Winter Quarter 2010 Course Announcement

Perspectives in Assistive Technology

David L. Jaffe, MS and Professor Drew Nelson
Tuesdays & Thursdays   4:15pm - 5:30pm
William Gates Computer Science Building, Toshiba Classroom, B12 (lower level)

2010 Project Suggestions

Project employing NeuroSky's MindSet brain-computer interface

Background: NeuroSky's MindSet is a headset that senses and interprets EEG brainwaves and is able to determine the wearer's level of attention and meditation. This information can be used to control a videogame or provide an interface to operate physical devices.

Aim: Explore an application for a person with a disability using the MindSet brain-computer interface product. One example is the control of household appliances: lights, TV, and music system.


Project Contact:
Tansy Brook
Neurosky BCI Technologies
tansy -at-

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Project employing Willow Garage's PR2 robot system

Background: Willow Garage's PR2 is a two-armed mobile robot designed for mobile manipulation research and applications. Its size and proportions are similar to that of a human.

Aim: Explore an application for a person with a disability using the PR2 robot. Examples include solutions addressing the needs of for residents in an assistive living center and veterans with spinal cord injuries.


Project Contact:
Steve Cousins & Bob Bauer
Willow Garage
cousins -at- & rbauer -at-
Willow Garage
PR2 Overview

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"Kane's Canes"

Background: Canes and walkers are used by individuals to provide added balance, stability, and support while standing, walking, and negotiating stairs. These individuals may have had foot, ankle, knee, or hip surgeries or knee or hip implants or experience weakness or paralysis in their legs. They may also experience pain while walking.

Problem: Canes are used by individuals when the function of one leg is impaired, while walkers are employed when there is a more general impairment. Walkers are large and bulky devices. The entire unit must be pushed to advance, so it must be easy to move, but it must also supply non-slip support when needed. The size of walkers makes them difficult to store while the user is seated or in bed.

Aim: Explore designs for a cane-type device that would provide balance, stability, and support while standing, walking, and negotiating stairs without the disadvantages of a traditional walker. Two devices could be used, one on each arm.

Specifications: The device must be lightweight and adjustable to fit the user. The individual must be able to use his/her hands when desired while still retaining control of the device. Optionally, the device could be easily adjustable for climbing or descending stairs.

Professor Kane's Design Suggestions: Consider an adaptation of a forearm crutch consisting of two straight telescoping segments connected at a junction that provides an adjustable angle. The upper section will be under the forearm and consist of a "Canadian Cuff" (found on forearm crutches) and some kind of handgrip. The lower section will have a non-slip tip.

Project Contact:
Professor Thomas Kane
tkane -at-
Prototype photos
Elbow Crutches - Arthritic
Arthritic Crutch

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Projects suggested by Norell Prosthetics Orthotics

1. Showering Aid for Amputees

Problem: Above- and below-knee amputees have difficulty showering as it is hard for them to wash their entire body since these movements may result in a loss of balance. While there are some commercial products, such as shower chairs and waterproof prostheses, they are crude at best.

Aim: An aid is needed that gives above- and below-knee amputees confidence, comfort, and balance while showering.

Specifications: The device should be easily donned and doffed, waterproof, operate hands-free, inexpensive, lightweight, and keep the user in a safe standing position. It should allow them to stand and step into the shower, but should not be considered a replacement for their prosthesis. While wearing the device, the user should have the freedom of movement to safely wash their entire body, including their residual limb.

North Coast Medical - Bath Safety Aids
Mobility Smart - Bathing Aids

2. Aid for Donning Compression Stockings

Problem: Graduated compression stockings are used to support the leg's venous and lymphatic systems. The maximum compression is at the foot and ankle and gradually decreases up the calf.

Many individuals who use these stockings are obese, elderly, or have some other type of physical disability (such as arthritis) which makes it difficult for them to put on their own stockings. Those who have trouble bending over, who don't have the strength to pull the compression stocking up over their foot and leg, as well as those who don't want to rely on others would benefit from an effective, easy-to-use aid.

Aim: Explore designs for a simple device that will assist these individuals in rolling on or pulling up their compression stockings.

Specifications: While there are several aids on the market, most are still too difficult for many individuals to use, resulting in frustration and refusal to use them. Commercial devices include those made from PVC tubing or wire cages; others consist of nylon slippers for open-toe stockings.

Suggestions: Perhaps some type of roller system could help these individuals don their stockings.

Compression Stocking Aids
What Health - Compression Stocking Application Aids

3. Improved Goniometer

Problem: A goniometer is an instrument that measures body joint angles and is commonly used in physical therapy facilities and in the prosthetic and orthotic professions. Accurately measuring the angle of a hip relative to the trunk can be extremely hard to achieve with current products due to the lack of a good measurement technique and difficulty in identifying anatomical reference points, especially if the measuree has a contracture, is obese, or rotates his/her pelvis.

Aim: Develop a goniometer device that can measure body joint angles and can identify contractures and ranges of motion (in degrees).

Specifications: The device should address sources of inaccuracies in both technique and measurement.

Rehab Outlet - Goniometers

4. Improved Three-Point Pressure Brace

Problem: Three-point pressure bracing in orthotics (knee, ankle, foot) has always been bulky and cumbersome. A simpler brace would be more comfortably worn for a longer time.

Aim: Design a knee brace or ankle foot brace that is both inexpensive and simple. It must incorporate adjustability both medially and laterally and allow for anterior and posterior free motion.

Specifications: Commercial products are made of carbon-fiber, titanium, or aluminum and are often bulky and difficult to wear. A simple design employing a knee sleeve or a simple hinge and strap and using body forces to correct the angle would be beneficial.

Brace Shop - Ankle Braces
Aircast - Foot Braces
Pain Reliever - Back Braces

5. Improved Prosthetic Pyramid System

Background: Most lower extremity prosthetics are endo-skeletal or modular and are adjusted by a "pyramid system" which consists of a pyramid on a half-sphere connected by a set of four screws on a metal tube clamp.

Problem: Advances in medicine and surgical technique now allow doctors to save more of the residual limbs of amputees. Accordingly, prosthetic manufacturers are making longer feet. In these cases, amputees are limited to a small selection of prosthetic feet due to lack of space between the socket and the floor. If the components were thinner, patients would have a greater foot lever, giving them more choices in the prosthetic feet they can wear.

Aim: To provide more choices for amputees, explore materials (perhaps aircraft aluminum) and/or designs that would provide similar strength in a smaller size.

Specifications: The components need to be made more compact yet still remain strong enough to support body weight and accommodate body motion.

Suggestions: Titanium, aluminum, and steel are materials currently used for prosthetics. Investigate other designs and materials that could be used between the socket and the foot to provide a smaller, thinner pyramid system.

Ib-Er - Pyramid Adapters

6. Recording Tape Measure

Problem: Many anatomical measurements are needed in the medical profession. However, the current tape measurement routine is not ideal: one first needs to position the tape to make a measurement, then release the tape to record the value, and then re-position the tape to make more measurements. Prosthetists, therapists, and other rehabilitation professionals would greatly benefit from an improved measurement device.

Aim: Develop a tape measurement system that is able to record 20 to 25 readings.

Specifications: This device needs to be flexible enough to measure circumferences of anatomical body parts. A fabric material should provide the required strength and flexibility.

1. Voice Recording Tape Measure
2. Voice Recording Tape Measure
3. Digital Voice Recording Tape Measure Replaces Notes
4. Digital Measuring Tape

7. Weight Distribution Monitor

Problem: Amputees, polio survivors, and those with leg deformities frequently do not distribute their weight equally while standing and walking. This situation can result in abnormal gait and posture, as well as possible musculoskeletal injury.

Aim: Prototype a device to monitor and display standing weight distribution for use by a therapist in a clinical setting (which could include parallel bars).

Specifications: Weight distribution should be displayed on one compact unit and should be able to track changes in real-time.


8. Shock Absorbing Brace

Problem: Polio survivors who wear braces often experience discomfort and musculoskeletal injury due to the transmission of force up the legs during walking. The stiff nature of braces facilitates this force transmission.

Aim: Explore a brace design that includes a mechanism to attenuate the transmitted force and thus reduce the risk of injury and discomfort.

Specifications: The brace design must be strong enough to support the user as well as be durable.


Project Contact:
Mike Norell
mjnorell.norell -at-

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Recharging vest for users of brain stimulators

Problem: Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) patients with arm tremor or dystonia who are prescribed stimulators with rechargeable batteries have more trouble positioning the charging coil over the implanted pulse generator than do pain patients given similar stimulators. The problem may become severe if the battery becomes discharged to the point that the stimulator no longer functions properly. The vest provided for holding the charging coil in place is difficult for a person with impaired arm and hand function to put on, and patients report that it often does not position the coil properly, causing greatly increased charging time.

Aim: A student project to explore alternatives to the current Medtronic vest could be directly useful to DBS patients at Kaiser-Permanente, as well as help Medtronic increase user satisfaction with its rechargeable stimulators.

Specifications: The project should address problems with the current vest design: it should be easy for the user to put on independently and perhaps include an indication that it is positioned correctly.

Project Contact:
Eric Sabelman
eric.sabelman -at-
Medtronic Activa RC Neurostimulator

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Projects with veterans with spinal cord injury

1. Problems and needs expressed at SCI Peer Support Group Meeting

Manipulating objects:
picking up dropped items
reaching items high on shelves
carrying items such as groceries
retrieving mail from mailbox
Accessing the real-world:
opening doors
preparing food and cooking tasks, including making sandwiches and heating soup
controlling appliances such as tv, telephone, electric bed, music system, nurse call, etc.
transferring to/from wheelchair to bed / shower
tele-visiting/tele-working with family/co-workers at home/office during hospital stay
selecting groceries remotely for delivery
Recreational activities:
operating a PS3 game controller (for a gamer who has use of one hand)
engaging in gardening tasks
Caregiver (nurse and therapist) assistance
Project Contact:
Deane F. Denney
Palo Alto VA Health Care System
Spinal Cord Injury Peer Support Group
denney -at-

2. Wheelchair brackets, accessible digital camera, lap tray system

  1. A bracket design for new power wheelchairs that would allow use of an overhead sling system

  2. A bracket system for power wheelchairs that would work with a mobile arm support system

  3. A device that would allow a high level quadriplegia (C4) to use a digital camera. It need not be able to adjust position of camera, but it should include a feature to snap a photo for users without sufficient hand function.

  4. A lap tray system that is compatible with the new wheelchair designs

Project Contact:
Janet Weis
janet.weis -at-

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Projects with residents of assistive living centers

  1. There is a need for a device to alert residents with hearing impairments of emergency situations, especially when they are in bed asleep.

  2. Explore designs for a robotic valet to assist both staff and residents. Tasks could include:
    warning residents of emergency situations,
    handling clothes,
    guiding residents to in-house events,
    parking and retrieving walkers during in-house events

  3. Explore designs for a robotic shopping assistant for residents. Tasks could include:
    seeing products,
    locating desired products,
    reaching and grabbing items, especially on high or low shelves,
    putting chosen items into a shopping cart,
    facilitating the check-out process,
    transporting items out of the store and into the home,
    putting items away at home
Project Contacts:
Steve Cousins
CEO & President, Willow Garage
cousins -at-
Liliana Kaszuba
Director of Community Relations, Webster House
websterhouse.dcr -at-
Willow Garage
Webster House

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Projects with bike riders

Problem: Two individuals who are stroke survivors ride their bikes for exercise. One rides a recumbent and the other rides a trike. Securing their affected feet on the pedals is a major problem that both experience. The recumbent rider currently uses a bungee cord fitted behind the heel of his toe-clipped shoe. However, he can not donn the device independently, someone else has to assist.

Both riders also have difficulty (to varying degrees) getting on their bikes. One also has problems with knee alignment during pedaling.

Aim: Explore designs to independently secure rider's feet to the pedals and address problems getting on and pedaling the bikes.

Project Contact:
Debbie Kenney
kenney5 -at-

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Optimal Walking Project

Background: Walkers are used by individuals to provide added balance, stability, and support while standing and walking. These individuals may have had foot, ankle, knee, or hip surgeries or knee or hip implants or experience weakness or paralysis in the legs. They may also experience pain while walking.

Problem: Individuals need to learn to walk differently when using a walker. Users must position their body appropriately over the walker when walking and not stand too close or too far from it. A therapist can visually determine the proper walking posture.

Additionally, users must learn to utilize the weight-bearing properties of the walker during specific portions of their gait cycle. The ideal amount of weight supported by the walker depends on the user's needs and varies over the gait cycle. A therapist is not be able to accurately identify the magnitude and timing of the force transmitted to the walker as this force is not a visibly observable quantity.

Aim: To explore alternative designs for a device that provides data about the transmission of load (weight) through the legs and walker throughout the gait cycle. The device would be able to quantify and display the forces experienced by the user as he/she uses the walker.

Specifications: The device must directly or indirectly measure the load through the legs or walker and provide some kind of indication of this load. Optionally, the device can store a record of its use.

Hypothesis: Data from this device could enable therapists to train users in safer and more biomechanically appropriate walking strategies.

Project Contact:
Professor Thomas Kane
tkane -at-

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Other ideas

  1. Accessible interfaces for commonly-used devices:
    iPods / mp3 players
    Cell phones
    Remote controls

  2. Revisit projects listed in NSF guide:
    Engineering Senior Design Projects to Aid Persons with Disabilities

  3. Student-defined projects:
    Interview, observe, and discuss assistive technology needs with an individual with a disability. Address their need to participate in the following areas by designing a device that either facilitates using usual tools or creates a new tool.

    Creative Expression - writing, painting, sculpture, pottery, jewelry, photography, music, etc

    Activities of Daily Living - cooking, dressing, cleaning, housework, yard work, employment, education, shopping, commuting, etc

    Sports and Exercise - walking, running, indoor and outdoor sports, etc

    Leisure Activities and Hobbies - collecting, model making, crafts, board games & videogames, etc

Project Coach:
David L. Jaffe, MS

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Updated 01/18/2010

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