Winter Quarter 2019

Perspectives in Assistive Technology


David L. Jaffe, MS
Lathrop Library, Classroom 282
Tuesdays & Thursdays from 4:30pm to 5:50pm

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Call for Team Project Suggestions

Abstract: Project suggestions are sought for the assistive technology course at Stanford University this coming academic year. This is an excellent opportunity to have bright students work on team projects that address long-standing problems experienced by people with disabilities and older adults.

Deadline: Saturday, December 1st

Introduction: The thirteenth season of Perspectives in Assistive Technology (ENGR110/210) will be offered in the Winter Quarter, starting in January. This class explores the engineering, medical, technical, and psychosocial challenges of implementing technology solutions for people with disabilities and older adults through lectures by experts in the fields of assistive technology and rehabilitation. In addition, teams of students work with project partners, coaches, and individuals with disability or older adults (or family members or health care professionals) to fully understand the problem, identify assistive technology needs, brainstorm ideas, formulate design concepts, fabricate devices, test them with users, and report their efforts.

Some student projects have won national design awards, even when competing against year-long design courses at other universities.

Brief Suggestion Process Overview: The process for considering and submitting a project suggestion starts with identifying a specific challenge or problem experienced by a person with a disability or older adult. Next perform an internet search to confirm that the problem has not already been adequately addressed. Then carefully review the project requirements to make sure the idea meets all listed criteria. Finally submit a short email - text format is ok - that identifies the user or population affected and describes the nature of the problem. Include desirable features of a solution, but do not specify how the device should appear, be built, or solve the problem - as those are tasks for the student team to consider. It is ok if the problem affects just one individual. Refer to the current candidate project list as a guide.

These are the specific activities that lead to a suitable student project suggestion:

Pick a field, user group, and technology. For these project suggestions, the field is Assistive Technology, the user group is people with disabilities or older adults, and the beneficial technology is mechanical, electronic, mechatronic, or robotics systems - or software.

Employ ethnography, observation, discussion, and interview techniques. For this activity, meet with one or more people in the user group as well as family members and caregivers to observe and discuss challenges they face. A good approach this is to give them an opportunity to tell a story - such as what their day is like - rather than answer specific questions.

Identify a specific challenge related by a user or family members or a caregiver as well as resources and technologies that might be brought to bear on the challenge including advocacy groups, community organizations, and existing products that did not solve the problem adequately.

Target challenges include difficulties in performing tasks such as working, learning, moving, communicating, accessing home products including computers, and daily living activities such as cooking, cleaning, creative expression, and pursuing happiness. Project suggestions that explore design concepts that improve diagnosis, therapy, and rehabilitation are also welcomed.

Verify that the project suggestion meets the project requirements.

Perform an internet search to confirm that there are no existing products that adequately address the specific problem or challenge.

Compose and email a few sentences - text format is ok - describing your suggestion for an initial review. Note that both the problem and features of a solution should be highlighted, but not how a device should appear, be built, or solve the problem as those are tasks for the student team to address.

Project Requirements: Project ideas / suggestions are now being solicited. The broad requirements for these projects are:

  • Deliverable: Project suggestions must involve the design and fabrication of a device (or the development of software) that addresses problems or challenges experienced by older adults, individuals with a disability, or those who care for them, including family members, therapists, and other health care professionals. Non-engineering issues such as health care insurance, legislation, and policy can not be pursued.

  • Creativity: In pursuit of their projects, student teams are required to fully understand the problem, search for existing products, identify the need, brainstorm concepts, choose a design (or designs), and fabricate, test, analyze, and report on their creative solution.

  • Originality: Student teams' designs must not be a copy of an existing commercial product (perform an internet search to confirm this) or a physical representation of another's design concept.

  • Feasibility: Projects' aims and specifications should be realistic. Project solutions that can only be achieved by employing magic, violating the laws of physics, defying gravity, creating a perpetual motion machine, employing materials or technology that do not exist, or disrupting the space-time continuum are examples of infeasible projects.

  • Suitability: Unsuitable project suggestions include those involving advertising, engaging in market or data analysis or research, performing surveys, creating websites, compiling databases, or pursuing long-term studies.

  • Overlap: Project suggestions must focus on real problems that are inadequately addressed by commercial products and could include diagnostic and rehabilitation therapy equipment as well as personal devices. Projects that assist family members or health care professionals in caring for individuals with disabilities and older adults are also welcome.

  • Scale and Complexity: Project suggestions must be of appropriate scale and complexity to be completed (design, fabrication, and testing of a functional prototype) in one academic quarter (about 8 weeks).

  • Size: Project solutions must be of an appropriate physical scale. The prototype should fit on a desktop as there is insufficient space on campus to work on larger items such as cars.

  • Availability: For project suggestions that involve modifying an existing assistive technology device like a wheelchair, a sample device must be made available to a student team.

  • Size: Project solutions must be of an appropriate physical scale. The prototype should fit on a desktop as there is insufficient space on campus to work on larger items such as cars.

  • Work Location: A majority of the project fabrication effort should occur on campus rather than in the residence of the older adult or person with a disability.

  • Expertise: Project suggestions must be compatible with the skill level and expertise of students in the course who typically have mechanical engineering backgrounds, although some may have product design, electrical engineering, computer hardware, and/or software experience.

  • Cost: Estimated parts and fabrications costs must be modest - no more than a few hundred dollars.

  • Lower Cost: Fabricating a ready-to-be-manufactured, lower cost version of an existing product is not a suitable project goal as a student team's final prototype is a very long way from a potential commercial product and parts typically represent less than 10% of a product's retail price.

  • Proprietary: Project solutions must not require access to or modification of proprietary software, such as adding functions to a cellphone.

  • Participation: An older adult, a person with a disability, a family member of a person with a disability, or a health care professional must be available locally (within 25 miles) to work with the student project team to further illustrate the problem, offer advice during the quarter, and test the students' prototypes.

  • Risk: Project prototypes must not pose any risk of harm to the user or student team. The device must also be minimally invasive and must not provide physical therapy or cause changes in physical anatomy (without the consent of the instructor and presence of a therapist or physician).

  • Damage or Modification: Project work must not damage or alter any Stanford or private property. Examples of prohibited activities include drilling into walls, rewiring the installed infrastructure, home improvements, and vehicle modifications.

  • Duplication: Project suggestions should not be a duplication of a candidate project already described in the current candidate project list.

  • Support: Project suggestions supported by a monetary gift to the course will be given preference. See Call for Project Support.


  • Don't be disappointed if your candidate project is not chosen by a student team as there are many more projects than teams. There will be other opportunities for students to work on the project: in other courses, as independent study, or over the summer.

  • Don't expect the students' prototype will be a totally workable solution. It may not be "ready for prime time", be unsafe to use, or remain otherwise unfinished.

  • A team's prototype may not have the refined look comparable to existing commercial products.

  • It is very unlikely that a student project design will become commercialized, without spending several additional years of effort and lots of $ on doing so.

Project Suggestion: Compose (text format is ok) and email your project suggestion for review. Note that both the problem and features of a solution should be highlighted, but not how a device should appear, be built, or solve the problem - those are tasks for the student team to address. To best convey a project suggestion, use the current team candidate project list as a guide and format the problem description into short, concise paragraphs:

The Problem Statement consists of these short paragraphs:

  1. Name: - suggest a simple, short, descriptive phase to refer to the project

  2. Background: - give an overview of the organization and / or provide a general description of the population addressed by your project suggestion

  3. Problem: - briefly and concisely describe the problem, including the people who experience it
         (The Everyday Usefulness of the Problem Statement by Alan Nicol is a well-written reference article.)

  4. Aim: - describe what the proposed solution should do, but not how it should do it

  5. Design Criteria: - list the desirable operational features and characteristics of the proposed solution

  6. Other: - include additional information that will illuminate the problem and facilitate a solution, such as photographs, short videos, a list available resources, weblinks, and general design suggestions

  7. Contact Information: - provide suggestor's name, company (if applicable), email address, and phone number (optional).

Project Approval: Once the emailed project suggestion is received, it will be read, reviewed, and considered. Approved project suggestions become candidate student projects that are posted on the course website and disseminated to students as a handout on the first day of class.

Project Presentation: Project suggestors will have the opportunity to "pitch" their candidate projects on the second day of class. (Here is information on the "pitch" process.) If a student team chooses to work on the candidate project, its suggestor must be able to assist them with advice, direction, and expertise in person, or by phone, and/or email during the quarter and will be invited to the Student Team Project Final Presentations and Project Demonstrations.

Past Projects: Here are photos of prior years' students' assistive technology projects - 2018   2017.

Please feel free to contact me early in the project suggestion process so I can review your ideas. Thank you for your suggestions.

David L. Jaffe, MS
dljaffe -at-

Updated 08/14/2018

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