College of Engineering and Applied Science Awarded Assistive Technology Grant

October 28, 2010
Two students building wheelchair
Autonomous Wheelchair -- Morgan Allen and Dana Schultz, both electrical engineering students from Cheyenne, work on an autonomous wheel chair. It is among projects UW College of Engineering and Applied Science students have designed and built to assist individuals with disabilities. (UW Photo)

University of Wyoming engineering students are designing and building devices ranging from alarm clocks to color blindness detection systems to aid individuals with disabilities.

The National Science Foundation recently awarded the College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS) a $124,855 grant to fund the project, "Undergraduate Design Projects to Aid Persons with Disabilities."

"Accessible Wyoming" encourages students to focus on devices that will help individuals with disabilities explore Wyoming, and other frontier states. However, the projects are not limited to that theme.

Steven F. Barrett, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, leads the grant project. Collaborating with the Wyoming Institute for Disabilities (WIND) in the College of Health Sciences, the CEAS is working with engineering students from all disciplines enrolled in senior design classes.

"The projects will directly contribute to the quality of life for people with disabilities, with special emphasis on independent living technologies," Barrett says.

While Barrett maintains a list of potential projects, he is accepting need-based project ideas from anyone in Wyoming or surrounding states. If a project is accepted, a senior design student will work on the prototype for a year, and the individual will receive the assistive technology device for free, once approved by instructors.

"We encourage our students to make and maintain contact with the individual or family while they are working on the project," says Barrett. "There is no need to worry if a project is too big or too small. And it is completely free of charge."

Senior students Jennifer Catchpole of Cheyenne, computer engineering, and Jim Follum, Sundance, electrical engineering, are working on an alarm clock which could help individuals with hearing impairments.

"The clock will look like a normal alarm clock with two plugs in the back," says Follum. "A lamp will plug into the back and turn on an hour before the alarm will go off. The lamp starts dimly and grows brighter to mimic the sun."

He says the clock will also include a vibrating wristband component.

Additionally, senior electrical engineering student Anthony Michaelis of Loveland, Colo., is working on a color detection system to help individuals with color blindness.

Michaelis, who is color blind himself, explains, "You shine the green, blue, and red lights onto an object, and the device measures how much light is reflected back." From there, a computer reads the results and identifies the color of the object.

Other projects and the students assigned to them are:

Accessible Fishing -- Nicholas Borrego Laramie; Kristianna Bilan, Longmont, Colo.; and Thomas Gebes, Pinedale.

Autonomous Wheelchair -- Morgan Allen and Dana Schultz, Cheyenne; Benjamin Hoerst, Laramie; Tyler Morton, Parker, Colo.; and Rob Streeter, Rawlins.

Individuals with ideas or who have a need for an assistive technology project, call Barrett at (307) 766-6181 or Sandy Root-Elledge (WIND) at (307) 766-2764.

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