Students improve quality of life for vets through capstone project

May 04, 2018

The grip and lift device assists individuals with hand issues in performing routine tasks. Detroit Mercy engineering and nursing students joined forces with students from Lawrence Technological University and veterans over the past year to work on projects designed to ease challenges vets experience with everyday tasks due to physical disabilities.

This capstone project began more than nine years ago at Detroit Mercy with Dr. Darrell Kleinke, associate professor of Mechanical Engineering. He developed a capstone design course for the Mechanical Engineering program and focused the effort on ways students might make a difference in the lives of people in need.

Kleinke worked with Dr. Molly McClelland, professor of Nursing, to create an interdisciplinary approach that would partner Nursing and Engineering students working together with associates from the VA as well as disabled vets to create assistive technology devices geared toward quality of life improvements. Eventually, they involved Biomedical Engineering students and assistant professor Mansoor Nasir from Lawrence Technological University in the project and soon, students were learning how to network and collaborate with people from different fields and schools to devise devices that would disabled vets and people improve their quality of life

This year, student teams successfully presented the following devices to a large crowd gathered at the John D. Dingell VA Hospital in Detroit on April 19.

Click here to read a Detroit News article on the event.

Detachable Drive Unit for Manual Wheel Chairs
Many people who use wheel chairs like the convenience, ease and low cost of a manual chair compared to a powered wheel chair. However, in some circumstances a detachable drive unit can give them an assist when they want it, but quickly detach when unneeded.

Accessible Sink Installs Without the Need for Kitchen Renovations
People with disabilities may not have the resources to make kitchen renovations, especially in rental homes or apartments. The accessible sink attaches to a standard countertop without the need for extensive tear up. It deploys to a wheelchair friendly height when in use, then stows out of the way on top of a standard countertop when not in use.

Overcoming Impediments to Wheel Chair Access
This device helps clients overcome impediments to wheel chair access like a shower stall step-over ledge or a single stair step. This retrofit lift mechanism raises the chair just enough to help users traverse difficult impediments.
Obstacles such as a shower stall step-over ledge or a single stair step are troublesome to overcome with a transfer-style wheel chair, but a retrofit lift mechanism raises the chair just enough to easily enable the user to traverse otherwise difficult impediments.

Enabling Grip and Lift Abilities
The loss of hand grip strength and manual dexterity can make routine tasks, such as grasping a frying pan, difficult but a new utility tool quickly attaches to the user’s forearm enabling the person to use large motor muscles to lift, carry and manipulate objects. The user may also use the device as an arm rest, an arm extension, a way to pull themselves up, or many other uses.

Walker Assists Stance and Stability
Conventional walkers offer stability to users, but a new walker design offers stability plus a harness and support system for users that struggle to stand upright without assistance.  The harness design provides support with minimal aesthetic impact

Leg Flexure Minimizes Risk of Edema
Many people are aware of the risk of leg edema (water build up) due to sitting one position for extended periods on long plane flights, but persons with paraplegia have extremely high risk of edema every day as they are unable to move their legs for long periods of time.  A new simple device affords users the opportunity to flex their legs without assistance whenever they wish, reducing the risk of edema and atrophy.

In total, each project costs an average of $1,000 to $2,000, funded by donations from Fiat Chrysler Automotive and other sponsors. But the value of the program is much greater.

This summer, Technology Century magazine, a publication of the Engineering Society of Detroit, will publish a feature on this project authored by Detroit Mercy’s Amy Skimin. To view a photo album of student presentations at the VA Hospital on April 19, please visit the Detroit Mercy Facebook page at