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ASU students team up with Barrow to create medical rehab devices

ASU students create 3 solutions to help those with impaired mobility.
Entrepreneurship-based class teaches how to move devices out of lab, into world.
June 16, 2017

Therapists and physicians share challenges; engineering professor's class develops solutions, 3 of which are being patented

In most classes, a good job results in an "A."

In Panagiotis Polygerinos’ mechatronics device class, a good job results in a patented invention that improves lives.

The Arizona State University assistant professor (pictured above) teamed his engineering students with therapists and physicians at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix to create medical rehab devices.

Three of those devices are being patented.

“Now we have three provisional patents, we’re about to submit for a full application, we have three papers submitted, and who know what else will come?” Polygerinos said.

The class — EGR 598 Mechatronics Device Innovation — is entrepreneurship-based. Students learn how to move their inventions out of the lab and into the world as well as create them.

“The course is about how do you build a device from scratch?” Polygerinos said. “It takes a lot, but it’s worth it.”

Barrow medical professionals came up with about 15 ideas. The class chose three of them and went to work.

Video: See the Soft Robotic Back Orthosis in action.

After back surgery or recovering from a back injury, patients currently have to wear splints.

Splints result in “pressure points, fatigue to the skin, inability to perform in your everyday life because you are restricted,” Polygerinos said. “Now the idea was, can we create a device that is transparent to the user?”

The Soft Robotic Back Orthosis is a variably adjusting device, a network of webbing, straps and soft inflatable bladders that transmits loads and forces around. It protects the back and prevents wearers from movements that would aggravate their injuries.

Video: See how the Soft Robotic Shoulder Assist Device for Wheelchair Users works.

Patients who use wheelchairs develop shoulder pain from repetitively pushing the wheels. The Soft Robotic Shoulder Assist Device for Wheelchair Users gives a boost in pushing at the exact second it is most difficult. Results from experiments with a wheelchair test participant were promising.

People who use walkers tend to lean on them too much, contorting their backs and arms. Handles on the Biofeedback Walker vibrate when users put too much pressure on them. It’s a way of having a physical therapist constantly present, correcting their posture. Students are still developing the walker.

The three teams of four graduate students each were funded by a $2,500 budget from Venturewell, a nonprofit that funds and trains faculty and student innovators to create successful, socially beneficial businesses.

Arizona Technology Enterprises, ASU’s intellectual property management company, prepped students on how to bring inventions to market, providing lectures on intellectual property, marketing, licensing and startups.

As well as creating, designing, prototyping and evaluating, students have to write a publication-quality paper and submit it to a conference or journal.

“They have to submit a paper — not to me, that I would put in a drawer after I give them a grade — but they have to submit a paper at a conference,” Polygerinos said.

Instead of only working in the lab, Polygerinos wants to recruit and work with actual patients, to test devices on them, collect more data and prove prototypes work.

The course will be offered again in January 2018.

Projects don’t necessarily need to end with the course, Polygerinos said.

“If they are willing to continue, why not? I am here to help them to completion if they want and to make an impact on the real world,” he said.

 

Top photo: ASU Assistant Professor Panagiotis Polygerinos demonstrates the Soft Robotic Back Orthosis device as he talks about innovative medical habilitation devices his graduate students at the Polytechnic campus' Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering created with the assistance of physicians and clinicians at the Barrow Neurological Institute, with support from VentureWell and AzTE. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now

480-727-4502

 
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Revved up: ASU race car crew ready to impress at international competition

June 16, 2017

A confident Arizona State University team is gearing up for what is widely considered the toughest international student automotive design and performance competition.

About 30 members of ASU’s chapter of the Society of Automotive Engineers are planning to make the trip to Lincoln, Nebraska, for the 2017 Formula SAE event June 21-24.

Those students are about half the number of the chapter’s members who have been working for much of the past year on the race car that will be put to the test against about 80 other teams from colleges and universities throughout the United States and several other countries.

“We have been designing, engineering and building almost nonstop since last June,” said Troy Buhr, the Formula SAE team captain who graduated this spring with a mechanical engineering degree from ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

“We’ve had workshop days just about every Saturday, and in the past two months we have been in the shop almost every day,” he said.

Refined design and cool features

What the sustained effort has wrought is stoking Buhr’s optimism about the team’s prospects for success at the Formula SAE competition.

He notes that this is the third straight year the SAE chapter has produced a brand-new race car from start to finish — the first time that has been done by the student organization.

The trend had been for the ASU teams to build a new car about every five years. So designing and assembling new cars in three consecutive years “is a huge accomplishment because it shows we are building a strong foundation of teamwork and using the new knowledge we’ve gained year to year,” Buhr said.

Equally as significant, the 2017 car is the first in the chapter’s more than 25-year history to have a full package of aerodynamic features, highlighted by front and rear wings on the vehicle.

“This shows our design skills are maturing,” Buhr said. “Full aerodynamics packages create more downforce, which enables cars to go through corners faster. Plus, it makes the car more closely resemble a Formula One race car.”

Such a resemblance, he adds, gives the car a “cooler” look that’s “more professional and less like a go-kart."

The new race car also sports 10-inch wheels instead of the 13-inch wheels used in years past. The new wheels, along with a decrease in the size and weight of other components, should enable the vehicle to perform more efficiently.

Teams challenged to demonstrate multiple skills

At the competition, cars are evaluated through highly detailed technical inspections and cost analysis. Teams must submit an in-depth evaluation of the fundamental engineering principles that guided the design and building of the car.

There’s also a sales presentation that requires teams to make the business case for how mass production of their vehicle could be a profitable venture.

On the track, cars are judged on their proficiency in acceleration, braking, general driving stability, overall efficiency and endurance. They must be driven on an autocross run, a timed competition requiring drivers to navigate a track designed to test the vehicle’s responsiveness and road-handling capabilities.

“The idea is to test every aspect of a team’s engineering and teamwork skills,” Buhr said.

Just getting into the competition requires a test of the team’s fundraising skills. The cost of producing the race car amounted to about $30,000, and then there was the $2,250 registration fee to enter the Formula SAE event.

To cover costs, the team launched a crowdfunding campaign and secured industry sponsorship and other support from dozens of companies, including Ford, AEI Fabrication, Industrial Metal Supply, Solidworks and PPE Engineering.

“All of these challenges are what makes this a great club,” Buhr said. “The competition forces us to apply the engineering knowledge that we are learning in class to actually creating a high-performance vehicle.”

The project management, collaborative labor, financing and other aspects of the endeavor “are training our members for work in industry,” said Buhr, who will soon begin a job with Ford Motor Company in Michigan.

Preparing to make a big splash

“What’s really cool is that we’re not just an engineering team,” said the team’s industry partnership manager, Robert Tichy. “We want to be an engineering organization that pulls in students with diverse talents from several schools.”

Tichy notes that the team’s crowdfunding effort was aided this year by members who are pursuing degrees in business and communications fields. They helped with advertising for the fundraising campaign.

The team is looking to add journalism and art students in the near future to benefit from their particular skills, he said.

 “Above all else, our primary goal is to develop the technical, professional and communication skills of our members,” Buhr said.

Right up at No. 2 on the SAE chapter’s list of goals this year is boosting the team’s reputation among its peers by placing within the top 25 among the formidable contenders it will face at the upcoming Formula SAE competition.

“Our aerodynamics package really sets a new standard for our team,” Tichy said. “No one can count ASU out, and I think we’re going to make a big splash in Lincoln. I’m looking forward to seeing heads turn as we perform.”

Top photo: Members of the ASU chapter of the Society of Automotive Engineers and their supporters gathered recently for the unveiling of a new race car equipped with aerodynamic features designed to boost the vehicle’s performance. Photo by Pete Zrioka/ASU 

Joe Kullman

Science writer , Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

480-965-8122