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Biomechanics Innovation Research for Disability (BIRD) Lab

​​Current Pro​jects

An electrically-indepe​ndent power assi​st device for manual wheelchairs

Team: Nasif Islam (Bionegineering Master's Student), Dr. Levin Sliker, Dr. Cathy Bodine, and Kelly Waugh (clinician)

There are approximately 65 million people worldwide who need a wheelchair, a fraction of whom have access to one. Manual wheelchairs are the most common type of wheelchair, especially in developing countries due to their mechanical simplicity, low cost, and low weight. To be independently mobile while using a manual wheelchair requires upper arm dexterity, however overuse injuries are often observed due to the added stress on and repetitive motion of the joints and limbs. Furthermore, it is physically exhausting to roll a wheelchair over long distances, up hills, and over obstacles. Several power-assist wheelchair options have been developed and are available commercially in developed countries. These chairs are expensive (~$5300 ± $2600), and most require electricity. A low-cost and accessible power-assist solution would decrease the burden on taxpayers by reducing the amount paid for a device by Medicare/Medicaid and reduce stress on the U.S. healthcare system. For those living in undeveloped and developing countries, it would provide a critically needed low- to no-cost feature. The proposed electrically independent wheelchair drive assist mechanism will store mechanical energy during “easy” activities (e.g., rolling on flat or downhill surfaces) to be used later (either through a short burst or extended release of the stored energy) during “hard” activities (e.g., traveling over rough terrain, over an obstacle such as a curb, or uphill). Accessibility and usability will be key components of the design. The drive assist mechanism will be affordable and made from common materials and components, ensuring accessibility in developing areas where resources are limited. The device will also be an aftermarket add-on, eliminating the need to purchase a new wheelchair. Electrical independence ensures that there will be no need to charge a battery, no added weight of a battery/motor, and improved usability in areas without reliable electricity sources. The project engineers are working closely with clinicians to develop and test an accessible and usable product.

This device has the potential to benefit millions of people who use manual wheelchairs, but need a simple, inexpensive and electrically independent power-assist device to alleviate physiological overuse issues, and assist with navigating otherwise physically demanding environmental obstacles.


Development of a 3-Dimensional Spatial-Orientation Palpation Device t​o Measure Relative Angles, Absolute Angles and Linear Body Dimensions for Wheelchair Seating and Positioning

Team: Dr. Levin Sliker, Dr. Cathy Bodine, Kelly Waugh​ (clinician), and Kurt Pierson​ (Bioengineering Master's student)

It is generally accepted that seated posture of wheelchair occupants affects their health, comfort and daily function. However, there is not a significant body of evidence to support this claim. Evidence-based knowledge is needed for specific relationships betwwen seating equipment features, occupant's seated posture, and health and functional outcomes. In order to objectively investigate these relationships, we must be able to quantify wheelchair seated posture. The most common tools used by clinicians for measuring wheelchair seated posture include goniometers, inclinometers and rulers. While these tools are simple, accuracy and repeatability are limited.

The purpose of this project is to develop an inexpensive and clinically useful palpation device for measuring body relative angles, absolute angles, and linear body dimensions for wheelchair seating and positioning. The measurement goals of the project coincide with the ISO 16840-1 standardized measures.

For more information on wheelchair seating and positioning, visit this page.

​Prospective Students

We have many interesting projects that need students! ​If you are interested in working in the BIRD lab, please send a cover letter and resume to Dr. Levin Sliker