The mission of the Program for Assistive Technologies for Underprivileged (PATU) is to allow students to practice engineering skills while they develop strong communication and teamwork skills, gain global perspective, and learn social responsibility through projects for persons with disabilities that otherwise could not afford assistance.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Simple, lightweight, and affordable is the key

Today was the start of our very busy mission-driven, service-learning, engineering-focused week.  Professor Priscila from UESC connected us with an institution called CEPEDI (
EM INFORMÁTICA E ELETRO-ELETRÔNICA DE ILHÉUS), which is a company (not certain if it is for-profit or not) that does engineering development projects for companies.  They are sort of like a consulting company.  It was really cool and they had some facilities they let us use to work on getting our devices ready for delivery with tools and other machinery.  Marcus, the leader of CEPEDI, was very nice and wanted to learn more about our projects and what we do.  They are working to create more of a partnership with UESC for projects and I think this is one avenue that would be great!

After a quick lunch we set off to see Mr. Milton in Itabuna.  As usual, Mr. Milton and his wife, Nalva, were happy to see us. It was very exciting to see the device that Chris and Mitch made for him 2 years ago is hanging on his wall and still being used.  He loves it!

After explaining to the students about his accident (read his story here), we began getting feedback from him about his prosthetics.  If you recall, a couple years ago after our trip, the students and faculty in the Engineering program at Sweet Briar College did a fundraiser to purchase Mr. Milton commercially available prosthetic arms (see previous post). Last summer I did my best to try to deliver and do the final adjustments to the straps for the arms. 

Unfortunately, Mr. Milton has not found the arms useful.  They do not fit well, they are heavy and hot, and the end effector (a hook that opens and closes), does not suit his needs well.  We have not yet been successful in finding a prosthetist in the state that could help adjust it and further train him with the devices.

However, we have been further attempting to design a prosthetic arm that is more affordable, breathable, adjustable, lightweight, and simple for people like Milton.  This work has been the focus of my research efforts, and I have integrated it into course projects for the last few years. Two years ago my students Holly and Adam designed a sleeve that could be made out of local materials and that would be breathable and adjustable (read their published work here).  This year a group (Bill, Ron, Roxy, and Ashton) designed the end of the prosthetic.  I was very impressed with their work and was excited to get Milton’s feedback so we could make improvements in the future.

His reception of the device was better than we could have ever hoped for.  HE LOVED IT! He thought it was great because it was light weight and simple.  In a matter of about a half an hour we had it close to fitting him with only a few adjustments.  Ashton and Roxy worked with him to better understand the advantages and disadvantages of the prototype.  With only a few simple fixes we think we may be able to leave it with him on Friday! This result is far better than we ever could have hoped for!  He didn’t want us to take it with us today!

I know I left Milton’s home more excited than ever.  I can’t wait to see how well the other devices work out.  We’ve done some interesting projects, but now that our focus is on making them with simple materials so that they can be reproduced here and by the people who need them the most, that we are now truly making a different.

Reflection: What is happiness? Have your ideas of happiness changed since the start of this trip?

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