Senior Sonia Garcia guides Brandon Sierra, a patient at Shriners Hospital for Children, Houston, through tasks intended to measure his dexterity. Garcia is part of a team of Rice students that invented a device to track cerebral palsy patients' progress through therapy. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
It looks like a game board and many of its users will find it fun, but there’s serious intent behind a device by Rice University students to test the abilities of cerebral palsy patients.
At the heart of the DeXcellence platform is a small peg comfortable enough for a 3-year-old to hold. But packed inside are enough electronics to tell a nearby computer, tablet or other Bluetooth-enabled device of how the cylinder is moving in space.
In tandem with a board that directs the patient’s movements, the cylinder sends a steady stream of data to the computer. That data is analyzed by the Rice team’s software to give a therapist a clear picture of a patient’s progress in physical therapy
The DeXcellence device is the work of five Rice seniors who designed it at the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen as their capstone project in collaboration with Shriners Hospital for Children, Houston, and Rice advisers Gary Woods, a professor in the practice of computer technology in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Eric Richardson, a lecturer in bioengineering.
It would complement the device that inspired it, a low-tech pegboard for evaluation known as a Functional Dexterity Test (FTD), in the clinic of Shriners’ doctor Gloria Gogola, who suggested the students look into a way to quantify movement.
The DeXcellence device tracks the dexterity of cerebral palsy patients through their ability to move a Bluetooth-enabled cylinder through a series of tasks. On one side of the game board, patients must move the peg over a hurdle and center it on a target. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
“We got to go there and watch patients use the peg board, and we could see them cheat,” said bioengineering major Sonia Garcia, a member of the team with Shaurya Agarwal (mechanical engineering), Allison Garza (mechanical engineering), Vivaswath Kumar (electrical and computer engineering) and Andrew Schober (bioengineering and computational and applied math). “Instead of turning the peg in the air, they would drop it and then move it into the hole.”
The DeXcellence device doesn’t let that happen. Their portable board has two sides. One has targets and pop-up hurdles. The patient must pick the cylinder up from the center of one target and turn it 180 degrees while moving over the hurdle to the center of the next target. On the flip side is a set of paths the patient tracks with the peg.
All the while, the electronics are silently sending data on where the cylinder is in space as well as its speed and orientation.
“There is a big gap in technology for the evaluation of movement patterns in (patients with) cerebral palsy,” Gogola said. “At one end, we have clinical exams that are all visual. We even videotape exams so we can watch them again to catch more subtle things.”
At the other end is Shriners’ high-tech motion analysis lab, which involves putting markers on patients and uses motion-sensor cameras and computers to gather information as they move, she said.
“This project aims for the middle,” she said of the Rice team’s work. “We want to bring more tech to the clinic. The peg the patient moves through the test provides motion-path data therapists can’t quantify by eye. It’s like a motion analysis lab in a peg!”
Moving the peg over a path on the board's flip side enables therapists to gather valuable information about their patients' progress. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
The students worked hard to present a polished project. “We have the motion-capture technology with the peg, we have the exam itself, we built the software in the computer and we have the charger for the peg,” Agarwal said. “That’s what we set out to do. We wanted to give them the entire solution; not one part of it, but everything they need to conduct an exam.”
Their success was recognized by all who watched the DeXcellence team demonstrate it at Rice’s annual George R. Brown Engineering Design Showcase and Poster Competition, at which the team won the grand prize of $5,000 in April. The team also placed second in the International Student Design Showcase at the University of Minnesota’s Design of Medical Devices conference in April.
Those were highlights of their final year at Rice, to be sure, but they were just as thrilled to see their device in use at Shriners. A week before graduation, the students gathered at Shriners to observe as Brandon Sierra, 15, put the device through its paces. Sierra underwent surgery on his right arm in April to help him regain motion in the arm that had been hindered by hemiplegic cerebral palsy.
“I think the possibilities for this are enormous,” said occupational therapist Dorit Aaron, former president of the American Society of Hand Therapists and a Shriners volunteer. “The device is different from the original FTD in the sense that it requires both gross motor as well as fine motor movements to accomplish the task. They have to manipulate the peg and they have to move it in space. That gives us information about the shoulder and elbow motion as well as the digits, and we can track it in the computer.”
“One of the realistic problems in the clinic is that we don’t have time. We need outcomes that can be substantiated, that are valid and reliable for the people we’re treating. This has the potential to be absolutely breakthrough with the cerebral palsy population whose coordinated motions are so difficult to quantify,” she said.
Gogola perceives a future for the Rice invention beyond cerebral palsy therapy. “This device could be used in any situation where dexterity, or the fine motor movements of the hand, need to be tested,” she said. “For example, it could be used to evaluate patients recovering from stroke, spinal cord injuries, trauma undefined any situation where the ability to use their hands is affected.”
Senior engineering students at Rice University have invented a wireless device to help track the progress of cerebral palsy patients through therapy. Team members from rear left are Allison Garza, Andrew Schober, Vivaswath Kumar, Shaurya Agarwal and Sonia Garcia. Front, from left, are Dora Aticia Barrios, her son Brandon Sierra, a patient at Shriners Hospital for Children in Houston, and James Northcutt, an occupational therapist at Shriners. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
If you can’t stand the heat and you can’t get out of the kitchen, what do you do?
If you work in a Houston food truck, you call upon Rice University engineering students to help you keep your cool.
The proprietor of the popular Pi Pizza Truck may be chillin’ this summer, courtesy of a team of Rice freshmen who pieced together a vest they expect will help him withstand Houston’s sultry summer nights.
The vest uses polyvinyl alcohol pads that cool as they evaporate after being doused by water.
Those nights are bad enough outside, as Houstonians know, but inside the truck where the pizza ovens keep the temperature upward of 110 degrees Fahrenheit, the conditions are much worse.
The team of mechanical engineering student George Zhu, bioengineering student Rahul Kothari, mechanical engineering and computer science student Christian Burkhartsmeyer and electrical and computer engineering student Andrew Graham created the vest that has internal pockets for cooling pads. They activate the commercial polyvinyl alcohol pads by dousing them in water – either hot or cold – and wringing them out. As the remaining water evaporates from pads placed near the skin, the steam or vapor carries body heat with it.
Testing with thermocouples at Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK) determined the packs cool the wearer for up to six hours, which matches Anthony Calleo’s 8 p.m.-2 a.m. business hours. (Although, they noted, the chef fires up his ovens two hours before opening.)
“He shouldn’t need to take the vest off,” Zhu said. “He should only have to recharge the pads once a day, but if he gets hot, he can keep spares in water and replace them.” Zhu said the 10 mesh pockets that contain the pads are held together with Velcro, making it quick and easy to replace them with fresh ones.
“I think we ended up with a functional design that keeps him reasonably cool,” said Burkhartsmeyer.
The Pi Pizza team created a cooling vest for food-truck workers. From left, adviser Matthew Wettergreen, Andrew Graham, George Zhu and Christian Burkhartsmeyer. Missing from photo: Rahul Kothari.
The team pointed out that, because of the ovens, air-conditioning the truck would be pointless. Graham noted the team visited Calleo’s truck last December and still had to take their jackets off while in the truck.
The team made a wise aesthetic decision when it went with basic black. “Intuition tells us that if we want to keep cool under the sun, we need to wear white,” Zhu said. But the truck opens at night, so the blazing sun is not a factor. Then there’s the pizza sauce. “He’s working with the ingredients all night, so we knew there was no way to keep a white vest clean.”
The long sleeves were also counterintuitive, but Calleo told the team they isolate his arms from the hot environment and also contribute to keeping him cool, they said.
Matthew Wettergreen made the connection between Rice and Pi Pizza – as a customer – and felt the vest could serve overheated workers in many environments.
“There is potential for using this solution in areas beyond food trucks, like kitchens or other hot environments with similar constraints,” said Wettergreen, a lecturer and assistant director for rapid prototyping at the OEDK, who advised the team along with Gene Frantz, a professor in the practice of electrical and computer engineering.
Rice University seniors have built a device to to ensure necessary fat contained in mothers' milk is reaching premature babies who have to be fed by tube. From left: Denizen Kocak, Nathan Liu, Alexa Juarez, Jane Jarjour and Mika Tabata. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
BY PATRICK KURP
Special to the Rice News
Fat, the bane of many an adult, is precisely what babies born prematurely need to gain weight and grow strong and healthy. Some students at Rice University have invented a device to ensure preemies get enough fat, which has been a challenge.
Babies born more than five or six weeks before their due dates are unable to feed from a bottle or breast because they cannot coordinate sucking, breathing and swallowing. They must be tube-fed milk, but that too presents problems: Some 20 to 50 percent of the fat content in mother’s milk clings to the tubing and never reaches the child. Also lost are essential nutrients, including calcium, phosphorus and magnesium, that bind to the fat.
Nutriflow assures the flow of all of the nutrients in mothers' milk to premature infants by flapping the bag containing the milk to keep it mixed and flowing to ensure nutrients don't attach to the bag or tube. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
“Fat is essential for preemies, but it’s always been a problem getting it to them,” said Mika Tabata, a senior bioengineering student and a member of the design team Nutriflow at Rice. “Our task was to figure out a way to increase the amount of fat they receive, which has been difficult.”
Other team members are Alexa Juarez, Denizen Kocak and Nathan Liu, also senior bioengineering students, and Jane Jarjour, a senior majoring in biochemistry and cell biology.
Tabata first encountered the problem in 2013 while serving as a summer medical and research training intern at Baylor College of Medicine. There she worked with Steven Abrams, who researches the absorption and metabolism of dietary minerals in infants and children.
“We started out just using a stir-bar to mix the fat into the milk,” Liu said. “That showed a little improvement but not enough. We tried a sort of blender arrangement, but that stirred the milk too much. It was like churning butter.”
The breakthrough came when the team realized breast milk had to be mixed both in the feeding bag and the tubing. They devised a motorized panel programmed to give the plastic sack holding the milk three quick flips once every three minutes, the optimal rate for mixing. After repeated fine-tunings, calibrating the pump and the hinge, the team was able to assure that 95 percent of the fat in the milk could reach the child.
“We couldn’t believe it. After hours of hard work and going over the design, we finally hit the sweet spot,” Liu said.
Team Nutriflow won the Best Health-Related Engineering Design Award at the George R. Brown School of Engineering Design Showcase and Poster Competition on April 17. The research was done in collaboration with Abrams and Keli Hawthorne, a senior registered dietitian at Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine.
The project was funded through Beyond Traditional Borders and made possible by a grant to Rice University from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute through the Undergraduate Science Education Program.
The Rice Solar Car Club put its vehicle on the track for the Shell Eco-marathon in downtown Houston April 25-27, but electronics issues kept them from qualifying to participate in the annual competition. They were one of 13 teams in the Urban Concept/Battery Electric category, in which only four teams qualified to race.
Branding themselves as “Team Evacuator,” five students have been testing a device to break up blood clots that form in the bladders of adult patients and currently have to be removed by suction through a catheter in the urethra.
Members of the Rice University senior engineering team that designed a new device to break up blood clots in the bladder show a test version of their invention. Clockwise, from front, are Lung-Ying Yu, Tiffany Huang, Adrian Gallegos and Aaron Hu. Not pictured: Patrick Yun. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
The urethra remains the least-invasive access to the bladder, where clots can block urine from passing and ultimately lead to kidney failure. The students’ device, which looks something like a tiny, flexible eggbeater on a stick attached to a cut-down rod and reel, is designed to fit through the catheter and break up the clots without harming the bladder wall.
The bioengineering students – Aaron Hu, Adrian Gallegos, Tiffany Huang, Patrick Yun and Lung-Ying Yu – use the modified rod to power the device for tests on simulated blood clots made with pig blood and gelatin.
The finished version will be battery-powered so it can be operated with one hand; it will turn wires at upward of 800 revolutions per minute, enough to create a vortex that pulls clots toward the spinning wires that dissolve them.
The wires are made of nitinol, a nickel-titanium alloy considered a memory metal. “It’s the same kind of metal used in braces,” Hu said. “You can deform it any way you want, but at a given temperature, it goes back to its original shape.” The wires collapse within the catheter walls and expand to their functional shape when pushed through into the bladder. “Nitinol collapses very well,” he said.
The device designed at Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen costs about $20 in parts for the battery-powered version, Huang said. “Even though it could probably be reused, it’s meant to be disposable,” she said, demonstrating the tight fit between the steel tube that supports the wires and the motor.
The wire tip of a new device to break up blood clots in the bladder creates a vortex when it spins; this pulls clots in and dissolves them. Rice University students created the device as their senior engineering design project. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
Nadeem Dhanani, an assistant professor of surgery in the Division of Urology at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, had previously worked on projects with students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and approached Rice with a request for a better device. “I had what I thought was a good solution to this clinical challenge, but I also acknowledge the fact that I was looking at it from one direction,” he said. “Getting to incorporate the thoughts and experience and expertise of people with different backgrounds is a great opportunity.”
Dhanani, who is mentoring the students with Rice engineering lecturer Eric Richardson, described current techniques to remove clots at a patient’s bedside as antiquated. “We’re often forced to take patients to the operating room despite their poor health because we have no other alternative. If we’re able to save them the additional hazards of surgery and an anesthetic, we would be doing them a great service,” he said.
Flexible nitinol wires at the tip of a device that breaks up blood clots collapse so they can pass through a catheter and regain their shape when they reach the bladder. Rice University students created the device as their senior engineering design project. Courtesy of Team Evacuator
Team Evacuator focused first on safety. One advantage of their device is that the clot-busting wires are unlikely to contact the bladder’s inside wall. “We also found that switching the direction of the spin at intervals breaks up the clot a lot better that one continuous direction, so we’re building that function into the motorized version,” Hu said of the team’s tests on pig blood and gelatin.
The students are pleased with the simple, functional product of their capstone project, a requirement for most students at Rice’s George R. Brown School of Engineering. “When we’re done with this at the end of the semester, it will be a finished product,” Gallegos said.
“For us, the best outcome will be seeing this device go even further. Realistically, we can get right to the stage before animal testing, and that’s a major point,” Hu added.
“(The device is) cost-effective, easily accessible and relevant at the point of care and has a chance of actually being welcomed and adopted by the intended audience undefined the operators undefined because it’s intuitive for them and utilizes their skill sets,” Dhanani said. “We came up with a good solution.”
One blessing of the Internet: shopping conveniently online for clothes. One curse of the Internet: shopping conveniently online for clothes.
“Nothing fits,” said Lam Yuk Wong, a senior in electrical and computer engineering at Rice University. “Everybody says this. They order clothes and they don’t fit. People get very unhappy.”
Wong and her design partner, Xuaner “Cecilia” Zhang, are Team White Mirror, creators of what they call a “virtual fitting room.” Their goal is simple and consumer-friendly: to assure online clothing shoppers a perfect fit and a perfect look with every purchase.
Both women are from China undefined Wong from Hong Kong, Zhang from Beijing. Both order most of their clothing online. They got the idea for their design project from their own experience as consumers and from listening to the complaints of friends and relatives.
“They say, ‘The color is wrong’ or ‘I got the right size but it does not fit right.’ We want to make it like you’re in the store trying on the clothes,” Zhang said.
Rice engineering students Cecilia Zhang, left, and Lam Yuk Wong have created a virtual fitting room for online shoppers. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
Using a Kinect, the motion-sensing input device developed by Microsoft for use with its Xbox 360 video game player, Zhang scans Wong and turns her image into, in effect, a virtual mannequin, preserving Wong’s dimensions, and even her skin and hair color.
“We put the clothes on the shopper’s 3-D body models and show how they look when they are dressed. The existing virtual fitting rooms don’t use customized body models that look like the shoppers. It takes a long time to display the fully dressed models, and they don’t look realistic,” Wong said.
With the software developed by the students, shoppers are able to see realistic details, even wrinkles in the garments. They can rotate the model to see how the garment fits from all sides. Thus far, Wong and Zhang have adapted the software to show dresses and shirts, and they are working on shorts.
Their paper, “Virtual Fitting: Real-Time Garment Simulation,” will be presented at the 27th annual conference of Computer Animation and Social Agents to be held May 26-28 at the University of Houston. The team received further validation when it won the $5,000 Willy Revolution Award at Rice’s annual Design Showcase April 17.
Asked if she thought men as well as women might be interested in using their virtual fitting room, Wong said, “I think their wives will care about this, so it will also be important to the men.”
The winning DeXcellence team, from left: Shaurya Agarwal, Allison Garza, Sonia Garcia, Vivaswath Kumar and Andrew Schober. Photo by An Le/Luxe Studio Productions
DeXcellence won the $5,000 top prize, the Excellence in Engineering Design Award, for its motion-capture device for cerebral palsy patients at the George R. Brown School of Engineering Design Showcase and Poster Competition April 17 at Tudor Fieldhouse.
The team members are electrical engineering major Vivaswath Kumar, bioengineering major Sonia Garcia, mechanical engineering majors Allison Garza and Shaurya Agarwal and bioengineering and computational and applied math major Andrew Schober.
“This is a testament to how much we’ve gotten from the engineering program, guys like (team advisers) Dr. (Gary) Woods, Dr. (Eric) Richardson, and all the help from Shriners Hospital,” Kumar said. “Capping off our engineering degree with this win is very special to us.”
“We also really have a passion for our project for helping kids,” Garcia added. “Who doesn’t like helping kids?”
Prizes of $1,000 were awarded for:
Excellence in Freshman Engineering Design Award: Rack City.
Excellence in Underclassman or Club Engineering Design Award: Rice Solar Car.
Excellence in Capstone Engineering Design Award (two awards): BiliQuant and NeuroLing.
Prizes of $500 went to teams in the following categories:
Best Interdisciplinary Engineering Design Award: Wheelin’ and Dealin’.
Best Conceptual or Computational Modeling Engineering Design Award: NCI Design.
Best Global Health Technologies Engineering Design Award: Humidize.
Best Energy-Related Engineering Design Award: BloomNG.
Best Health-Related Engineering Design Award: Nutriflow.
Best Environment and Sustainability Engineering Design Award: Big Water.
Best Engineering Design Award for Research: Resvolution.
Best Gaming, Creative or Innovative Technology Award: O-Ryon: Rice Robotics Club.
A pair of $400 prizes voted on by attendees were awarded to:
Judges’ and Professors’ Choice Award: tie, Jedi Putter and Neonatal Enthusiasts.
Students’ Choice Award: Magic Touch.
For the first time this year, the showcase featured the presentation of the Willy Revolution Award for Innovation in Engineering Design, which went to White Mirror.
The award was founded by the Rice alumni who carried out the university’s most famous jack in 1988 when they turned the statue of William Marsh Rice 180 degrees.
The annual public event put on by the George R. Brown School of Engineering and the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen features senior capstone design and other projects by Rice undergraduates. Read about all the participating teams here.
Putting is arguably the most important skill in golf; in fact, it’s been described as a game within a game. Now a team of Rice engineering students has devised a training putter that offers golfers audio, visual and tactile feedback to help them learn a consistent putting stroke.
“In the past few years, some work has been done on modeling the physics of putting,” said Ray Simar, Rice professor in the practice of electrical and computer engineering who tasked five seniors with designing and creating a putter that provides multisensory feedback. “In particular, how the ball rolls, trajectories on the green and also the sweep path and how that should perform.
“I pitched the students on ‘What if we build a putter that we could drive from the perspective of the physics?’”
Working in Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen, the students, who call themselves Team Jedi Putter, have finished a prototype and filed for a patent on a putter that has an accelerometer (to provide club speed), a gyrometer (for measuring rotation and to judge if the face of the club is twisting) and a magnetometer (to tell if the club head is up or down) all in the head of the club.
“It’s the first multisensory, real-time feedback training putter,” said Rice senior electrical engineering student Matthew Lopez. “It’s geared for beginning to intermediate golfers to help them learn a consistent putting stroke. Our main focus is not aiming on the green but rather getting consistent putts, so once you know where to aim you can hit that spot every time.” The team will address improving the golfer’s aim in an upcoming prototype.
Simar’s original idea was for the data from the club to be downloadable after the player’s practice session; the students did that and went a step further: They designed the sensors to give real-time feedback via the grip of the putter. If a user’s club head moves up or down, doesn’t move through a straight path or twists, the sensors in the head signal vibration to the grip. The user practices with the three-dimensional sensors until they have a “clean” stroke at the ball.
Team Jedi photo by Jeff Fitlow/Rice University
“The idea is that while you’re in the motion of the putt, it will deliver audio, visual and tactile feedback to help you correct your stroke,” said Rice senior mechanical engineering student Sid Mullick. “The correct stroke is rooted in basic physics. You want to achieve a straight back-and-front stroke, a linear stroke, and you want to swing at the resonance frequency of the pendulum formed by your arms and the putter. We have all that in our algorithms, and we’re able to deliver feedback to the golfer that no other product can deliver right now.”
The practice putter can also provide data to the user though a Bluetooth-enabled device, such as their smartphone or computer, where players can analyze the data and their stroke.
Moving forward, the team plans to introduce a speaker in the head to help a user synchronize their swing to tones – much like a metronome, and they will be adding a laser in the center of the club head to assist with impacting the ball squarely. The team has also produced a “dummy” club that is designed and weighted the same as Jedi Putter but without the electronics, making it useable in real golf play.
Team Jedi Putter Rice seniors are Lopez, Mullick, Chelsea Rodrigues, Roy Wu and Yize Zhao.
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