Helping those who cannot help themselves

Helping those who cannot help themselves
The “real world” doesn’t get any more real than the experience several University of Tennessee at Martin engineering students had during their senior year. The students created a motorized assistive device for a three-year-old local child. “We had an opportunity to make something for somebody. Someone can actually get use out of this,” Chris Edwards said of the motorized prone stander with an attached Sahara Slate PC created for Gracin Davidson of Martin. Currently, there is nothing like it on the market, and it already has been very beneficial to Gracin and her parents, Kevin and Stacy Davidson. “It’s wonderful,” said Stacy. “It’s definitely beneficial, not only for her, but for us.” Stacy explained that the motorized stander will allow Gracin to move about in their home, and the unit can also be loaded in a vehicle so Gracin can accompany her family on outings and be mobile. Gracin, 3, was born with 1p 36 deletion syndrome, which can result in seizures, congenital heart defects and developmental delays. Most children with 1p 36 walk between the ages of four and six. Gracin’s hips will not develop unless she spends time standing, something to this point she has had to do in a stationary location wherever her prone stander was placed. With the motorized unit, she can move a joystick propelling the unit in any direction. Additionally, using the attached PC with touchscreen, Gracin can be entertained and master developmental skills with a variety of computer programs. “Gracie is small, and there is little out there for her (in the way of assistive equipment),” said her mother. “For it to be motorized is wonderful.” She added that the unit will help Gracie learn cause and effect. As part of graduation requirements at ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology)-accredited colleges and universities, students must complete a capstone design project. At UT?Martin, that requirement is fulfilled in a year-long course that culminates in the demonstration of the project in the spring. Edwards of Union City was joined by Matt Jones of Paris and Tugce Gokdemir of Turkey, in designing and constructing the motorized prone stander, and the trio spent a total of 750 hours on the project. The project was funded by the Tennessee Department of Education and directed by Drs. Jeff McCullough and Somsak Sukittanon, UT?Martin assistant professors of engineering. “I would like to thank the state of Tennessee for funding this project which allowed UT Martin engineering students to design and construct a product that directly affects Gracin’s life in a positive way,” said McCullough. Sukittanon also expressed appreciation for the funding and added, “It significantly helps our students to use their knowledge learned in the classrooms on a real-world problem.” From the start, it was a challenge to design and build a motorized stander that would support the weight of the size batteries needed to propel it for an acceptable length of time and then find compatible motors and controller. Wheel hub motors had to be modified to fit the reconfigured unit. And then, tires to fit the hub motors were a challenge . The motorized stander travels 4.5 mph, weighs 120 pounds, the weight of a light motorized wheelchair. It even comes with consumer product testing. The students used Matt’s nephew to “crash” test it and put it through the paces from a youngster’s perspective. “We wanted it to be safe,” said Edwards. The trio was undaunted last fall when school began and they started work on the project. “Matt and I had worked out in industry, so we knew where we needed to start, and that it was going to work,” said Edwards. He added that Diversified-Tamco, of McKenzie, was helpful in bringing the project to fruition, welding and providing spare random parts that were needed during development. “I enjoyed being able to use experience and knowledge gained at UT Martin to create a product that helped Gracin in everyday activities,” said Jones. Earlier this year, the motorized unit was delivered to the Davidsons’ home to try out and suggest any necessary modifications. The final delivery was made at the end of the semester. “We are excited and grateful,” Stacy said about the mobilized stander and the fact that UT Martin students chose to develop it for Gracin. “With each use, Gracie pushes the joystick even more, and she loves the breezes on her face.”

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