Pinheiro, a 2016 graduate of RIT’s industrial design master’s degree program and current adjunct faculty member from Brazil, is among the growing number of students who have a vision for creating products that will improve access for people with disabilities—and those products are being recognized by the community through campus and regional competitions.
In fact, Pinheiro and her design team, Erika Madison (international business, Sodus Point, N.Y.) and Doug Huang (MFA, industrial design, Taiwan), recently won a top innovation award for Otto at the 2016 Greater Rochester Excellence and Achievements in Technology Awards, presented by Digital Rochester Inc.
“Over a number of years, a full-scale access technology design and development program that engages students and faculty in colleges across the university has emerged,” said Ryne Raffaele, RIT vice president for research and associate provost. “One of the goals of RIT’s strategic plan is to build upon our rich history of developing new technologies to improve access and inclusion for people of all abilities. RIT faculty and student researchers are working with a number of local service providers to support the fine work that they do. It’s very gratifying to see how RIT is positively impacting people’s lives.”
Access technology has become such a focus that RIT holds an annual conference that showcases research and development in the field and provides a forum for sharing ideas and solutions. And most recently, the most advanced access technology projects were on display for thousands of visitors at Dr. Destler’s Access and Inclusion Technology Challenge at Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival.
Leading the signature initiative for RIT is Dan Phillips, Faculty Associate for the Partnership for Effective Access Technology Research and Development. Phillips’ goal is to collaborate with cross-disciplinary teams of faculty and students pursuing research and development that targets enhancements in accessibility for individuals with varying abilities.
“RIT’s approach of recognizing and integrating design that is functional for engineers, industrial designers, business experts—and, of course, the amazing people who will ultimately be using our products—is the next step of the access technology evolution,” Phillips said. “The students, faculty, and staff never cease to amaze me with respect to their ability and willingness to collaborate across disciplines and with our community partners to produce results that benefit society.”
Greyson Watkins, who is deaf and is a fifth-year computing security major originally from Durham, N.C., created Hz Innovations, which is seeking to enhance life for deaf and hard-of-hearing homeowners with a cutting-edge wireless sound recognition system called Wavio that will soon be marketed across the country. Sound-capturing units plugged into outlets throughout the home are tied into a single central processing unit in the home. When a doorbell rings, smoke alarm chimes or water faucet drips, the unit notifies the homeowner via smartphone, smart watch, tablet or laptop, and identifies the sound.
Watkins and his student team, Chrystal Schlenker, of Rochester, N.Y., a fourth-year interpreting and business student in the School of Individualized Study; Zach Baltzer, a fifth-year microelectronic engineering student from Hilton, N.Y.; and Nicholas Lamb, a fifth-year electrical engineering student from Waterloo, N.Y., have won several new-product competitions and are working to expand their pool of investors. This past summer, the team completed production of its first 1,000-unit order.
RIT students Bradley Dunn (MFA, industrial design, Baltimore), Kurtis Kracke (MFA, industrial design, Rochester, N.Y.), and Crystal Mendoza Paulin (biomedical engineering, Dallas), worked to create a lower cost, discreet, flexible garment that would assist patients with multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, or other conditions, by regulating body temperature in hot weather. The result is ThermApparel, which has won several innovation awards including second place in the RIT Tiger Tank competition, second place in the RIT Effective Access Technology Conference’s Product Competition, and the Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival’s Al Sigl Award.
“It’s our mission to create lightweight cooling garments with discretion in mind,” said Kracke. “We especially hope our garments will increase comfort and decrease fatigue during exercise and forms of physical therapy so that users can increase and improve their health and quality of life in daily activities. We’re looking forward to making our product available to those who need it most.”
While many of student and faculty innovators are hoping to bring their tech-forward products to the marketplace—Hz Innovations and ThermApparel have both joined RIT’s Venture Creations business incubator—Phillips believes that often the most gratifying part of the process is the developer’s interaction with the people who will ultimately use the technology.
“It changes them. And that’s something you can’t put in a curriculum,” said Phillips.