Engineers Partner with Dayton Children's Hospital

by Public Relations Office—Cedarville, Ohio

Cedarville, Ohio—Cedarville University students are learning how to use their coursework to better the lives of others. A Cedarville engineering team recently won the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA) Student Design Competition, alongside four other universities.

The contest focused on creative and innovative designs intended to assist individuals with disabilities to function more independently. Of the 62 submissions, the University’s debut entry made the top five.

Cedarville’s senior design team met with Janet Squiers, manager of rehabilitation services and physical therapist at The Children’s Medical Center of Dayton, to discuss the challenges therapists face with current walker designs.

Squiers explained that children tend to bear too much weight on the handgrips of the walkers instead of relying on their legs which is required for independent standing and walking. Most walkers on the market assist walking by taking weight through the arms. This therapeutic walker is designed for training purposes to encourage weight bearing through the legs.

The team’s innovation appears in the device’s handles, designed to depress when the child places too much weight on the walker. Part of the team’s challenge was to create an incentive for children to want to use the devise. “Using a walker is like getting on a treadmill,” says Dr. Tim Norman, professor of engineering and advisor of the team. “You know it will help you achieve your goals, but you lack the motivation to get on.”

Their solution was the addition of a Nerf® gun on the front of the walker, transforming a routine exercise into an exciting target competition.

To ensure the workability of the product, the team submitted the walker to a two-week clinical trial at Dayton Children’s under the supervision of Janet Squiers.

“Once the Cedarville students began the design phase, we had a consistent flow of interaction between our medical institution and their academic institution,” says Squiers. “It was such a fulfilling experience for everyone involved. Dayton Children’s rehabilitation department is proud to have collaborated with Cedarville University’s Department of Engineering.”

“The students listened to the concerns of the parents and then designed the walker to meet those needs,” says Jennifer Trittschuh, mother of Dayton Children’s rehab patient who tested the walker. “To see one piece of equipment meet the requirements of physical therapists, parents and faculty advisors is really amazing. My daughter enjoyed using the walker and working with the students as well.”

The Cedarville team included advisor Dr. Tim Norman and 2008 graduates Greg Briggs, Josh Gelser, Drew Hackney, Scott Miller, Josh Perrel, Scott Van Dyke and Ricky Young. As one of the 10 finalists, Cedarville’s team received complimentary travel accommodations to the RESNA 2008 Annual Conference held in Washington, D.C., June 28-30.

There, they presented their work before a panel of judges alongside prestigious universities including Duke University, MIT, Stanford University and University of Wisconsin - Madison. In addition, the team’s paper will be published in the RESNA Conference Proceedings, and all seven team members will receive a one-year RESNA membership.

But the fame dims in comparison with the team’s greater achievement - changing children’s lives. “Projects like the walker connect not only theory to product but also project to people,” says Dr. Samuel SanGregory, chair of the engineering department.

Team member Ricky Young agrees, saying, “I can’t describe the sense of accomplishment and gratification we got from seeing children benefit from using the walker. This was a great opportunity to see how engineering can directly impact someone’s life.”