Four biomedical engineering students at the University of Rochester have finished in second place in the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center's Accessible Medical Instrumentation Senior Design Competition for their medication dispenser that can be used by people with a variety of disabilities.
The dispenser, called the "Dex," holds a week's worth of medications and prompts the user when it is time to take a particular pill. An administrator, such as a nurse or other caregiver, loads and programs the device. It's designed to be easily accessible to people who are blind, have experienced strokes, or have Parkinson's disease, and should provide significant improvements in their independence.
"We're very proud of this year's students," says Amy Lerner, associate professor of biomedical engineering and instructor of the biomedical design course. "Twenty-two teams from 16 universities around the country designed devices for this competition, and this year's team has continued our winning tradition. Last year, one of our teams won first place in the same competition with the design of an accessible exercise bike, which is now in use at the Strong Physical Therapy Clinic."
This year's project involved a complex electrical and mechanical design, but also had to take numerous accessibility issues into consideration. "Their design was elegant and creative, and they showed tremendous motivation in completing the prototype," says Lerner.
The student team consisted of Dan Choy Boyar of New York City, Jaymi Della of Rushville, N.Y., Ut-Binh Thi Giang of Erie, Pa., and Sally Jensen of Lexington, Mass. Hani Awad, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, served as the team's faculty supervisor over the past year. The students have set up a Web site to display the Dex at www.bme.rochester.edu/dex.html.
"Members of the Disability Cluster have enjoyed helping these very talented students connect with individuals in the community," says Kathy Sweetland, co-chair of the University's Disability Cluster. "Their dedication to developing ways that make it possible for people with disabilities to maintain their independence is remarkable. We look forward to next year's project."
The Dex was developed as part of the biomedical engineering program's Senior Design Sequence, a course required of all biomedical engineering undergraduates. The course has garnered national praise, most notably from the Whitaker Foundation and the Biomedical Engineering Society, for its distinctive customer-driven approach to design. Projects are chosen and developed in response to real-world needs and criteria, rather than on simple course outlines. In addition, the students receive training in entrepreneurship, U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulation, and the ethical issues of biomedical design. Students have designed clinical devices, research instruments and devices to aid those with disabilities for customers of the University of Rochester Medical Center and others from the community.
Lerner is already seeking new "customers" for next year's projects. Individuals or companies are welcome to contact Lerner directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, or check the course Web page, www.courses.rochester.edu/lerner/SRDesign, for more information.
The competition was open to students in any biomedical engineering or industrial design program, with a prize of $1,000 to the winners, and $750 to the second place finishers. It was funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research of the U.S. Department of Education.