Name of Project:  Mobility Outcomes Database Analysis

Description:  This project focuses on the Functional Mobility Assessment (FMA) and Uniform Data Set (UDS) mobility database. The FMA is an outcome measurement tool that is utilized within seating clinics throughout the country. The UDS is a set of variables collected alongside the FMA and entered into a secure database. The data is then collected and de-identified before being sent to Pitt for analysis. 

Project Level:  Intermediate 

Preferred Major/Background:  Rehabilitation Science
Disability Studies
Public Health

Required Skills/Courses:   Basic knowledge of Excel and other Microsoft Office software/packages
Basic knowledge of epidemiology
Basic knowledge of outcome measures within the rehabilitation field 

Submitted by:  Vince Schiappa; Mark Schmeler 


Name of Project:  AgileLife Transfer Bed Clinical Trials

Description:  The goal of this project is to conduct field trials by implementing the AgileLife PTS into the homes of complex and bariatric patients to evaluate the efficacy of the device. The AgileLife Patient Transfer System (PTS) developed by and commercially available from Next Health LLC is an innovative new device that offers a “zero-lift” solution for patients who are unable to independently transfer to and from the bed. The AgileLife PTS consists of a fully powered hospital bed, a docking station, transfer system and a manual wheelchair. The system is designed to allow the patient to be simply, gently, and easily transferred with little manual intervention required. Eight subjects will be recruited for a field trial with the PTS. The bed component of the AgileLife PTS will be installed in their home and 6 weeks baseline daily transfer and bed activity (e.g. occupied/unoccupied bed time) will be collected via a data-logging system built into the bed. After collecting baseline data, the system will be enabled for 6 weeks to determine if there are improvements in transfer activity. After the study, subjects and up to 3 caregivers providing assistance to each subject will complete a series of surveys, which will enable researchers to determine subjects’ satisfaction with the system. 

Project Level:  Intermediate 

Preferred Major/Background:  Engineering preferred, specifically biomedical, mechanical or computer science/engineering. Other possible backgrounds possible but are not limited to: biology, rehabilitation science, kinesiology etc.

Required Skills/Courses:  Experience with Microsoft Excel; experience with statistical software preferred; excellent interpersonal and communication skills (as the intern would have the opportunity to interact with participants) 

Submitted by:  Hailee Kulich; Dr. Koontz


Name of Project:  ISWP Standards Solidworks

Description:  The International Society of Wheelchair Professionals (ISWP) was launched in February 2015 with a mission to provide wheelchair users worldwide with the best technology and service. The need is great. Nearly 70 million people worldwide require wheelchairs for mobility and function, yet most lack access to appropriate wheelchairs or services to repair them. ISWP helps to professionalize wheelchair services around the world, benefitting both wheelchair users and those who provide them services. An Advisory Board comprised of an experienced cross-section of wheelchair clinicians, research scientists, humanitarian organizations and manufacturers provide direction and counsel for ISWP’s programs. 

This project includes developing standards and models for the ISWP. The student develops complete models of the testing equipment and supporting documentation. The goal is to support international product quality through proper testing. 

Project Level:  Intermediate

Preferred Major/Background:  Engineering - Mechanical Engineering preferred 

Required Skills/Courses:  Experience in 3D Solidworks - proficiency preferred
Moderate Proficiency in Mechanical Concepts
Communication Skills
Organization Skills
Independent Worker 

Submitted by:  Joseph Ott; Dr. Pearlman 


Name of Project:  ISWP Standards Protocol

Description:  This project incorporates developing standards of testing equipment for the ISWP. Development of protocol associated with the testing equipment as well as its validation are included in the scope. The goal is to support international product quality through proper testing procedures. 

Project Level:  Intermediate

Preferred Major/Background:  Engineering - Preferred Mechanical Engineering 

Required Skills/Courses:  Solidworks
Microsoft Office
Good Communication Skills
Mechanical Concepts 

Submitted by:  Anand Mhatre; Dr. Pearlman


Name of Project:  Effects of Vibration Exercise on Strength, Function, and Pain

Description:  Strong upper limb musculature is essential for people who have paraplegia with spinal cord injury (SCI) to operate manual wheeled mobility devices to live independently and perform activities of daily living such as wheelchair propulsion, wheelchair transfer activities, and weight relieving maneuvers. These activities, however, place high demands on the upper extremities and practicing them over time negatively impacts upper extremity health. The shoulders, elbows and wrists are all highly susceptible to degeneration, overuse injuries, and pain. The shoulder is the most common site of upper extremity pain in manual wheelchair users, with reported pain ranging from 32% to 78%. A range of pathological conditions at the shoulder have also been documented including impingement syndrome, adhesive capsulitis, recurrent dislocations, rotator cuff tears, and tendinitis. Shoulder pain has been most closely associated with transfers, weight relieving activities, and ramp propulsion indicating that these activities may be the most demanding ones performed. 

The primary purpose of this study is to explore the benefits of vibration dumbbell resistance training over standard dumbbell resistance training for improving upper limb strength, function, and pain among manual wheelchair users with paraplegia. The proposed study may reveal whether vibration dumbbell exercise versus standard dumbbell dynamic strength training is more effective at improving the capacity to build upper extremity strength and help wheelchair users perform essential mobility tasks more easily (e.g. ramp propulsion and non-level transfers).  

Project Level:  Intermediate 

Preferred Major/Background:  Engineering preferred, specifically biomedical, mechanical or computer science/engineering. Other possible backgrounds possible but are not limited to: biology, rehabilitation science, kinesiology, exercise physiology etc. 

Required Skills/Courses:  Familiarity with Matlab is strongly recommended, as well as the ability to use Microsoft word and excel. A basic understanding of anatomy would be useful, as well as a basic understanding of exercise physiology. 

Submitted by:  Sarah Bass; Dr. Koontz 


Name of Project:  High Efficiency Drive System

Description:  The high efficiency drive system uses a pneumatic system consisting of high-pressure air tanks and a pneumatic motor. Preliminary consumption tests have confirmed the feasibility of using pneumatic technology for traveling short distances as an alternative form of propulsion to traditional electric drive systems.

Project Level:  Intermediate 

Preferred Major/Background:  Mechanical Engineering 

Required Skills/Courses:  Mechanically inclined, interest in engineering, hands-on experience with mechanical systems 

Submitted by:  Brandon Daveler, Dr. Rory Cooper 


Name of Project:  Strong Arm

Description:  The project is a power wheelchair-mounted mobile robotic-assisted transfer device (RATD) called Strong Arm. This study aims to compare the biomechanics, effectiveness, and ergonomics of the HERL- Strong Arm to the Hoyer Presence, the “gold standard” of current transfer assist devices.

Project Level:  Basic 

Preferred Major/Background:  Mechanical Engineering 

Required Skills/Courses:  A student who is interested in this project should have an engineering background in one of engineering fields such as bioengineering, electrical engineering, software engineering, and/or mechanical engineering. In addition to that, if applicable, a student should have a background in designing software such as Solid work and other computer software such as MATLAB. 

Submitted by:  Saleh Alqahtani, Dr. Rory Cooper 


Name of Project:  Development of an upper-extremity musculoskeletal model of wheelchair propulsion

Description:  The student will use kinetic and kinematic data of wheelchair propulsion to develop upper-extremity musculoskeletal models using OpenSim, a publicly-available modeling program. 

Project Level:  Advanced 

Preferred Major/Background:  Bioengineering, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering 

Required Skills/Courses:  Looking for a student with some experience and/or knowledge of biomechanics, coding, inverse dynamics, and modeling. 

Submitted by:  Nathan Hogaboom; Dr. Boninger 


Name of Project:  Terrain detection and classification for advanced wheelchair navigation

Description:  You will be furthering development on a system that uses light detection and ranging to identify obstacles and types of terrain that a wheelchair may encounter, and integrating that information into the wheelchair’s control system to improve the efficiency of its self-leveling an obstacle negotiating features.

Project Level:  Advanced 

Preferred Major/Background:  Bioengineering, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering 

Required Skills/Courses: Programming experience, preferably C/C++

Submitted by:  Andrea Sundaram 


Name of Project:  Smartphone app development for the Manual Wheelchair Virtual Coach

Description:  You will be furthering development on an android smartphone based app that both displays real-time sensor information to the user and does interactive coaching to encourage healthy behaviors. Your portion of the project may expand to include the development of machine learning algorithms and their integration with the smart phone app.

Project Level:  Advanced 

Preferred Major/Background:  Bioengineering, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering 

Required Skills/Courses: Programming experience, especially with Java; C/C++ experience is also useful

Submitted by:  Andrea Sundaram 


Name of Project:  Mentoring for Wheelchair Service Professionals

Description:  The International Society of Wheelchair Professionals (ISWP), a network of international and regional partners dedicated to the professionalization of wheelchair (WC) services worldwide, hopes to provide the best training to rehabilitation professionals servicing clients using manual wheelchairs. Mentoring has shown to have an impact on the training and clinical practice of health and rehabilitation professionals; however, there is no exact protocol for mentoring wheelchair service personnel. The student, therefore, will help conduct a needs assessment of mentoring methods by interviewing potential wheelchair service mentees and mentors. Based on current literature and the outcome of the needs assessment, the student will develop a mentorship protocol. As ISWP is an international network, the student will then help develop an online platform to initiate and implement the protocol for in-person and remote mentorship and guidance. This project will promote the training of rehabilitation professionals in wheelchair services by the ISWP and thus ensure better outcomes of clients using manual wheelchairs around the world. 

Project Level:  Basic

Preferred Major/Background:  Rehabilitation Science, Disability Studies, Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Kinesiology, and Psychology

Required Skills/Courses:  Time management, critical thinking, written and oral communication skills, computer skills and familiarity with academic platforms such as Blackboard, CourseSites, etc. 

Submitted by:  Alexandria Miles; Dr. Goldberg 


Name of Project:  HeadTrack

Description:  This project will pilot test a mobile smartphone application designed specifically to track triggers and prodromal symptoms of migraines. The smartphone application will collect patient-specific factors (i.e. sleep/wake, mood, meal timing) thought to contribute to migraine attacks. The smartphone application will also record samples of sound (amplitude), light (luminance), and GPS coordinates each time a survey is completed. GPS coordinates will be used to local environment data to determine if environmental factors also contribute to migraine attacks. 

This project will include a sample of 30 adults diagnosed with episodic migraines with or without aura recruited from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) Headache Center. Participants will be screened for eligibility and individually trained on the app and external light sensor. Participants will utilize the app for four consecutive weeks and receive weekly technical support calls from a research assistant. Analyses will be conducted to determine individual and aggregate prediction curves, indicating which variables predict migraine attacks. 

A secondary focus of this project will be to find low-cost external sensors to use in conjunction with the survey app. The sensors must be able to continuously track light (luminance) and sound (a-weighted decibels). The sensors must be easy to use and practical for use in a large-scale trial.  

Project Level:  Advanced 

Preferred Major/Background:  Engineering or information management. Preference for a student that will be able to independently research external light and sound sensors that can be paired with smartphone app technology. 

Required Skills/Courses:  Familiar with smartphone technology
Good communication skills
Strong organizational and scheduling skills 
Preference for a student interested in engineering, programming, or sensor technology. 

Submitted by:  Kelly Beck; Dr. McCue 


Name of Project:  Next Health Electronic Power Wheelchair

Description:  The Next Health Agile Life Patient Transfer System is an advanced hospital bed and manual wheelchair that work together to transfer a patient from one to the other without lifting. The advantages to this are numerous for both patient and caregiver, safety being key. This project involves the development and implementation of a power wheelchair and docking system to interact with the already existing bed. The final product will achieve the same level of comfort and confidence as the current manual wheelchair version of the product while minimizing the extent to which the caregiver interacts with the transfer. 

Project Level:  Intermediate 

Preferred Major/Background:  Biomedical, Mechanical, or Electrical engineering preferred. 

Required Skills/Courses:  Suggested skills are modeling, coding, and hands-on machining. Suggest courses include mechanical design, basic programming, physics (mechanics and electricity & magnetism), and simulation. Other skills and knowledge include human anatomy and physiology, clinical experience 

Submitted by:  Richard Kovacsics; Garrett Grindle 


Name of Project:  Improving Transfer Technique in Wheelchair Users

Description:  Transfers are essential part of daily living for wheelchair users. On average, wheelchair users transfer 15-20 times per day. Unfortunately, due to the stresses of this activity, it can predispose individuals to repetitive strain injuries. To address this, it is important that proper technique is utilized. Barriers to learning necessary transfer skills include access to knowledgeable trainers, decreased lengths of stay in both inpatient and outpatient settings, and transportation, among others. To address these barriers, we have developed an online web-based training module that is freely available to wheelchair users. We are evaluating the effectiveness of the training module through a randomized control trial. 

Project Level:  Basic 

Preferred Major/Background:  Interest in clinical interventions

Required Skills/Courses:  Microsoft Office
Effective communication skills 

Submitted by:  Lynn Worobey


Name of Project:  Evaluating the Role of Assistive Technology

Description:  Assistive technology is an important interface between individuals with disabilities and their environment. For people with mobility impairments the wheelchair is a necessary step to social participation. In 2016, 63.8% of wheelchair users reported wheelchair breakdown over a 6-month period. These failures resulted in users being stranded, missing work or school, or missing a medical appointment. Differences in breakdown have been noted based on race, wheelchair type, wheelchair features, and socioeconomic status. Unfortunately, many of these differences in performance are not well known to users or clinicians during the selection process. This project builds upon previous work to further investigate these consequences and the repair process. 

Project Level:  Basic 

Preferred Major/Background:  Experience with graphic design or web development a plus, but not required 

Required Skills/Courses:  Microsoft Office
Effective communication skills 

Submitted by:  Lynn Worobey 


Name of Project:  Quantifying the effect of distractions on EEG BCI-controlled WC driving

Description:  The primary aim of this work is to investigate the operation of an EEG-controlled assistive device such an electric powered wheelchair to perform complex tasks, within a safe virtual environment, which would provide external stimuli (i.e. distractions) that could impair the person's ability to perform a task.

Project Level:  Intermediate 

Preferred Major/Background:  Electrical Engineering; Bio-engineering; Computer Science

Required Skills/Courses:  Bio mechanics 1&2; Signal processing 

Submitted by:  Deepan Kamaraj, Jennifer Collinger


Name of Project: STEM Accessibility Project

Description: People with disabilities remain underemployed and underrepresented in science and engineering (S&E) careers. Molding science and engineering (S&E) employees with disabilities mainly occurs during postsecondary education. There is a lack of empirical evidence in the literature on barriers and facilitators students with physical disabilities (SwD-P) encounter in S&E laboratories within postsecondary environments. Properly training SwD-P in S&E requires an understanding of the issues and accommodations from constituents in the educational pipeline.  Increased participation of SwD-P enrolling in STEM postsecondary programs will help to address underemployment and underrepresentation of this group in S&E careers. A survey will be developed and distributed.

The primary purpose of the REU student will be to help clean up and analyze the data collected from the surveys, this will help towards generating empirical evidence towards educating institutions and instructors on barriers and steps they can take to help accommodate SwD-P to obtain hands-on training in S&E laboratories.

Project Level: Basic

Preferred Major/Background: Preference for student in Engineering (e.g. Biomedical, Computer, Electrical, Mechanical, etc.) or Science (e.g. Biology, Rehabilitation Science, etc.)

Required Skills/Courses: Critical thinking, time management, written and oral communication skills, Microsoft Excel, etc.

Submitted By: Hervens Jeannis

Education > Undergraduates > ASPIRE > Projects > REU Projects 2017