by Godfrey Nazareth, AAC-RERC Writers Brigade Participant
If a team of graduate and/or undergraduate students majoring in mechanical, electrical, biomedical engineering, computer science or architecture have an idea for a product that changes the lives of people with disabilities, then there is a national contest that can support their interest and give them a head start in the assistive technology field.
The Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America’s (RESNA) Student Design Competition (SDC) is an annual competition held in collaboration with RESNA’s national conference. The SDC’s goal is to provide an inspiring and creative platform to showcase and judge the work of energetic students representing a wide variety of disciplines including: mechanical, electrical, biomedical engineering, computer science and architecture. The competition is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and has been an active part of the annual RESNA conference. Please visit http://www.resna.org/news/detail.dot?id=56831 for more information.
This contest is open to undergraduate and graduate students from any discipline that have a creative and innovative design that will assist an individual with a disability to function more independently. One of the primary objectives of the contest is to encourage the development of the hands-on skills needed by students who may be considering the pursuit of a career in rehabilitation engineering and assistive technology. Furthermore, winners of the competition have frequently moved on to become leaders in those fields.
The first SDC was held in 1980 as part of the inaugural RESNA Conference. Since its inception, over 220 designs have been chosen as winning entries from more than 700 designs submitted by students from 117 universities. Support from the NSF over the past five years has enabled RESNA to expand and enhance the competition to reach out to more schools and universities to increase submissions.
The competition is being held again this year. Design projects submitted by students are judged by a panel of experts based on the following criteria: 1) the appropriateness of the device with respect to real consumer needs, 2) input about the design from intended users, 3) the innovation and creativity of the entry, 4) the manufacturability and market potential of the product, 5) the cost of the design, 6) the technical competence of the entry, 7) appropriateness of language used in narrative text, clear documentation of the design through description and graphics, and finally, 9) consumer feedback on prototype.
One of the greatest challenges faced by the design teams perhaps is developing the ability to proficiently work across several different fields. For successful project completion, students are expected to efficiently encompass a wide perspective, including not only the engineering and design aspect of their entries, but also input from professionals such as rehabilitation engineering specialists, physical therapists and marketing experts. Other challenges the students face are: managing their time, scheduling design review meetings, and communicating effectively with team members throughout the project design and competition. To overcome some of these obstacles, teams use online scheduling tools and file sharing utilities to ensure that everyone stays updated on project status and contributions.
One of the most unique features about the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America is that it is an organization of volunteers. This makes organizing such a large competition to be a daunting yet, rewarding experience. Perhaps the spirit of the Student Design Competition is best embodied by feedback from an anonymous competitor’s post on the project’s website. This student stated:
“The most positive aspect of the RESNA SDC was the chance to make a significant impact on the lives of those using assistive and rehabilitation technologies. Classroom exercises in design generally go no further than the final design presentation and with other design competitions it’s easy to forget the original purpose of the design in the push to present a winning design. However…you never forget that the design is ultimately being conducted to help people,” (Retrieved from http://aac-rerc.psu.edu/wordpressmu/RESNA-SDC/2012/01/05/2011-participant-feedback/, on 2/27/2012.)
Supporting research and development to change the lives of people with speech disabilities is the cornerstone of the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Communication Enhancement (AAC-RERC). Because of this the AAC-RERC has supported the RESNA Student Design Competition by developing and hosting a site for the students’ work. To witness the lasting impact of this project, learn more about this year’s contest details, criteria, and deadlines and to see past submissions, visit the website at http://aac-rerc.psu.edu/wordpressmu/RESNA-SDC/.