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2016

List of projects undertaken in the year 2016. This includes volunteer, capstone, and class projects.

Chiming In

Leo Mitchell

The Need


People who are unable to communicate using their voices, sign language, or computer interfaces often send signals using switches. These signals can be used for many purposes, including controlling lights or communicating. A young student at The Carter School has a form of Cerebral Palsy that makes it difficult to exert more than a small amount of force, making it difficult for him to operate mechanical switches. Alternative switches, based on light or other signals, require too much fine motor control for this student to operate.

The Project


This chime-based switch allows the student to send a signal by brushing his hand along a collection of hanging chimes—a solution inspired by his love of wind chimes. Taking into account his limited fine motor control, our team designed a switch that is activated by capacitive touch sensing. The design includes a custom, laser-cut acrylic frame, 16 chimes, an Arduino microcontroller, and earphone jacks.

Current Status


The design is complete and was tested by two students at the Carter School. The group received useful feedback that will be used to improve the design in the future.

Smart Walker

Leo Mitchell

The Need

Many people go through physical therapy after an injury to regain their ability to walk. A walker is an essential tool for physical therapists who are helping patients recover from leg or back injuries, regain their sense of balance, or need to build strength in order to walk unassisted. Walkers allow them to build strength while maintaining mobility. A disadvantage to using walkers therapeutically is that they don't provide feedback to patients or their therapists about how much patients are depending on the walker throughout the course of rehabilitation.

The Project

The Smart Walker is a standard walker that has been adapted with pressure sensors that indicate the extent to which a user is leaning on each side. There is a bar mount that holds a tablet, which has an app installed that was developed by the team. It provides user-friendly infographics to display the patterns of an individual's walker dependence. When Wi-Fi is available, the data is also stored in an SQL database that a therapist can access for further analysis. In addition to displaying historical use data, the Smart Walker provides real-time feedback to help patients correct their alignment, graphs that show the cumulative time spent leaning in each direction, and the ability to post comments to enable clinician-patient communication between in-person sessions.

Current Status

The current prototype is complete.

Adaptive Cycling

Leo Mitchell

The Need

Individuals with multiple sclerosis often have decreased or unreliable control over the muscles in their legs. While riding a bike, their knees can swing inward and outward as they make a pedaling motion. Strong knee support is required to keep the rider’s legs stable enough to pedal.

The Project

The team developed a joint fixture that stabilizes a bike rider’s knees. The design integrates a pedal base, attachment plate, support joint, anchor plate and physical support, all centered around the pedal base. The device is made out of aluminum and ABS plastic, which were shaped using a bandsaw and milling machine. Compared to previous designs, their approach is more stable and not prone to common mechanical failures. The device is adjustable for users of varying heights and can be securely fastened to any foot pedal.

Current Status

The prototype is complete and was tested.

FITboard

Leo Mitchell

The Need

A major problem in pediatric rehabilitation is the lack of accessible, affordable, home-based interventions that motivate children to adhere to their physical therapy routines. Existing solutions are often too expensive for regular home use or not accessible for children with disabilities.

The Project

The FITBoard (Fun, Interactive Therapy Board) is a low-cost, motivating rehabilitation tool for children with disabilities. The FITBoard consists of a laptop and custom, 3Dprinted, modular pieces that can be assembled by parents or therapists in different ways. Each piece contains a variety of touchbased interfaces that control sounds, videos, or games, all of which can be configured to meet differing interests and abilities. The FITBoard embodies the beneficial features of tablets (gaming, motivating aesthetics) and of VR systems (novelty, therapeutically relevant movements), and it implements these mechanics in a simple, physical intervention. Children interact with the FITBoard by physically contacting any of a wide variety of low-cost, conductive materials (i.e. play dough, magnets, fruit) on the board with any part of their body. This physical contact produces visual, auditory, and/or game interaction rewards that are displayed on a computer screen.

Current Status

Three prototypes have been developed and tested by end users. The team is currently working on improvements and expansion based on the feedback they have received.

GlucoSense

Leo Mitchell

The Need

Over 380 million people in the world suffer from Diabetes Mellitus, and its prevalence is expected to double in the next decade. The most common method of self monitoring requires invasive finger pricking, which can be painful and lead to bruising, loss of sensitivity in the affected nerves, and blood-borne infections. Alternative solutions based on optical technologies are expensive. There is demand for a glucosemonitoring method that is more comfortable for patients.

The Project

This project measures glucose concentration from a saliva sample detected by a biosensor developed by Prof. Wang. The design uses a potentiostat circuit that interfaces with the sensor and performs an amperometric measurement by applying a constant bias potential between the working and reference electrodes via a digital-to-analog converter. The sensor signal is conditioned through a three-stage amplifier and a filtering circuit that helps achieve high resolution. The signal is sampled and integrated in firmware to acquire a current density that is linearly proportional to the concentration of glucose present in the saliva sample applied. The correlated salivary glucose concentration is then displayed on the LCD. An iOS app was developed that takes in a user’s correlated blood glucose level and interfaces with Apple’s HealthKit to provide secure data storage and features such as temporal plots and sharing of glucose readings with family members and health professionals.

Current Status

The project is complete and the project won a prize at the 2016 ECE Design Competition.

Go Baby Go

Leo Mitchell

The Need

A 5-year-old girl has Leigh’s Disease, which affects her body’s muscular system. Without the ability to control her movements, she can’t move where she wants to go. A common challenge for kids with mobility disabilities is their inability to move independently, which limits their ability to socialize with their peers.

The Project

The goal was to develop a way for the girl to move independently and socialize with her peers. The project built on the work of “Go Baby Go!”, a national program that encourages engineers and inventors to modify toy ride-on cars for young children with disabilities that affect their mobility. The little red fire truck was modified from the template developed by Dr. Cole Galloway, a professor at the University of Delaware. The fire truck was adapted to include a modified movement switch and PVC supports that allow the girl to rest her head while keeping her secure inside the car. Parents or teachers can also pull her around using built-in tow hooks. A Velcro-based restraint system keeps her safe in her seat, and it can be modified easily as she grows.

Current Status

The prototype is complete and was successfully tested by three students at the South Shore Educational Collaborative.

Hospital Sleep Tracker

Leo Mitchell

The Need

Caregivers and nurses often have to watch over several patients at once. When patients are asleep, nurses have to wake them to administer medications and prevent bed sores. Patients, like many people, are often difficult to wake and become grumpy or groggy if forced out of a deep sleep. If patients' sleep is tracked, caretakers can identify and take advantage of light sleep cycles to wake patients. Studies have shown that sleep quality is closely linked to immune system function, susceptibility to diabetes and a host of cardiac diseases, and mental function.There are currently no cost-effective sleep tracking devices on the market for healthcare environments like hospitals and nursing homes. Integrating a means of sleep tracking would empower care providers to consider sleep duration and quality as an additional patient metric to improve the quality of care they deliver.

The Project

The group developed a sleep tracking system composed of a 3-axis accelerometer that reports motion data to a wireless microcontroller. The system is designed to be secured permanently to a mattress, where it monitors a patient’s body movements, reports whether or not the patient is sleeping, and if they are, estimates the stage of sleep. Designed for permanence, the tracker requires no setup between patients after it is initially installed.

Current Status

The hardware is complete and the group is developing software algorithms that make sense of the raw data they are now collecting. They have begun working with Northeastern’s IDEA entrepreneurship organization to understand the market, gauge interest in the product, and plan next steps.

User-Operated Hoyer Lift

Leo Mitchell

The Need

Hoyer Lifts are used in hospitals, homes, and nursing homes to move people with low mobility between positions (bed to wheelchair, chair to toilet, etc.). Conventional hoyer lifts require a second person who can manually operate the machine to assist. When a person requires assistance to operate the device that places their body where they want it, their sense of independence suffers—particularly when the bathroom is involved and privacy is a concern. In home health environments where patients have to hire assistance, there is also an additional cost concern.

The Project

This team seeks to provide a more affordable method for paraplegic patients to exercise autonomy over their bodies. They have designed the User-Operated Hoyer Lift, which features easy to use, joystick style controls that allow the user to operate the device independently. The reduced cost and increased independence afforded by an autonomous Hoyer lift will increase users’ quality of life. The prototype consists of a standard Hoyer Lift retrofitted with motors to provide translational motion and a linear actuator to provide lift. The group designed and machined custom fasteners for these new parts.

Current Status

An initial prototype has been completed, and the group plans to allow end users to test the device to guide the revision process.

Oculus Physical Therapy

Leo Mitchell

The Need

Hemispatial neglect is a common impairment that patients face after having a stroke in the right cerebral hemisphere. The condition is characterized by an inability to process and perceive the left visual field, even though both eyes continue to function normally. It is often possible to recover from hemispatial neglect— physical therapy treatments include promoting visual scanning strategies and sustaining visual attention in the affected portion of the visual field. Unfortunately, therapy sessions are short, the exercises involved begin to feel arbitrary and tedious quickly, and patients commonly don’t adhere to the at-home therapy schedule prescribed to them.

The Project

Following a needs assessment with therapists and researchers, the team developed a prototype for two VR games, which patients can play using an Oculus Rift VR headset. A Leap Motion camera is mounted on top to track hand and arm movements. The games encourage the same visual exercises achieved by conventional therapy, but the novelty of the immersive games makes the exercises significantly more engaging. The digital nature of the games also allowed the team to develop performance metrics, which give therapists a window into their patients’ progress at home. By gamifying the physical therapy regime for spatial neglect, the team has demonstrated the potential of applying VR technology to physical therapy.

Current Status

The project is complete.

Parkinson’s Cup

Leo Mitchell

The Need

Parkinson's Disease affects muscle control, and when it extends to the epiglottis, it causes difficulty swallowing—also known as dysphagia. When it causes someone to inhale their food or liquid accidentally, dysphagia can cause aspiration pneumonia, a life-threatening condition characterized by inflamed or infected airways and lungs. When people tip their heads backwards to drink, the probability of accidentally inhaling liquid increases dramatically. This holds true for patients with dysphagia, where the chances of inhalation are already higher than normal. Aspiration pneumonia is the leading cause of death for patients with Parkinson’s Disease, which is why there is a need for a drinking system designed specifically to prevent aspiration pneumonia.

The Project

The Parkinson’s Cup is designed to make every sip like the first sip out of a normal cup—by keeping the liquid level high, the cup ensures that patients don’t have to tip their heads farther back and raise their chances of inhalation as they work through a drink. The design features a 3D printed cup with a plastic lining, which is pushed up by a moveable platform to lift the liquid inside as it’s consumed. The result is reduced risk of liquid entering the airway and traveling to the lungs. Considering the prevalence of hand tremors in patients with Parkinson’s, the cup also features a lid, which protects from spills and regulates the liquid flow to ensure that sips never become accidental gulps.

Current Status

The prototype is complete and was successfully tested by end users at the Peterborough Senior Center.

Sensory Cube

Leo Mitchell

The Need

Children with disabilities often have limited opportunities to experience sensory stimulation. As a result, they develop more slowly than other children. Clinicians at the For His Children orphanage in Ecuador requested a device that would enhance the sensory experience of children with disabilities at the center. They wanted it to enable the children to participate in activities that engage their auditory, vestibular, tactile, and visual senses, and also to encourage them to interact with other children.

The Project

The team built two sensory cubes. The first cube was designed to provide exciting stimulation for children with low tone, who need the positive stimulation and sensory system development. This cube was comprised of bright colors, bumpy/rough textures, percussion instruments, and more. The second cube was designed be calming for children with high muscle tone and high levels of stress and anxiety. The calming cube was designed with muted colors, soft/ smooth textures, calming instruments like a rain stick, and more.

Current Status

Both cubes were delivered to the orphanage in March, 2016. They were used successfully in therapies for the children and suggested modifications were recorded for future iterations.

WHAM Activity Monitor

Leo Mitchell

The Need

Virtual reality active videogames (AVGs) are popular physical therapy interventions for children with hemiplegic cerebral palsy because they motivate children to engage in repetitive arm movements. However, adherence to homebased AVG exercise programs is low and therapists require a way of monitoring children’s game play to adjust game difficulty and provide motivating feedback.

The Project

The team developed the Wireless Home Activity Monitor, or WHAM for short. The device uses an Arduino microcontroller, a 3-axis accelerometer, and an optical heart rate monitor to measure and report heart rate and movement data. An iOS app calibrates the sensors, detects movement, and cues the player to record game information and respond to survey questions. The measurements are sent to an online database that has a web interface to display the data in readable form for therapists, who use the information to make decisions about exercise progression. The data is also used to give users positive reinforcement during game play.

Current Status

The current prototype won the RISE 2016 award for innovation in undergraduate engineering and technology. The team is iterating on their work to improve the prototype.

Touchscreen Guard (v2)

Leo Mitchell

The Need

Children with developmental delays take therapeutic classes that use tablets. When using the tablets, children often have trouble locating and pressing the on-screen buttons. Sometimes they press a different button than they intend to. Teachers at the South Shore Educational Collaborative needed button guides that make it easier for children to identify and select the items on the screen during a lesson. The guides need to be easy for teachers to place and remove, hard for children to remove, and flexible enough to be customized for each software application.

The Project

The team developed a collection of 3D-printed button guards that adhere to a tablet screen. The guards have sloped sides that guide children’s fingers toward the center of each button. Microsuction tape on the back of each guard secures it in place and allows teachers to remove and reposition it easily. The specialzed tape is designed to be removed and reapplied many times without losing its ability to adhere. The guards come in variety of sizes and can be positioned to accommodate a range of tablet software packages.

Current Status

The prototypes have been developed and successfully tested by end users at the South Shore Educational Collaborative.

Large Lite Brite

Leo Mitchell

The Need

Kids with severe developmental delays are not able to use the same toys that kids without disabilities are able to use. Most of their limitations are so severe that they have very little motor control, verbal communication skills, and vision. These children have few opportunities to affect their environment and receive stimulus in response. The children at the Carter School of Boston are the one percent of disabled kids with most severe needs. The Carter School students need a toy that meets them at their cognitive abilities, stimulates them, encourages interaction, and rewards them for manipulating their environment.

The Project

The team built a large version of the popular Lite Brite toy that caters specifically to the needs of the Carter School students, providing a way to enhance their environmental awareness more effectively than other toys available on the market. The pegs are big enough to comfortably fit in their hands, which suits the students' reduced motor control. Since most of the students are visually impaired to some degree, the Lite Brite blocks the light coming from inside until a peg is inserted into one of the holes, ensuring a clear link between the action and reward stimulus.

Current Status

The design is complete and has been delivered to the Carter School, where it was tested by several end users. A second generation prototype featuring textured pegs and a sound element is under consideration.

Walking Assistant

Leo Mitchell

The Need

Diana, a 17-year-old girl with spastic cerebral palsy, spends most of her time in a wheelchair. Wheelchair users experience muscle atrophy if they are unable to exercise and bear weight on their limbs. Doctors recommend an hour of exercise daily to prevent muscle degradation; however, traditional walkers have painful pressure points, which discourage Diana from walking. Diana also disliked the attention that traditional walkers call to themselves, so she asked for an alternative that attracts as little attention as possible and offers increased maneuverability. She wanted a sense of security and control while using her walker.

The Project

The goal was to design a walking system that keeps Diana stable and secure while bearing part of her body weight and walking. The prototype is based on a modified gait trainer that Diana had tried out in the past. To provide maximum comfort and functionality, the team substituted the gait trainer’s default support mechanisms with a custom vest and harness. The design is mobile, can be used outdoors, and is less expensive than existing devices.

Current Status

The prototype is in development, and the team is receiving feedback from Diana and her father, Carry.

Wheelchair Backup

Leo Mitchell

The Need

Wheelchair users can find it challenging to control their wheelchairs in narrow areas or when backing up. In particular this can be a problem when backing out of transportation vans onto ramps or lifts. Current wheelchair technology does not provide wheelchair users spacial awareness, which can lead to falls, collisions, and serious injury.

The Project

This project uses a set of sensors, a camera, and a display that attach to a wheelchair. The device lets the user see the area behind them while backing up to increase spatial awareness, much like a rear-view backup camera in newer cars. To minimize battery usage and reduce distractions caused by the device, the camera and display are programmed to turn on only when the motion sensors detect an object within a certain distance.

Current Status

The prototype is in development.

X-MAX Gaming System

Leo Mitchell

The Need

Max, an 18-year old boy has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair to move around. He has limited upper body movement, and speaks with the help of assistive technology. He enjoys playing video games, but currently can only play with the help of an adult. The goal of this project is to develop a system that allows him to play video games independently.

The Project

The selected design mimics an Xbox controller with an adjustable button system. There are left and right joysticks that are separate from the rest of the controller, each large enough to be easily used without fine motor control in the fingers. A switch mechanism, located on the wheelchair’s head support, replaces the four main controller buttons. He controls it with his head. This design is much cheaper to produce than existing solutions and more comfortable for users.

Current Status

An initial prototype was completed and tested, and the team is revising it based on feedback.

IDROPPER

Leo Mitchell

The Need

Older adults often have trouble self-administering eye drops and medications. It is difficult for them to tilt their heads, keep their eyelids open, and accurately dispense the liquid.

The Project

The team set out to design an eye drop device that makes it easier for users to physically squeeze fluid out of the bottle, reduces the required head tilt, eliminates the need to squeeze with fine motor control, and increases the accuracy of the drop location so users experience fewer failed attempts where the droplet misses the eye.

Current Status

The prototype is complete.

Cool Keeper

Leo Mitchell

coolkeeper.png

The Need

Anhidrosis is the inability to sweat normally, either across the entire body or only certain areas. Without proper perspiration, a person is at high risk of heat exhaustion or stroke, which can lead to hallucinations, comas, and death if left unaddressed. Though anhidrosis has many causes, it is a known symptom of a number of physical and mental disabilities, such as Multiple Sclerosis and Guillain Barre syndrome. While there are vests and bands that prevent overheating due to hot environments or physical activity, these products are not suited for the specific needs of individuals with disabilities. They tend to require self awareness of body temperature from the user, assume normal mobility, and overlook the heightened senses of touch and feel of certain people with disabilities.

The Project

The team developed a battery powered backpack that pumps water to an absorbent fabric distributed across all of the backpack surfaces that touch the wearer. When the water wets the fabric, it cools the wearer using the same principle as sweat—evaporative cooling. The tubing runs from the water bladder in the backpack into the absorbent fabric, which runs down the back of the backpack and around the main and front straps of the backpack. The tubing that is sewn into the fabric has small perforations in it to evenly dispense water as it is pumped through. It is also surrounded by PVA to catch any excess water and ensure that the water does not drip off of the user and waste potential evaporative cooling. The water reservoir holds approximately two liters, which lasts approximately two hours at the current pump speed and keeps the backpack lightweight. A window in the backpack’s fabric allows the user to monitor how much water is left in the reservoir. A rechargeable battery powers the pump, and it is controlled by a flow rate switch.

Current Status

The initial prototype is complete and has been delivered to an end user for testing.

Positioning Pads

Leo Mitchell

The Need

The kids at the For His Children Orphanage in Ecuador spend most of their time in wheelchairs. When NU Physical Therapy professors looked at pictures of the children from the previous visit, they noticed that they weren’t being positioned properly, which causes poor posture. Children who develop poor posture are particularly vulnerable to a host of health problems. Chief among them are muscle fatigue, a result of compensating for an inefficient skeleton, and increased strain on the spine, neck, hips, and knees that cascades into structural problems as children grow. Downstream effects include joint pain, reduced flexibility, asymmetrical muscle tightness, and deformity. Beyond the skeletal system, poor posture leads to uneven pressure on skin. Excess pressure, combined with shear and moisture from spending the day in a wheelchair, leaves the children at significantly higher risk of forming decubitus ulcers (bed sores).

The Project

The team designed and fabricated a set of foam supports. When the children at the For His Children Orphanage use their wheelchairs, the caretakers use the supports to position them properly and maintain good posture throughout the day. The supports are adjustable to accommodate the children as they grow.

Current Status

The Positioning Pads were delivered to and tested at the orphanage in March, 2016.