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Capstone Projects Making a Difference

Faculty-student teams are working with local community agencies to provide novel assistive devices for individuals with physical challenges.

The initiative, funded by the National Science Foundation, involves fourth- and fifth-year undergraduate student design teams in the industrial, electrical, mechanical, and computer engineering programs working with partners in the Rochester area, including The Arc of Monroe County and Nazareth College’s School of Health and Human Services.

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Supervised by a group of engineering faculty, including Elizabeth DeBartolo, associate professor of mechanical engineering, the design teams work hands-on with individuals with physical challenges in order to design devices intended to facilitate independent transportation, prevent injury, and promote rehabilitation. The projects require students to apply their engineering and innovation skills throughout the process of creating the device, from the analysis of the needs of the consumer to the construction of the prototype.

According to DeBartolo, the senior projects afford the students an experience that they cannot get from a technical class.

“The opportunity to see the impact of their engineering decisions shows the students the value of their work beyond a financial bottom line,” she says.

Among the variety of projects undertaken, the team worked with Gary Behm, director of the Center on Access Technology at NTID, to design a hands-free wireless presentation remote. It allows presenters using America Sign Language to have wireless control of a PowerPoint slideshow without the need to carry a remote in their hands. The device attaches with a wristband, allowing the presenter to have both hands free to sign.

“The real value of these projects is that students get to experience the entire design process and end up with a device that is going to make a difference in someone’s life,” adds DeBartolo, whose collaborators include Matthew Marshall, associate professor of industrial and systems engineering, Daniel Phillips, associate professor and director of the biomedical engineering program, and George Slack, lecturer in electrical engineering.

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