including collision with alien objects, poor maintenance, and the heat and chemicals used in cleaning and sterilization procedures. Currently, hospitals have no tool to ensure scope performance by evaluating and monitoring image quality.
To fill this need, this E-Team developed an image quality analyzer that facilitates efficient and automatic evaluation of the image quality of scopes. With the analyzer, hospitals can ensure the quality of endoscopic surgery and track the performance of scopes over time. Performance data shows optimal maintenance procedures and when replacement is necessary.
The E-Team consisted of two graduate students in engineering. They worked with an industrial engineering faculty member and the director of minimal invasive surgery at the Magee-Women's Hospital in Pittsburgh.
JackHeat is a self-heating, lightweight jacket. The E-Team successfully developed a prototype, made possible through the discovery of a new carbon-based material, Gorix, which allows heat to pass through evenly while using a minimal amount of battery power.
The E-Team consisted of two students from computer engineering and a third from marketing. Their faculty advisors were three engineering professors and one from marketing. One of their three industry advisors is the inventor of Gorix. They hope to enter the market as the first self-heating, general consumer-oriented jacket, offering a variety of additional skins for increased profitability.
This E-Team developed a unique security system that allows a person who is permitted entry through a door to have access without requiring the use of a key, card, or other device. The device is a small mountable electronic chip or substrate that can be placed on the back of a watch or other personal item. The chip communicates with the base station lock to unlock the door.
Three undergraduate students were on this E-Team, with skills in electrical engineering, manufacturing, object-oriented solutions, advanced product development and testing, and understanding of interfacing and systems integration. Three faculty advisors in electrical and industrial engineering assisted the team.
This E-Team developed a prototype for a system that establishes a network of wireless devices within a small area using very low power and RF radio transmission. The transmission distances may range from a few inches to a few meters.
Communication over short distances with very low power creates a wide array of new applications of RF technology. The applications for this technology are diverse, ranging from wireless patient monitoring devices to food safety monitoring for the meat industry. The technology originated in a funded E-Team course EE1185, Microprocessor Systems.
The E-Team plans to develop a prototype and perform a market study on the device. Members of the E-Team are computer and electrical engineering students.
This E-Team designed, constructed and evaluated a prototype wear simulator for the testing of ankle joint replacement components. The wear testing of joint replacement implants is important for evaluating the durability of the components and for studying the wear particles that are generated. Wear testing machines are available for hip and knee implants, but not the ankle implant, which is a new product.
While solar energy is an attractive option to provide the green energy of the future, it remains burdened by high installation costs and hasn’t been as widely adopted as it should be. Part of the problem is the physical process of installation: solar panels require mounting brackets, outside breakers and ground connections, and holes through walls for the wires. This E-Team is looking to reduce the cost of installing solar panels by developing a method to transmit solar energy wirelessly from outdoor solar panels to an indoor storage unit. The team is building on a novel wireless technology called WiTricity, which is capable of transmitting energy through walls without direct cable connections. With NCIIA funding the team will create a proof-of-concept prototype, research target markets and applications for the technology, and move toward commercialization by writing a business plan and securing IP.
Design for the Environment (DfE) is a specific set of design practices aimed at creating eco-efficient products and processes. Having recently begun to develop and teach a handful of sustainability courses, Pitt faculty have recently been tasked with forming the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering's Sustainability and Green Design Group (SGD).
With this grant, Pitt faculty will develop a new semester-long DfE course aimed at introducing students to DfE tools, real world industry sustainability challenges, and lab experiences. The course will culminate in the judging of multidisciplinary student team business plans and proposed projects. Winning teams will be granted summer residencies, a two-month period in which they will implement their project and create a prototype. Teams will partner with local green organizations and industries who will serve as potential sites and resources to other companies interested in participating in the course. The teams will present the results of their projects at the Student Industrial Ecology Conference.
This E-Team developed Powercast, technology that powers small electronic devices by electricity broadcast through the air. A transmitter plugs into the wall, and a dime-size receiver can be embedded into any low-voltage device. The receiver turns radio waves into DC electricity, recharging the device's battery at a distance of up to three feet.
Markets abound for Powercast, ranging from cell phones to lighting to pacemakers and defibrillators. The team has partnered with electronics giant Philips, and recently won Best of Show at the 2007 Consumer Electronics Exposition in Las Vegas.