Victory

01.17.2013 | Engineering
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It may be the biggest three-pointer hit at the University of Dayton this year. Seven-year-old Dale Brick of Pickerington, Ohio, doesn't have the use of his legs and left arm, but he recently drilled a shot that sent the gathered crowd into a frenzy.

The feat took place in the University's School of Engineering Innovation Center where students have been working on a handicapped-accessible video game controller that is helping Dale regain movement in his arm. The project is drawing interest from a national foundation.

"What we saw here, in our minds, was nothing short of miraculous. We actually saw improvement in a very short period of time. He was determined. He stuck with it, and it became clear that he was very slowly learning how to use those gross motor skills to move that controller better than he did when he began," said Dale's father, Mark Brick.

The device is the brainchild of Dale's brother, University of Dayton engineering student Brad Eley, who set out to find a solution to the difficulties Dale faced while playing video games requiring both hands. Therapists had tried several methods to strengthen Dale's left arm with the goal of giving him greater independence, but each therapeutic attempt was very challenging for Dale and yielded marginal temporary improvements, as Dale was not as motivated.

"Not being to able to go outside, video games are his outlet," said Brad, who graduated in December with a degree in mechanical engineering and is now working at Advanced Engineering Solutions Inc. in Springboro, Ohio. "He would play with his right arm only, so that would be very difficult for games that would require both hands to be moving some type of controller. He gets defeated after a while. And, I don't want to see him get beat up in the virtual world just like I would never want to see somebody hurt anyone in my family in the physical world."

Development of the device became the focus of Brad's capstone engineering team project. Working with other students, they developed multiple prototypes before settling on one they felt Dale could best control with his left hand and interface with a video game. Dale's first victory was moving a dinosaur across a computer screen.

That led to the scene in the Innovation Center as Dale tested the controller while playing NCAA Basketball 2009 before a crowd of students, faculty and his family.

The controller could have a therapeutic benefit for Dale as well, according to Kurt Jackson, an assistant professor and neurology coordinator in the University's doctor of physical therapy program. Jackson said it would provide a fun way for Dale to do therapy and get the thousands of repetitions needed to rewire the brain and nervous system.

"This is why we're doing it. When you see what you're doing makes a difference in someone's life, you just can't beat that experience," said Jay Janney, a University of Dayton associate professor of management and marketing. Janney is working with a team of business students putting together a business plan to present to Brad who will market the product from there.

The project has changed the way student Jamie Jansen views the roles of engineers.

"It changes a lot about how you think about what you do," he said. "It will be definitely something I take from this."

Changing the way engineering students like Jansen think is exactly what the Kern Entrepreneurship Education Network (KEEN) wants. The network, which is supporting Brad's project, strives to graduate engineers equipped with an entrepreneurial mindset who will contribute to business success and transform the U.S. workforce. The Kern Family Foundation, which has said the University of Dayton is "best-in-class in project-based learning," held up the School of Engineering as an example in a video about this project shown at KEEN's national winter conference.

"Respondents to our survey at the conference frequently mentioned they were impressed with the work at Dayton because of the project and video," said Douglas E. Melton, program director for KEEN.

The project is a good example of how engineering and science can advance the human condition.

"There are opportunities out there for engineers to dramatically change peoples' lives for the better, and we need them. Without engineers, these things don't work," said Dale's mom, Kelly Brick. "It made a huge difference here."

For more information, contact Shawn Robinson, associate director of media relations, at 937-229-3391 or srobinson@udayton.edu.