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FALL/WINTER 2001-2002

Featured articles

Engineering students play key
role at Lindberg/
Blue M Electric

ME and Parker-Hannifin
dedicate gift to
mechatronics lab

CREATing new avenues
for intelligent

New polymer engineering
center holds industry
consortium conference

ME department awards
$200,000 on scholarship

Honor roll 2000:
Mechanical engineering

Engineering students host
national convention

ME students join Clean
Snowmobile Challenge

Regular features

Message from the chair

Alumni news

Student news

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CREATing new avenues for intelligent independence

Members of the Collaboration on Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology (UW-CREATe)

Assistive robots, voice control, sensory substitution, automatic locks, lights, climate control and superior handling sound like features that come standard on any SUV, but thanks to an innovative new research team based in the College of Engineering, wheelchairs and other assistive devices may soon have them, too.

"I realized that relatively simple changes resulting from engineering and research applied to these technologies could provide improvements that would greatly enhance the lives of people with various disabilities."

— ME Professor
Jay Martin

Composed of eight faculty and staff members from mechanical engineering, biomedical engineering, engineering physics and rehabilitation medicine, UW-CREATe (Collaboration on Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology) is working to assist people with disabilities regain independence, control and productivity. This research couldn't come at a more critical time: The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research reports that disability ranks among the nation's biggest public health concerns, encompassing an estimated 52 million Americans.

"There's an abundance of problems that can be addressed by mechanical engineers and engineers in other disciplines," said Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering Professor Frank Fronczak, who's currently collaborating with ME Assistant Professor Nicola Ferrier on an orthotic hand, a glove-like device that powers a formerly non-functional hand.

All of the researchers involved feel strongly about the group's goals, and they are of special interest to Mechanical Engineering Professor Jay Martin. His son, Liam, was injured in a diving accident two years ago and now uses an electric wheelchair.

"While spending three months in the hospital with Liam, he and I studied the technology he would be using and thought about how it could be improved," said Martin. "We realized that relatively simple changes resulting from engineering and research applied to these technologies could provide improvements that would greatly enhance the lives of people with various disabilities."

Martin began sharing his thoughts with his peers in mechanical and biomedical engineering departments, and they soon joined forces to focus on the design and development of leading-edge rehabilitative, assistive and adaptive technologies that allow those with disabilities to achieve greater independence.

For example, Martin and Fronczak are exploring alternative power sources for powered wheelchairs. In addition to providing additional range, alternative power sources are likely to be lighter than current batteries and electric motors, which weigh more than a hundred pounds and dictate the entire design of the chair. It's this project in which Irving Langmuir Professor of Engineering Physics Noah Hershkowitz, group member and power wheelchair user, is most interested. "I'm here to keep them honest, to provide a unique perspective," said Hershkowitz.

Other research projects address similar design concerns. For example, Ferrier is exploring how robots can help individuals with motor disabilities physically interact in the real world, while ME Professor Terry Richard's research in experimental mechanics and measurements is helping him develop design criteria for head-activated control systems used by quadriplegics.

Rehabilitation and Biomedical Engineering Professor Paul Bach-y-Rita's interest in brain plasticity and its ability to recover even years after an injury adds a different element to the group. He's currently collaborating on projects that involve the brain's capacity to reorganize and recover from sensory injuries.

"There's enough people on campus, with enough expertise in a variety of areas — this group should have no problem providing next-generation solutions to a wide range of rehabilitation problems," said Bach-y-Rita.

As this very ambitious collaboration effort spreads across campus, UW-CREATe finds that their interest in the topic only grows. "I'm amazed at how easy it is for this group to work together," said Martin. "It has been important and enjoyable for all of us."


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Date last modified: Thursday, 17-Jan-2002 10:51:00 CST
Date created: 17-Jan-2002

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