Research Highlights / Full Story

For Devin Hamilton assistive technologies are second nature. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy at a young age, Hamilton's determination and innovative mindset has allowed him to overcome everyday challenges throughout his life. This summer, Hamilton and Beth Kiefer, both 5th year mechanical engineering technology students, embarked on a research project that could change the lives of thousands who suffer from the disability.

The vision was to design a power wheelchair that addressed some of the limitations of current systems for people with disabilities like cerebral palsy. The research team started by conducting a comprehensive analysis of wheelchair standards; steering, driving, and seating systems; and current developments in the wheelchair market.

There are a few features that make the power wheelchair unique; most obvious is the kneeling position of the chair. For people with cerebral palsy, this position helps to minimize spasticity and allows for more muscle control. "Depending on what position you are sitting in, it can be uncomfortable, which makes your muscles work more," explains Hamilton.

"We learned from an orthopedic surgeon and physical therapist at Rochester General Hospital that this position can save energy, too," adds Kiefer. "A person like Devin is working twice as much to sit here because his muscles are constantly moving."

Hamilton and Kiefer designed a 3-D model of the novel chair using SolidWorks and are now machining a prototype with aluminum and fiberglass. The chair is believed to be the first electronic kneeling chair in development and a patent is in the process of being issued.

"I've dealt with assistive technologies my whole life," says Hamilton. "I see a problem and I automatically know I can fix it." For Kiefer it is the joy of taking an idea from design to fabrication, she says. The pair hope to continue development of the power chair and other assistive technologies.