University of Rochester

University of Rochester Students Place First in National Biomedical Engineering Design Competition

July 23, 2007

University of Rochester students in the Department of Biomedical Engineering placed first in a national competition for design of a portable, low-cost device that interfaces with an infusion pump. The team's design allows for safer and more accurate pumping of medicine and nutrients to an intravenous device (IV) for users with disabilities.

The undergraduate team entered the design in the Accessible Infusion Pump Interface category of this year's National Design Competition sponsored by the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Accessible Medical Instrumentation.

Mitchele Au, of Happy Valley, Hong Kong; Brian M. Duffy, of Cazenovia, N.Y.; Justin R. Goldstein, of Stoughton, Mass.; and Joseph Lust, of Mocksville, N.C., competed as the Inf-U-Tech team from the Senior Design Class taught by Amy Lerner, associate professor of biomedical engineering.

Lerner said the competition gets tougher every year. Twenty-five teams from 16 universities entered. This marks the third year in a row that the seven-year-old Department of Biomedical Engineering has placed first or second in the competition. "I am overjoyed to be continuing this wonderful tradition," she said.

The category challenged students to design a device that would interface with a commercially available infusion pump of their choice.

The category specified other demands. Teams worked within a budget of $2,000, and the new device would address challenges of timing and dosage accuracy associated with the use of infusion pumps and blindness, deafness, and limited dexterity. To make this challenge more realistic, teams were to design their devices for a list of hypothetical clients, each with personal histories and preferences.

Scott Seidman, assistant professor of biomedical engineering and of neurobiology and anatomy in the School of Medicine and Dentistry, served as the team's faculty supervisor.

Seidman said the instrumentation-based project involved embedded computers and real-time operating systems. He met with the team once a week for the semester-long research and development, advising the students in teamwork, client needs, and focus on the device as different from commercially available products. "But all the design work came right from them; a driven, motivated, and talented group of undergrads," he said.

Duffy, the teammate in charge of finding existing infusion pumps, said that learning about people came along with learning about the pumps themselves.

The Inf-U-Tech team consulted with Kathy Sweetland, University coordinator of disabilities resources and chair of the Rochester Disabilities Cluster, a collaborative venture at the University that includes professionals from the Medical Center and the River Campus. According to Sweetland, this is the third year the Disabilities Cluster has participated in advising teams in the competition, serving as a liaison for students to make contacts with people who have disabilities.

In preliminary studies, the team interviewed infusion pump users—including customers, doctors and nurses, and manufacturers of the devices?to gain awareness in the human level of technical feature design.

Vicki Roth, dean of sophomores and director of Learning Assistance Services at the University, gave the students feedback as they worked their way through the requirements for the broad range of potential customers. She said designs incorporating features—such as larger fonts and bigger dials—for people with disabilities likely result in better products for all customers.

The team studied existing hospital infusion pumps and envisioned system changes. They designed both visual and audio signals to meet user-profile requirements, and redesigned workings to fit into a small portable box. The students found it challenging to work at the speed required to have a functional prototype ready by deadline.

The team identified Lust as the brainchild for circuitry, optics, and instrumentation. "The project turned out to be much more complicated than any of us envisioned. Around every corner was another layer of complexity, just like with any medical device," said Lust.

To make pump use easier and more reliable at home, the Inf-U-Tech team designed a wristband-located chip that identifies the user. The wristband chip checks in with a cartridge at the pump, confirming specific drug and user information. The team designed prompts and a variety of safeguards into the system.

Accessibility features include a liquid crystal display (LCD) monitor, vibration, an optical encoder, voice command, light-emitting diode (LED) technology, radio frequency identification (RFID), and a revised menu system.

Au, according to her teammates, designed and implemented the project Web site—a critical task as the team submitted the site to officials. Her familiarity with graphics and Web site development, along with programs such as Dreamweaver, Matlab, and Access, tooled the team for entering the competition. Descriptions of the team's designs, alternative approaches, and customer barriers appear in pages along with metrics and technical specs.

"They say what you learn in engineering is how to think and how to be creative," said Goldstein, who appreciates that his team succeeded in building something from nothing. The team, he said, delved into realistic constraints involved in the process of taking a device from concept to market, including the research of government regulations.

The team's Web site offers photos and details of the Inf-U-Tech project at

"Our program is always looking for new challenges for our undergraduates to tackle, whether they are for individuals with disabilities, or to re-design a clinical or surgical instrument," said Lerner. The course Web site shares past projects and contact information for proposing challenges to next year's class at

Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Accessible Medical Instrumentation provided funding for the research. Smiths Medical, Dallas Semiconductor, and the University of Rochester loaned or donated parts for the device.