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Dayton Engineer

University of Dayton School of Engineering

Robotic Inspiration

By Madalyn Beban '18

During Jonathan Dekar’s first year at the University of Dayton, a woman approached the School of Engineering with a question: Could something be done to improve mealtimes for her daughter, whose disability limited her motion and required a caregiver’s assistance?

This wasn’t the engineering major’s first exposure to this problem. Through his grandfather’s diagnosis with a degenerative disease, he had witnessed the challenges that independent eating posed for some individuals.

“It was a basic human need gone unfulfilled — you have to eat to stay alive,” Dekar said. “This wasn’t just another engineering project, getting food from point A to point B. I wanted it to be emotionally empowering and inspiring.”

Through four years of technical coursework, prototyping and researching the market, Obi was born.

Obi is a tabletop device with an automated spoon, robotic arm and a four-course compartmentalized plate that moves with practiced precision.

After graduation, Dekar shifted his full attention into making this product, learning additional skills in finance management and regulatory compliance.

“An engineering education is a ‘license to learn,’ and with an engineering mindset you can learn to do just about anything. It’s a toolkit,” he said.

Formally launched in July 2016, Obi has already garnered accolades, becoming a finalist in the 2016 International Design Excellence Awards. Obi won a 2016 R&D magazine invention excellence award.

The engineering entrepreneur feels confident in the mission his company has undertaken — to continually improve the quality of life through exciting and usable consumer robotics.

Dekar said he feels others should never let fear of failure dissuade them from trying something difficult. He said, “Failure is an option, fear is not. College allows you to broaden your mind and explore, and when you find what drives you, you become the work you do.”

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