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News Archive 2001 - 2010

Senior Design Project Brings Joy to Boy with Disabilities

June 30, 2009

Most senior projects have little immediate impact on the industry or application they’re designed for, but occasionally a need arises that requires a timely response. Such was the case for a project recently completed by a group computer science and engineering seniors.

In May 2008, an interior designer working with A Wish with Wings contacted the College of Engineering for help designing an entertaining and stimulating play environment for an 11-year-old boy named Daniel. Carter Tiernan, assistant dean of engineering and senior design project adviser, coordinated efforts to work on the project.

Because of hydrocephalus, Daniel’s mental development was around that of a 10-month-old. He also had extremely poor vision and used a wheelchair. His home had no area where he could entertain himself without the interaction of his mother or caregiver.

Under Dr. Tiernan’s supervision, seniors Nancy Jimenez, Andrew Patronite, Jamila Phillips and Kimberly Villa took on the project. The task required designing a computer-centered activity that would challenge and entertain the boy yet operate without parental supervision. Because it was a senior design project, they had only an $800 budget.

Their creation: the Interactive Wall of Fun.

“We wanted to make something that would elicit Daniel’s attention and provide some means of inputting responses or requests,” Phillips said. “The final result had two types of inputs—four buttons and a wheel—and two outputs, lights and sound. As we got further along, we realized that we also needed to make an expandable system, one that could accept additional features created by another senior design team, and one that had an easy-to-use graphic interface for the parents.”

To nurture Daniel’s intellect, the team incorporated three games, one based on “Simon,” another that had a basic, repeating pattern and a third with a random pattern. When Daniel turned the wheel or pushed one of four buttons at the proper time, positive feedback would come in the form of sounds and/or colored lights.

“One of our biggest problems came from actually constructing the Wall of Fun,” Phillips said. “We’re not mechanical engineers, and none us had experience with building anything. Also, there was no way that we could build the entire system for less than $800. Fortunately, the Wish with Wings Foundation gave us $900 to purchase the tablet PC that controls the system.”

Wish with Wings also helped the team contact John Hoover of Rentenbach Construction, who built the framework for the system and installed it in Daniel’s home.

“All in all, we’re really proud of what we accomplished,” Phillips said.

When the wall was installed in May, a local TV news crew recorded Daniel’s reaction. “He loves it,” his mother said. “He will play at the wall for as long as I’m in the room.”

Dr. Tiernan thinks the team exceeded its goal.

“The students got the chance to apply their skills to something that was immediately put to use and to develop something for Daniel that he would never have gotten otherwise,” she said. “The system they built will also continue to be developed by future senior teams, both for Daniel and for other potential users. I know this system has had a positive impact on Daniel’s life and on the lives of Nancy, Andy, Jamila and Kim as well.”