Conference Paper

Unique Projects for Individual Needs: Assistive Technology Designs in Engineering Education

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Abstract

This paper describes the integration of design projects to aid persons with disabilities in the mechanical engineering program at WPI. Students ranging from first year through graduate level design and build a wide range of devices as aids to daily living, to improve mobility, or for use in recreational activities. Ongoing relationships with local agencies that serve persons with disabilities are used to solicit project topics. The range of student abilities allows us to fit the sponsor-requested projects to an appropriate class level. Students experience the full range of design activities from needs assessment through prototype construction. Students are highly motivated to work on these unique design projects that have a high impact on their clients.

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Conference Paper
Several challenging issues must be addressed when developing class projects for introductory and intermediate design classes. The students have limited technical backgrounds. Large course enrollments conflict with the desire to have students work in small teams. Developing design course projects based upon devices to aid persons with disabilities can address many of these challenges. For the past 3 years we have implemented this approach in an introductory mechanical design course (50 students) and in an intermediate level course (20 students). Project topics are readily obtained from local and regional organizations that deliver services to persons with disabilities. Multiple appropriate level projects are simultaneously executed in the same class. Each project focuses on the design process and includes building and evaluating a prototype. Final oral and written reports are required. The nature of these projects also requires that the students address a variety of other issues including application of engineering within a societal context, ethics, confidentiality and professional behavior.
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