It's been a great month for recent Rice engineering alumni who entered senior design projects into high-profile competitions.
Maria Oden, director of Rice's Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen and a professor in the practice of engineering education, and Marcia O'Malley, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, advised the students in collaboration with Shriners Hospital for Children in Houston.
Team Equiliberators -- bioengineering graduates Drew Berger and mechanical engineering graduates Matt Jones and Michelle Pyle -- was selected as one of the top five finalists (the highest level of recognition) in the Student Design Competition sponsored by the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA). Oden, O’Malley and doctors at Shriners worked with the team to develop a balance-therapy system for cerebral palsy patients that uses Nintendo Wii boards along with innovative force transducers that measure both center of balance and a patient's use of handrails to remain upright. The competition was held June 5-8 in Toronto.
Team Dexter -- bioengineering graduates Allison Scully and Jessica Scully and mechanical engineering graduates Avery Cate, Dillon Eng and Rachel Jackson -- took the grand prize in the Undergraduate Design Project Competition in Rehabilitation and Assistive Devices at the ASME Bioengineering Conference in Farmington, Pa., June 22-25. The team developed an electronic pegboard to track three-dimensional hand motion; the device helps clinicians assess gains in the dexterity of cerebral palsy patients.
A third Rice group, Team Strikeout, has been named a finalist in the Global National Instruments LabVIEW Student Design Competition Aug. 1-4 in Austin. The team advised by Gary Woods, a Rice professor in the practice of computer technology, designed a prototype called PitchPALS (Pitch Pressure Analysis & Logging System), a replica baseball with pressure sensors that record the exact pressure and position of a pitcher's hand when delivering a pitch. Team members are electrical engineering graduates Sharon Du, Ashley Herron and Qian Zhang and mechanical engineering graduates Peter Hoagland and Jennifer Sullivan.
BY MIKE WILLIAMS
Rice News staff
A team of new Rice University graduates took second place and a $7,000 prize in the prestigious IShow competition sponsored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
Team Zikomo was one of two groups of Rice students among 10 chosen for the fourth annual nationwide competition, held June 11 at the society's convention in Dallas.
"We believe this product has vast potential because of the number of places worldwide that don't have electrical power and where IV fluid and medications need to be delivered in precise amounts," said Maria Oden, professor in the practice of engineering education and director of the OEDK. Oden will discuss the concept with health care providers in Swaziland, Botswana and Malawi this summer while interns with Rice's Beyond Traditional Borders (BTB) program refine the device.
Oden said two members of the team, Cui and Carstens, worked at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Malawi on behalf of BTB last summer and saw the need for their device firsthand. "They saw how critically important this is and shared that with their teammates, who really got engaged solving the problem."
She said the team included bioengineering and mechanical engineering majors who employed their skills "in a way that any single discipline might not have been able to do as effectively."
Oden and Renata Ramos, lecturer in bioengineering; Tracy Volz, senior lecturer in professional communication in the George R. Brown School of Engineering; Kim Kimmey, lecturer in communications at the Jones Graduate School of Business; and Thomas Kraft, director of technology ventures development for Rice Alliance, mentored the team.
Team MAVerick -- Rice graduates Rhodes Coffey, Chris Cromer, David McMahon and Stephen Vargo Williams -- also competed with a device to harvest energy for unmanned micro air vehicles.
This year's top prize of $10,000 went to a team from Johns Hopkins University, which demonstrated a port to provide access to blood in dialysis patients and reduce the number of surgeries these patients require. The HEMOVA team also took third in the Rice Business Plan Competition life sciences category in April.
The only other Rice students to ever participate in IShow, the PRIME team, won first prize in 2009 for its hand-strength measurement device.
BTB sponsored Team Zikomo through a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
After a long, hard year of teamwork and late nights, engineering seniors wrapped up their capstone design projects, showing them off a the annual Design Showcase in April 2011. Read about that event and some of the individual stories below.
Students create high-tech baseball for pitch analysis -
Meeting between Rice students and coach leads to sensor-covered ball
That was certainly the case for Team Strikeout, five undergraduate engineering students who were never much into America's pastime until they set out to create a high-tech ball that could help coaches analyze how a pitcher's grip affects performance.
The team's Pitch Pressure Analysis and Logging System (Pitch PALS) has the same weight and feel of a regular baseball, but it's covered with force sensors and filled with electronics.
When a pitcher throws the ball, it records the exact location of the fingers and the precise amount of force each finger exerts throughout the pitcher's windup and delivery. The force information is presented on a computer screen alongside a high-speed video of the throw and allows both player and coach to analyze how the grip on the ball affected the outcome of the throw.
Development of Pitch PALS began early last fall, when Rice seniors Henry Zhang, Jenny Sullivan, Ashley Herron, Sharon Du and Peter Hoagland were searching for an idea for their senior design project. Their adviser, Gary Woods, a faculty member in Rice's Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, set up a meeting with Rice Owls assistant coach David Pierce.
Building the prototype took months, but the ball performed well during several rounds of tests. The team applied for a patent for their design, and Woods and the members of Team Strikeout -- all of whom are graduating this weekend -- hope another team of engineering students will modify and improve upon the design next fall.
"Right now we have a proof-of-concept, but we'd like to add Bluetooth wireless so that we can get the data from the ball without attaching a wire," Du said. "That would allow us to add a leather cover and have the feel of the seams around the baseball."
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