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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

URI engineering students develop device
to assist individuals with disabilities

KINGSTON, R.I. -- August 18, 2000 -- Seven biomedical engineering students at the University of Rhode Island, working in cooperation with URI Professor Ying Sun and Physical Therapy Executive in Residence Thomas Romeo, have developed a unique device to help individuals with disabilities operate a variety of electrical devices and thereby have better control over their environment.

Called the PowerScan 2000, the environmental control device was developed for patients at the Eleanor Slater Hospital through a contract with the Rhode Island Department of Mental Health, Retardation and Hospitals.

Starting with a simple television and home automation remote control, the URI team created a microprocessor-based device to operate appliances like televisions, VCRs, stereos and lighting, as well as a call button to contact the nursing station. The device can be controlled using a simple switching mechanism, such as "sip-and-puff switch" that patients operate with their mouth.

"Quadriplegics, as well as some individuals with cerebral palsy, head injuries or other impairments, are unable to operate devices using their hands," explained Sun. "This new device allows them to maintain control over their environment in a way they were unable to before."

Sun and two visiting professors from China developed a prototype of the device last winter. When that device was demonstrated for residents of Zambarano Hospital in Pascoag (an affiliate of Slater Hospital), the device was in great demand and a long waiting list of requests was generated. After a month of additional work on the device this summer by the URI students, five new devices were delivered to Zambarano this week.

"The students are building them from scratch, so they're learning a great deal from this hands-on work," said Sun. "It's a great learning experience for them."

According to Sun, this technology has great potential. At Zambarano and Slater Hospitals, more than 40 residents could benefit from the device. Additional features, including a voice activated device and one that triggers the opening of doors, will make it even more useful.

"The patients that have used the device are really happy to get it because it gives them more privacy and more control over their lives," said student Hoang Thi Le, a junior from Cranston. "And I'm happy to be involved in the project because it gives me more experience helping patients."

Other students involved in the project this summer are Paul Cabral of Fall River, Mass., George Dib of North Kingstown, Thuy Duong Le of Woonsocket, Josh Mundy of Harrisville, Shelley Silva of Smithfield, and Rachel Starr of Manchester, N.H.

The device was developed as part of URI's Partnership in Physiological Measurements and Computing, a research team that applies engineering and computer technologies to the study of life sciences.


For Information: Ying Sun 874-2515, Todd McLeish 874-7892


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