TTU students re-engineer items to make everyday tasks easier

thumb IvypedalingSmFileEngineering students at Tennessee Tech University have modified some common, everyday items to give children and adults with physical limitations the means to exercise, eat, study and work.

A Livingston teenager is getting into the habit of exercising now that she has a stationary bike at home. Ivy Grace Linder, a seventh-grader at Livingston Middle School, rides the bike a few miles every day. For motivation, she said she sometimes imagines going out for a Diet Coke or traveling to a fun destination on “Clyde,” the nickname she has given to the bike.

Her grandmother, Pat Poston, said the bike has given Ivy Grace an opportunity to work exercise into her daily routine.

“This bike is great. It shows miles per hour, calories burned and distance,” said Poston. “Having this at home has allowed her to make exercise a part of her morning routine, which is very important for her.”

Ivy Grace is blind, so her family welcomed the idea of having TTU students customize a bike for her. Christopher Bowman of Bradyville, Ryan Choate of Madison, Aaron Hamilton of Jackson, Brandon Jones of Oak Ridge and Brandon Garrett of Jamestown put in several 10-hour days to modify the bike. They added a guide bar, redesigned the pedals to support her ankles, and put the adjustable seat on a turntable so she can get off and on easily.

thumb exer_bike_bowman_choate_hamilton_garrett_jonesThe students altered the control panel so Ivy Grace can connect an MP3 player. The music only plays if she pedals at a continuous speed, so the change helps her stay motivated. The bike is electromagnetic, so there are no power cords to tangle in the foot pedals. With magnets powering the bike, Ivy Grace determines the resistance according to how fast or hard she pedals.

During their first visit, the TTU students took measurements and made careful calculations so they could customize the bike for Ivy Grace, Poston said. That visit just happened to be on Ivy Grace’s 14th birthday.

Each semester TTU partners with the Tennessee Department of Education to select the projects. Groups of junior and senior engineering students choose a project designed to help people of all needs and abilities, and in return they get real-world design experience.

One team designed a work desk, mouthpiece holder and mouse stand to enable a woman with limited mobility to operate a computer with a mouthpiece, using only slight neck movements.

The woman, who the students called “Miss Smiley,” needed a workspace that worked for her. With her original setup, she could not use her keyboard’s shift or control keys and move the joystick-style mouse at the same time. Her mouthpiece holder was unstable and uncomfortably high, and her workspace had to be carefully reset whenever her table was moved.

Sean Gilbert of Hendersonville, Ashley Jaeger of Chattanooga, Chase Ray of Harriman and Dustin Ryion of Waverly built a new table that raises and lowers easily and is supported by jack stands and powered by gas shocks.

thumb trike_Cook_Stuart_Hannan_MoultrieThrough student effort, a three-year-old girl with cerebral palsy is riding a pink tricycle that she can steer with one hand. The child has mobility limitations, but Jeremy Cook of Pikeville, Jeb Stuart of Hilham, Jay Hannan of Murfreesboro and Jake Moultrie of McEwen modified a tricycle that suits her perfectly.

With limited strength in her left foot and hand, pedaling and steering were difficult on a standard tricycle. She can operate her new motor-powered bike using only her right hand. Since the motor only runs with continuous pressure from the rider, it powers down quickly for safety.

TTU students Zachary Demko of Oak Ridge, George Gulas of Chattanooga, Jonathan Bentley of Lebanon and Devin Johnson of Tracy City built a feeding device for a young man who is unable to grasp things like silverware. On the device, he taps a button and a spoon lowers into a bowl, scoops the food and raises the spoon to his mouth.

“The best benefit is it gives him more independence, with the ability to eat by himself,” said Demko.

Another team adapted a chair for a teenager who rocks compulsively. Ben Burgess of Brentwood, Lauren Bush of Nashville, Austin King of Kodak and Zach Salada of Cookeville modified a chair that the teen could use at school desks, adding a damper to absorb the force of the rocking. Additional springs and hinges enable a broad rocking range and help the chair withstand tipping.

Stephen Canfield, professor of mechanical engineering at TTU, directs the students on the projects, which provide a direct link between classroom theory and the challenges of solving real-world problems.

“Students are placed in the role of a practicing engineer, with the job of designing, developing, building and delivering an assistive technology device for someone with special needs,” Canfield said. “My hope is that the projects will help students better understand the positive impacts they can have on society throughout their engineering careers.”  

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