Engineering students win national prominence with an iPad device for a young girl with cerebral palsy… and answer the call of Jesuit service.
Mechanical engineering students from Loyola Marymount University reached out to help a young student with cerebral palsy interact with her world more effectively, and earned third place in a national competition for student ingenuity aimed at assisting those with special needs. Team Abbie – named for the kindergartener for whom the device was designed and built – represented LMU at the 2013 annual competition organized by RESNA, the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America. The prize-winning prototype has been tested with Abbie and now is undergoing its second year of development. The device, known as the iPad Dexterity Enhancement Apparatus (iDEA), connects Abbie’s wrist and forearm to a brace that restricts the range of motion in her hand to provide more accuracy. It is designed to help her use her iPad more easily in class. The device also potentially points the way toward other inventions that could help children like her. “iDEA has improved the accuracy and precision of Abbie’s fine motor skills without inhibiting her comfort,” said then-senior Amy Clancy, leader of Team Abbie. “We hope it improves her confidence and helps her to perform basic functions more easily.” Making up the rest of team Abbie were mechanical engineering majors Edward Gillman ’13, Teresa Nguyen ’13 and Ann Marie Gelle ’13. “This project let the students use their educations to directly benefit someone else’s life, and it exposed them to different aspects of engineering,” said Matt Siniawski, the students’ mechanical engineering professor in the Seaver College of Science and Engineering and faculty adviser for the project.
Designing the device fulfilled the capstone project required of all engineering seniors. “The students came up with the design concept on their own,” Siniawski continued. “They made the decisions as to what they wanted the device to do. They developed it themselves and worked closely with all of the people involved.” That included parents and teachers at Abbie’s school, WISH Charter Elementary School in Westchester, a partner in LMU’s Family of Schools Program. Team Abbie met with the student, the student’s mother, the principal and caretakers to brainstorm ideas for an apparatus that would best suit Abbie’s needs. “The fall semester  consisted primarily of initial design work and basic prototype testing,” Siniawski explained. “They learned what worked and what didn’t work. In the spring semester , they improved upon the design and built a complete functional prototype.” They wrote a corresponding paper and submitted the project to the national RESNA competition, and were one of only six projects to be invited to attend the event. At the competition’s final showdown, held in Seattle last summer, the project took third place overall. “It was a unique capstone project,” said Siniawski. “It required working closely with the user of the product to meet their specific needs. A lot of capstone projects don’t get the kind of interaction with the actual user that this one did.”
ENGINEERING AS SERVICE
“Through this project, the students learned that engineering ultimately helps people meet their needs,” Siniawski said. “Our students challenged themselves to solve a problem in order to help others. That’s what our engineers do. That’s what Loyola Marymount University is all about.”