“You take a problem and you look at it from every direction. Then you come up with various solutions, and right away you start crossing them off the list. That’s what engineers do.”
So said Kevin King, a senior in mechanical engineering at Rice University and a member of Team Fab Assistants, which took first place in the first-ever Innovate Design-A-Thon in the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen and Brockman Hall. More than 100 students from Rice and four other universities participated in the Sept. 2-4 event, modeled on the traditional code-based hackathon.
The challenge was to design assistive devices for adults and children with disabilities; more than 20 guest mentors and judges shared their expertise.
“The response was overwhelming,” said Maria Oden, OEDK director and a professor in the practice of engineering education. “So many students were happy to give up their Labor Day weekend and work on projects for people with disabilities. It’s more of a success than we ever expected.”
Team Fab Assistants developed a single-handed solution for drawing medication with a syringe and self-administering. The other members, all seniors at Rice, are Helen Little, chemical and biomolecular engineering; Isaac Phillips, mechanical engineering; and Anoosha Moturu, cognitive science. Each received a $100 gift card.
The Best Prototype Award went to Team SPLRJJ-AFORD, which developed an ankle-foot arthrosis retention device. The members are engineering sophomore Sonia Mulayath, chemical and biomolecular engineering sophomore Jonathan Pan, chemical and biomolecular engineering junior Ryan Parks and bioengineering sophomore Patricia Thai, all at Rice; and Laura Kim, a graduate student in physical therapy at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. Each received a $50 gift card.
“AFORD stands for Ankle-Foot Orthosis Retention Device,” Mulayath said. “It’s an orthopedic device that stabilizes leg motion and normalizes gait. Some patients lack the fine motor skills needed to keep the AFO in place and put their feet inside. We created a frame that keeps the AFO steady and attached a mechanism to open it up with only one hand.”
The Best Presentation Award went to Team The Smooth Move, which devised an innovative bed-positioning system. The members are Rice engineering sophomore Sophia D’Amico, Rice bioengineering seniors Kathleen Francis, Sharon Ghelman and Jessica Griffiths, and Brittney Burton, a graduate student in occupational therapy at Texas Woman’s University. Each received a $50 gift card.
“It’s easy for us to forget the challenges people with disabilities face,” said OEDK lecturer Matthew Wettergreen. “There are so many simple things that could make their lives easier, like a convenient way to change channels on a TV, or a way to work the dial on a washing machine. If you’re visually impaired, you may not see the little arrow.”
Occupational and physical therapy students from the University of Houston and the University of Texas at Dallas also participated. The volunteer panelists, judges and team mentors represented academia, health care and industry. Funding for the Innovate Design-A-Thon was provided by the office of the Dean of the George R. Brown School of Engineering at Rice.