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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 invent device to assist disabled

Students show the EZ-Puff device KINGSTON, R.I. -- February 25, 2002 -- Three biomedical engineering students at the University of Rhode Island, working in cooperation with URI Professor Ying Sun, have developed a unique electronic device to help individuals with disabilities operate multiple electrical appliances and thereby maximize their independence.

Called EZ-Puff, the microprocessor-based device is controlled by a "sip-and-puff switch" – a switch patients operate with their mouth -- that can be used to control such things as a wheelchair, nurse call button, and room lighting. The EZ-Puff can also be used to operate the PowerScan 2000, another device created by URI students in 2000 that controls a television, VCR, stereo and other equipment.

The device was developed for patients at the Eleanor Slater Hospital and the affiliated Zambarano Hospital through a contract with the Rhode Island Department of Mental Health, Retardation and Hospitals.

"Quadriplegics and other disabled people often cannot operate devices using their hands, so the EZ-Puff can help them develop independence by being able to control a variety of electric devices with one tube," said Sun.

Kerri-Anne Lachance of Coventry, Kerri Pinnock of Little Compton, and Kaylen Haley of Richmond, all juniors studying biomedical engineering at URI, designed and built the device from scratch, which included writing a computer program to drive the hardware. A working prototype has been produced, although the students are still fine-tuning the software and working to make the switch more sensitive.

According to Sun, the device has tremendous potential. Demand is high at the hospitals for the PowerScan 2000, with 12 already in use and more under construction by URI students. The additional controlling capacity of the more-advanced EZ-Puff will likely mean that patients will also want the new device.

The students have entered their device in a design competition sponsored by the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America, and a patent application is pending.

When the students graduate from URI, they all intend to work in the medical equipment field, moving from designing small assistive devices like the EZ-Puff to re-engineering larger hospital equipment like those used for MRIs, EKGs, and CAT scans.

"It’s a big industry," said Sun, "and working with these assistive technologies is a good way to get into the business."

For Information: Ying Sun 401-874-2515, Todd McLeish 401-874-7892

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