I chose this project because I was naturally drawn to biomedical engineering. This was an amazing opportunity to help out those in need while learning more about the field.
RACHEL L., CLASS OF 2021
Patients with limited motor control experience a host of spinal and posture-related disorders, for which X-Rays are often used to diagnose. The overall experience of getting an X-Ray done when you have limited motor control, though, presents challenges for which there are no industry-wide, targeted solutions. One of the biggest challenges patients face is holding themselves upright while sitting in the X-Ray chair as the procedure is carried out. The overall goal of this project was to create an adaptable, ergonomic chair designed to hold patients upright in order to produce the most thorough and accurate imaging results.
As the team came together for the first time, they decided the only reasonable first step was researching anything and everything related to their project goal. This comprehensive investigation allowed possible solutions to be located in unexpected fields, unrelated to the confines of their original scope. For instance, the team drew inspiration from the backboard often used when saving injured victims from the ocean. At first glance, X-Ray patients with limited motor control and shark attack victims may not seem related. Look as closely like these engineers, though, and you’ll find a common thread: the necessity to demobilize a patient’s spine.
The first iteration of the team’s solution prototype was a footrest mechanism made entirely of straw. While it may not have seemed like much, to team member Grace, it was her first real product of engineering. “I was so excited. For the first time in my life, I’d actually gotten to make something with my hands. I made a creation that could turn into a real product.”, Grace explained.
The team went on to further refine their solution as they entered the medium-fidelity stage of prototyping. They tried making a PVC-based seat which could be wheeled around as it held the patient upright with a flat backboard. As they would come to find, this prototype would still need a lot of iteration.
“We were wheeling Will around after finally building this prototype. We were so excited to be playing with what we thought would be a final design. As Will was rolling around, the wheels fell off and the chair fell with Will strapped in.”, detailed Yassi, as she explained design changed made mid-semester.
Luckily Will escaped unscathed and turned to help his team members iterate on their solution. One of the biggest chan ges they made was to go from the original 4-leg approach to a chair with a wider, square base with increased stability and connection to the wheels. Other changes included converting their “strap-in” design to a more versatile loop mechanism, and ditching the original foot-rest idea.
Their TA and technical mentors played key roles during this iterative phase. From complicated physics calculations on force to the best materials for a robust solution, the mentorship they received was invaluable. “Without them, I’m not sure we would have finished our project at all, let alone on time”, Izzy emphasized.
The team’s final solution entailed a frame made of 80/20 (a robust T-slot aluminum building material), a translucent polycarbonate back to allow the passing of X-Rays, sturdy polyurethane wheels to allow mobility, and a wooden seat for the patient. This practical, robust solution was carefully thought out as the team meticulously followed the engineering design process.
The team continues to meet with professors and OSHA officials to understand potential faults in their solution. In the future, they hope to further iterate their solution and have it available for use at a radiology facility.