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Students take project to heart and win gold

December 5, 2005

Photo of the Walkomatic Therapy deviceA senior project by three mechanical engineering students recently triumphed in the prestigious mechanical design contest of the James F. Lincoln Arc Welding Foundation, taking the first-place gold award in the undergraduate competition. Susan O’Grady, Tina Leong and Wutichai Chanhong designed and built an orthotic device to assist people with muscular disabilities bend and lift their knees.

“As undergraduate engineering awards go, you can’t do much better than the Lincoln award,” said faculty adviser and engineering equipment technician Michael Strange, who worked with the students. The project was supervised by engineering professors Mamdouh Abo-El-Ata, Michael Holden and Dipendra Sinha.

The “Walkomatic Therapy” device, designed to amplify the wearer’s momentum, is made up of four components including a brace that the user wears, an insole foot sensor that acknowledges the user’s need to bend or lift the knee, and a microcontroller that signals the brace to bend and take on weight pressure. The fourth component, an actuator that provides the power, was the only component not designed and built by the students. Past attempts by other universities, including Stanford, to engineer such a device were limited to the design of the brace.

The project took two semesters to complete, and the students were determined to complete the assignment with a workable and affordable device.

“We researched existing foot sensors, but these alone cost between $7,000 and $15,000,” O’Grady said.

O’Grady, Leong and Chanhong estimate that their entire system could sell for as little as $5,000 to $6,000.

“This wasn’t just a case of students taking their senior assignment seriously,” Strange said. “They took the project to heart.”

“We all liked the idea of taking on the project as a humanitarian effort,” O’Grady said. “We wanted to help people with disabilities become more physically active.”

O’Grady acknowledged that as soon as the team realized how much they had committed to do, they were “pretty stressed out. But the idea of working on something that brought to light such a good thing is what kept us going.”

-- Denize Springer



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Last modified December 5, 2005 by University Communications