Volunteers for Medical Engineering (VME)

Engineering to Empower

March: United States Naval Academy Capstones

The Engineering to Empower Series is a monthly salute to our school partners and highlights solutions for people with disabilities by engineers & students.

This March, we’re showcasing the Capstones from the United States Naval Academy.

Volunteers for Medical Engineering (VME) and The U.S. Naval Academy have maintained a long-standing relationship for a decade. During their senior year, Midshipmen create engineered solutions during a year-long Capstone class.

In this post, you will see a sampling of collaborative projects designed for people with disabilities from over the years. 

Elegant engineering! Life-changing solutions!

Special thanks to:
Dr. Patrick Caton
Dr. Karen Flack
LCDR Andria Jones
Dr. Peter Joyce
Dr. Ethan Lust
Dr. Luska Luznik
Dr. Samar Malek
CDR John Schedel
Dr. Joel Schubbe
Dr. Sophoria Westmore
Additional thanks to our volunteers: Niel Leon, Dan Hedges, John Haug, Mike Rodowski, John Walker & in memory of Dr. Andy Conn

2022 Projects Underway

Andy’s Pill Dispenser

Left: Andy in an Edge wheelchair. Right: Illustration of pill dispenser.
Left: Andy in an Edge wheelchair. Right: Illustration of pill dispenser.

Andy’s Pill Dispenser is an engineered solution for 57-year-old Andy who has cerebral palsy. He lives on his own but has a part-time caregiver who helps him with daily needs. Andy takes four pills per day at different intervals. The pills will be loaded by his caregiver, and then dispensed into a cup through a free-standing, rotating device. Andy has a 6 to 7-inch arm reach with his right hand. The Team will also add a commercial water dispenser that is compatible with his Edge wheelchair.

Sensory Basketball

Sensory basketball with sound device.
Sensory Basketball.

Sensory basketball will enable blind and low-vision children to play basketball. Upon bouncing, a sound will be activated alerting the children of the ball’s location. Three-D modeling (from Stereolithographic-SLA printer) is underway for a battery holder which will be inserted and hidden inside the basketball shaft. Future considerations: Bluetooth; microcontroller; accelerometer; speaker.  Testing will soon begin at the Maryland School for the Blind.

Spring 2021

Seamus’ Beachchair

Phase 1 beach chair design of device with two wheels and front bar.
Phase 1
Phase 2 beach chair design of device with added backrest and extended front wheel on wooden chassis.
Phase 2
Phase 3 beach chair design of device with added seat pads and storage basket.
Phase 3
Phase 4 beach chair design of device with wider wheels designed for sand use and steel chassis.
Phase 4
Completed beach chair with supportive padding, heavy duty wheels, steel frame, and storage basket.
Phase 5

This specialized, all-terrain beach chair was a combination of work completed by MIDS and VME volunteers.  The chair base is from a motorized wheelchair with added machined features plus 16.5” polyurethane balloon wheels  – see pics – design progression.   

Spring 2019

Brennon’s Therapeutic Swing

Awarded VME Project of the Year in 2020

Team of engineering students working on wood frame for glider.
The Team gets to work.
Navy sailor wearing blue camouflage behind Brennon in his wheelchair on glider.
Brennon enjoys his glider.

One of life’s pleasures for ten-year-old Brennon is swinging and rocking. Brennon has multiple disabilities causing developmental delays and seizures. Performance, reliability, durability, serviceability, and safety were the main customer requirements. After testing and research, the Team decided to use a trapezoid-shaped, aluminum structure with steel bars. Using a custom ramp, Brennon is able to be wheeled onto the glider-like apparatus. His wheelchair is locked in place for a smooth ride.

Spring 2016

Nacole’s Shower Transfer

Bathtub and shower before shower transfer installed.
Nacole’s Original Bathtub.
Illustration of shower transfer design.
The Design.
Hydraulic Piston Rigging with Bolt.
Hydraulic Piston Rigging with Bolt.
The 5 member engineering team with Nacole seated in her completed shower transfer device.
The Team with Nacole and the completed project.

Nacole lives alone. A part-time caregiver assists several times a week.  Nacole wanted to be able to transfer from her wheelchair to the tub independently. She has cerebral palsy and after surgery, her legs became almost at a rigid, 90-degree angle. The solution: a hydraulic lifting and tilting “barber chair” which aligned with the height of her wheelchair for easy initial transfer. The 8020 frame is made of four sets of legs connected to two parallel bars; the wheels are nylon PA Glass Fiber.

Spring 2014

Colby’s Trike

Colby on his toddler trike with his Mom.
Colby on his toddler trike with his Mom.
Illustration for pulley design.
Machined for pulley system.
Pulley system installed on new tricycle.
Getting ready to ride!
Colby on his new custom tricycle with four women engineering students in their Navy uniforms.
Colby loves his new trike!

From a toddler trike to a big-boy trike, eight-year-old Colby was able to enjoy riding in his neighborhood. Colby is on the autism spectrum.  The MIDS used a 20” trike with a custom-designed brake and pulley system to allow mom to push and steer from the rear. 

Spring 2013

Kevin’s Transport

Illustration of custom tricycle design.
The design for Kevin’s bike.
View of Steering System.
View of Steering System.
Engineering student in white naval uniform behind Kevin on his custom bicycle.
Kevin is ready to roll.
Two engineering student in white naval uniforms with Kevin on his custom bicycle.
The Team with Kevin.

Kevin’s family longed for him to ride in the neighborhood like other teens.  Seventeen-year-old Kevin experienced cerebral palsy and other developmental delays, but was able to grip handlebars.  The goal was to provide increased motor function through pedaling a recumbent bike with a 26” rear handlebar – steering and braking system. The design also included a 4-point harness to keep him strapped in. Kevin was on the move!

Spring 2013

Abdurrahman’s Customized Walker

Abdurrahman sitting on the floor.
Abdurrahman is ready for his walker.
Custom walker made of study metal.
The completed product.
Abdurrahman using his new walker.
Abdurrahman is ready to go!

Two-year-old Abdurrahman experiences a rare genetic disorder causing developmental delays. At 30 inches tall and weighing 19 pounds, the family requested an indoor solution to help him to strengthen his legs to walk. He presented with good upper body strength and excellent eye/hand coordination. A custom walker was designed from PVC & aluminum tubing built on castors wheels with a gymnastics belt for support. With coaching, Abdurrahman was able to move on his own.


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