Thursday, May 27, 2010

UCP honors Indiana students who develop communication device for those with cerebral palsy

From The Tribune-Star in Indiana:

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. -— United Cerebral Palsy’s Wabash Valley chapter recognized three Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology students Monday for their work on a device to help an individual with cerebral palsy communicate more easily.

Senior electrical engineering majors Amanda Cochren, Jonathan Picard and Eric Snider received UCP’s annual community service award for their work on a senior-year design project.

They were able to choose from a number of projects, but their goal “was to help an individual with cerebral palsy communicate more easily,” Snider said May 25 during an awards presentation.

The award goes to those “who do really wonderful things for the disabled community,” said Susie Thompson, UCP executive director. “When we read about what [the students] did, we thought we couldn’t imagine a better recipient of this award.”

The client, who lives in Indianapolis, is unable to speak and uses a special keyboard as a communication tool.

“He has limited control of his hands and arms. It’s a very slow and difficult process for him to use this,” Snider said. To communicate, the client pushes keyboard buttons, which then “speak.”

The Rose-Hulman student team modified the device so that the client could use a headmounted laser pointer to select the keys instead of having to reach out and touch them. The client can then confirm his selection by pressing a button.

The client “has very, very good head and neck movement,” Snider said.

The project still needs some modification and improvements, and the students recommend that another team continue the work next year, Cochren said. It’s not quite ready for the client.

The idea behind what they are doing is “out there” and has already been patented, Snider said. “It’s not something we could manufacture and distribute to a lot of people.”

But a similar system purchased new would be cost-prohibitive for someone on disability, Thompson said.

“They’ve demonstrated it can be done at a much more reasonable price,” she said. Eventually, the Indianapolis client should be able to benefit from it.

Potentially, the team’s work can benefit others with similar disabilities.

The project took many hours and the students encountered many challenges along the way, Cochren said. They worked on it from September through early May.

Commenting on the UCP recognition, Cochren said, “We were just doing our project. The fact that we received an award for it was an awesome thing we weren’t expecting … We’re grateful.”

All three of the seniors have jobs after they graduate. Cochren will work for the U.S. Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) in Virginia Beach, Va.

Snider will work for Beckman Coulter in Indianapolis, while Picard will work for Rockwell-Collins in Iowa.