UAB students invent a wheelchair that helps children with disabilities get moving



Mary Graham, 2, was born with scoliosis, hip dysplasia and muscular dystrophy. Sheppard’s dreams of her daughter running and jumping were replaced with plans for a life seated in a clunky wheelchair.

After getting in a one-of-a-kind, car-shaped wheelchair created as a senior project by undergraduates in UAB’s biomedical engineering Capstone Design Course, Mary Graham experienced the playground like never before. The wheelchair is equipped with a joystick and a kid-friendly paint job, and it is at ground level so that toddlers do not loom above their peers. It also has an override system with which parents can stop the child’s movement at the flip of a switch.

“It is such a great option for children who may not be mobile, instead of a clunky wheelchair,” Sheppard said. “It makes it fun so that they can explore, and that helps them cognitively.”

For more than 15 years, and with the assistance of a National Science Foundation grant, engineering and business seniors have partnered with various community agencies including United Cerebral Palsy, Children’s of Alabama and others, to create biomedical devices to aid people with disabilities. Engineering students work with their client to identify an engineering need. Business students develop a market analysis and business model then create a prototype.

“It’s a chance to solve a real-world engineering problem,” said Alan Eberhardt, Ph.D., professor and associate dean of the School of Engineering. “The students spent the past four years working in textbooks and computers. The Capstone Design Course allows them to put their knowledge to task.”

This past year, a group of undergraduates – Ryan Densmore, Shelby May, Dan McFalls and Stephen Mehi – constructed the wheelchair for the Bell Center, an early intervention program for infants and toddlers with special needs. The Center, where Mary Graham is a client, needed a mobility device to train young children to use a powered wheelchair; it was using a borrowed one.

The students spent countless hours in the design lab coming up with a model that would help the children, as well as meet specific design codes and regulatory standards. With a budget of $1,500, the students had to be inventive, scavenging parts from the power system of an old wheelchair.

“The process of building it has been the best part of my college education,” said Densmore, a senior from Morris, Ala. “The entire project was an opportunity to apply all the knowledge I have accumulated over my four years at UAB.”

Bell Center Physical Therapist Kate Stribling said the wheelchair has many benefits.

“It is teaching children that they can be independently mobile, especially for those who have never experienced that,” she said.

The students’ design is being reviewed for its potential marketability. If translation into a viable business venture is feasible, the project may be incorporated into a new engineering graduate program.

“It is a great feeling to help someone, especially children,” Densmore said, adding that knowing it would be at the Bell Center made him proud. “I cannot think of a better place for it.”

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UAB Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship holds launch event

“The institute will bring a cross-disciplinary technology transfer and academic approach to a new elevated level,” said Winwood. “We will focus on technology based economic development utilizing core academic and research strengths to ensure rapid development of new ideas, products and ground breaking technologies discovered at UAB.”

Injury vs. Innovation

Candace FloydAt age 17, Candace Floyd, Ph.D., worked as an emergency medical technician and a hospital volunteer. She saw wreck victims and shaken babies who had suffered central nervous system trauma, and she resolved to help them. Candace Floyd aims to accelerate breakthrough studies in spinal cord injuries at UAB with the T.J. Atchison Spinal Cord Injury Research Program

UAB students invent a wheelchair that helps children with disabilities get moving

Kids get moving
When Jennifer Sheppard learned that University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Engineering and School of Business students created a motorized wheelchair for 1- to 3-year-olds, she was eager to let her daughter give it a try.

Improving online communication security

saxena cisco webUAB researchers are working to improve the end-to-end security of an increasingly common means of communication. Through a two-year, $150,000 project funded by Cisco Systems, researchers in the Department of Computer and Information Sciences (CIS) are designing mechanisms to secure voice- and video-over-Internet (VoIP) communications, such as Skype or Jabber.

Improving creativity
— in the process

  • Expand teaching and understanding of innovation and entrepreneurship

  • Foster experiential learning in collaboration with community partners

  • Develop a richer process for vetting ideas

  • Streamline the process for identifying innovative products and services

  • Simplify access to resources that nurture and accelerate development of successful companies

  • Offer leadership and management coaching

  • Embrace proactive, new and unique strategies for increasing IP and licensing opportunities


Developing a culture that fuels and sustains innovation