College students engineer mobility device for 16-month-old girl

College students have applied their engineering and physical therapy skills to create a device that gives a 16-month-old girl a chance at independent mobility.

Grand Valley State University said last month that a group of engineering and physical therapy students participated in a semester-long project to develop an assistive-technology prototype known as the Play and Mobility Device for the young girl who has a genetic disease impacting motor nerve cells.

Assistive technology

The Play and Mobility Device was designed to give Lylah Gritter, who has type I spinal muscular atrophy, or SPA, the ability to move independently, using a modified joystick attached to a device she can sit in.

The current prototype includes a sensitive joystick, dual controls for a caretaker to override the tool’s functions and a long-lasting battery.

John Farris, professor of engineering at GVSU, said a group of four junior engineering students spent the fall semester developing a working prototype for the 16-month-old.

“We tackled it in a junior product development design class,” Farris said. “Lylah has restricted movement, and right now, she is using a modified joystick, which needs to be very sensitive. They had to have dual controls on it, so Lylah has control, and there is another caretaker control, which allows for override in case she was getting near something dangerous.”

The semester-long project was prompted by Lisa Kenyon, associate professor of physical therapy at GVSU, who asked the Engineering department if a device could be created for Lylah to gain the ability for self-movement, according to Farris.

“She doesn’t have the ability to move around on her own,” Farris said. “It denies her the ability to explore her environment and that really sets back her cognitive development.”

Based on how well the Lylah can use and control the joystick-powered device, Kenyon said it can help her become qualified to have a power wheelchair, which can cost at least $10,000.

To read the rest of this article, published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, please click here.