||Engineering Better Tools for Tremor
High School Engineering Team Develops Assistance Writing Device for Tremor
Bishop Kelly High School’s Engineering Design team, based in Boise, Idaho, is developing two tools that may one day assist people with essential tremor (ET). MagWrite 2.0 is a device to help those with various types of tremor write more legibly. MagMouse is designed to work with a wireless computer mouse to lessen the effects of tremors while using a computer. These tools are being developed by the team as they participate in the 2011-2012 Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam program.
Each year the Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam Program awards grants to teams of high school engineering students. Thirteen Bishop Kelly students and two advisors, Dr. Guy Hudson and Dr. Lawrence Neznanski, comprise one of sixteen InvenTeams nationwide chosen for the exclusive opportunity to participate in the program. Each team receives grants up to $10,000 each to invent technological solutions to real-world problems of their choosing.
“The Bishop Kelly InvenTeam chose to develop magnetic assistive devices for people with tremor in their hands and arms, due to ET, Parkinson’s disease, or injury,” says Dr. Hudson.
This project consists of a nine-month process of designing and testing, followed by a debut of the finished prototype in June 2012 at the EurekaFest held at MIT in Boston. The IETF has donated funds as a co-sponsor to underwrite travel expenses for the team.
InvenTeam students rely on inquiry and hands-on problem solving as they apply lessons from science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to develop invention prototypes. Interactive, self-directed learning coupled with STEM curricula are essential for experiencing invention.
Bishop Kelly has had an Engineering Design class since 2008 and has worked on assistive technology for persons with tremors each year. Participation in the InvenTeam program began in June 2011 when Dr. Hudson attended a training session at MIT. A month later, the students helped prepare the grant application with guidance from their advisors. For their current work, the students chose to improve on their original design for the MagWrite assistive writing device developed last year. Also, they are working on the MagMouse model.
“The 9-month research and development phase is where we are testing to ensure we have a complete, viable product,” says Bishop Kelly student Patrick Tavelli. “It mostly consists of testing different variables of the magnetic damping properties of several materials (we looked at copper and aluminum).”
“Also key in the development of the product during this time period are our prototypes. Using these early forms of our device, we catch little details that we missed evolving the product over time,” adds team member Taylor Takasugi. “We will shortly begin testing the new devices with volunteers who have tremors to see the effectiveness.”
The devices work by using the scientific principle of magnetic damping. “When a strong magnetic field moves over the surface of a conductor, eddy currents are generated which in turn create a magnetic field in the conductive surface,” says Tavelli. “This field opposes the motion of the moving magnetic field. This is ideal for damping tremors as the damping force is proportional to the speed of the tremor; the faster the motion, the stronger the damping force.”
Takasugi elaborates on the application of magnetic damping for the MagWrite 2.0 and MagMouse devices. “We are testing this with and without other software solutions that lessen the mouse sensitivity.”
The team uses several testing methods to generate data and feedback for both devices. The first test measures the effect of damping by attaching the device (or similar jig) to a cord which runs around a smart pulley to a mass. In simple terms, a weight is dropped to pull the device across its base. “We use this test to measure the effectiveness of various things; magnet size/strength, base material, base thickness, etc.,” says Takasugi. “The most important testing, though, will be with our volunteers who have tremors. We will look at ergonomics and perform a variety of qualitative and quantitative tests with them to look for improvement in writing legibility and ease of use.”
When the final prototype or a suitable model is completed, the team plans to take the device to an assistive living center near the school to, hopefully, obtain lots of data and user feedback. “This will give us feedback on the finer points of the design; style, ergonomics, effectiveness, etc.,” says Tavelli. “We currently consult with Dr. Lauren Seeberger of the Boise Elks Hospital, an expert in tremors of all types. She has been very helpful in educating us about tremors and introducing us to clients willing to help with our testing.”
Product development has led to design challenges such as the arrangement of magnets in the devices. “Last year's final prototype for the MagWrite suffered from an issue, we named "torqueing," in which the front of the device swiveled in an undesirable manner when in use,” explains Tavelli. “To correct this, we had to experiment with several prototypes and new magnet arrangements; we feel we have addressed and corrected this in our latest prototypes.”
“Another hurdle was committing the time; with the majority of our team being seniors, college applications and fall semester courses drew a lot of energy and time away from this project,” says Takasugi. “Luckily, we were still able to continue researching and developing. Now that the fall semester is finished and college applications are turned in, the team is really stepping up efforts and we are making good progress.”
Working with funds granted by the Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam program, the Bishop Kelly team anticipates being able to produce several prototypes for testing and exhibition within budget. They hope to produce an improved model of last year’s MagWrite device where the pen is attached to the writing device. The user simply engages the pen by squeezing the device. Another model would enable the user to still hold the pen or pencil with several fingers and grip the damping device to steady their writing. Finally, they will produce a model for the MagMouse.
“We will also be working towards reducing the cost of the final device as much as possible, an important aspect of the engineering design process,” says advisor Dr. Hudson.
The entire process has provided a hands-on learning experience of great value to the students. “I particularly have learned quite a bit about the engineering process and how things get done in the real world,” says Tavelli. “It has been great to learn this lesson: Things don't happen by themselves. I need to get moving and work to get this done.”
He adds, “I have also found this course and our many projects and competitions to be inspiring, especially given the field I want to pursue in college is Bio-Medical Engineering.”
Overall, the student team is appreciative of the learning opportunity afforded by the grant and supporting sponsors. “We have been very lucky to participate in such a wonderful program, and it has been great to see how much we can do,” says Dr. Hudson. “Service to others is an important part of our school’s mission; working with assistive technology to help others helps us to fulfill that. We look forward to seeing where the next four months take us.”
To learn more about the Bishop Kelly Engineering Team and projects, visit http://bkengineeringinventeam.blogspot.com.
About the Lemelson-MIT Inventeam Program: http://web.mit.edu/inventeams