Students from Detroit Mercy’s College of Health Professions and Engineering & Science joined forces with the College for Creative Studies (CCS) Product Design students this year to develop assistive technology devices that improve the quality of life for veterans with disabilities and work conditions for plant employees. Student teams will unveil their devices on Wednesday, April 17, from 4-6 p.m. at the John D. Dingell VA Medical Center in Detroit.
This capstone project began more than 10 years ago at Detroit Mercy with Darrell Kleinke, associate professor of Mechanical Engineering. He developed a capstone design course for the Mechanical Engineering program that focused the effort on ways students might make a difference in the lives of people in need.
Over the years, Kleinke worked with Molly McClelland, professor of Nursing at Detroit Mercy’s McAuley School of Nursing, to create an interdisciplinary approach that would bring nursing and engineering students together with students from other colleges to create assistive technology devices geared toward quality of life improvements for local veterans.
In addition, Megan O. Conrad, Detroit Mercy’s Clare Boothe Luce Professor in the College of Engineering & Science, has played an important role working with student teams involved in this initiative. During her time at the University, she has helped develop the College’s Assistive Technologies Laboratory and has strengthened the program in other ways. Funded by a five-year, $476,000 grant from Henry Luce Foundation’s Clare Boothe Luce Program, Conrad serves as a role model and mentor for women in the STEM fields. She is the only current Clare Boothe Luce Professor in Michigan.
This year, Detroit Mercy worked in partnership with Product Design students at the College for Creative Studies. Each student group worked closely with veterans with disabilities or plant workers to assess how new devices might resolve challenges they experience each day.
Student teams will make three presentations.
The Dunny System is a detachable device that connects with the dunnage carts used at General Motors plants. This project makes transporting heavy loads around the plant in dunnage carts easier and more efficient to transport around the plant. The Dunny System will reduce strains and sprains among employees while providing other individuals more opportunity to achieve positions within the plant. The team also hopes to commercialize this device to benefit people who work in environments such as hospital and grocery stores.
Team members include Detroit Mercy engineering seniors Miranda Zamora, Vincent Righi, Janasia Johnson and Paul Dellock. In addition, Detroit Mercy nursing students engaged in this project include seniors Taylor Topolski and Katelyn Henry. Senior Product Design student Megan Livernois from the College for Creative Studies rounds out the team.
The Bit Grip is a project developed in conjunction with Robert Philips, a veteran with disabilities. Bit Grip is a lightweight cane with retractable feet. It can function as a one-prong cane for support in areas limited by space such as stairs. It can also be used as a three-prong cane when a user requires additional support. This cane provides increased fluidity of movement depending on the circumstance and whenever desired by the user. Team members include Detroit Mercy engineering students Grace Burnside, Job Gumma, Mario Pina and Joshua Gabriel, along with Detroit Mercy nursing students Cassidy Lombardi, Michelle DeClercq and College for Creative Studies Product Design student Heriberto Alfaro. This cane will give Phillips the fluidity he needs when how he feels changes constantly.
Sensing Glove and Extending Lever
The Extending Lever is an extension of the existing lever which allows for the operator to maintain good posture and maintain a comfortable hand grip. This extension to the lever is designed to be reachable at elbow length for the operator. This new length promotes for a better posture and ensures that the operator’s wrist is at a neutral angle while pulling the lever. The lever also consists of a rubber hand grip to absorb any high pressures that may be exerted on the hand. Team members include Detroit Mercy engineering students David Walton, Paulina Torres-Guzman, Devon Laird and James Kenney, nursing student Mackenzie Auger and CCS student Austin Bodi.
Topolski, a senior nursing student from Detroit Mercy working on the Dunny System project, believes the impact of this system is applicable for numerous industries.
“The Dunny System will reduce strains employees might experience as well as give prospective employees a chance to work in plant environments,” she explained. “The benefit is that it will make heavy loading on dunnage carts easier to move around plants. It can be used by many industries and help extend the careers of plant employees by reducing strains they might experience.”
Detroit Mercy student Michelle DeClercq expressed confidence that their Bit Grip device will improve the every-day quality-of-life issues for users.
“The Bit Grip provides those who suffer from multiple sclerosis to experience better transitions between every day activities,” she said. “Since MS is such a varying disease, requirements demanded that the Bit Grip be varying as well,” she said. “As a result, this project addresses problems like feeling more steady and provides solutions to those issues that go unnoticed during the user’s everyday life. It offers greater freedom to the user by reducing any feelings of being bogged down with multiple canes fit for different days. For a man who fought for our freedom, Robert should have the freedom of walking around his own house with ease.”
Austin Bodi, a senior College for Creative Studies student working on the Sensing Glove and Extending Lever, is pleased that his team’s effort will help make working on the line a bit easier. “It’s good to know that the strain workers experience will be a bit less with this device,” he said.
Stephen Schock is a professor of Product Design at CCS and was thrilled with the opportunity for students to work with others from different schools and academic disciplines.
"Product Design is an interdisciplinary process,” Kleinke said. “It takes a team of individuals with diverse expertise to bring products and solutions to market. Bringing students from other disciplines and institutions together helps to cultivate the understanding of teamwork and the interdisciplinary approach to product development."
Detroit Mercy faculty members agreed.
“This experience is truly transformational for our students,” said Kleinke. “Thanks to the willingness of the veterans and the cooperation of our corporate partners, our students graduate with a real appreciation for disability inclusion.”
Conrad said these projects, “provide a unique opportunity for students to learn about the experiences of individuals with disabilities and the need to create accessible work and home environments. The great advantage is that student develops a capacity to truly empathize with the user of the products they design. The skills will benefit them throughout their career and across any industry in which they work."
"Having students apply the knowledge they've gained from their education and use it in a multi-disciplinary collaboration to improve the life of other people is exactly what earning a college degree is all about,” explained McClelland. “It's very rewarding to see students working together across disciplines and campuses to provide a device to help someone in need."
In total, each project costs an average of $1,000 to $2,000, funded by donations from a number of different sponsors.