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Dayton Engineer

A conversation with Jon Dekar ’11, inventor of the Obi Robot

By Debbie Juniewicz

Based on experiences with his grandfather, Jon Dekar, University of Dayton Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering alumnus, wanted to restore dignity to those unable to feed themselves for various reasons.

Through four years of technical coursework, prototyping and research at the University, the Obi Robot was born to help the mobility-impaired feed themselves.

After graduation, Dekar shifted his full attention into manufacturing and marketing of the Obi product into a reality for others.

The Dayton Engineer Blog staff recently caught up with Dekar to revisit the Obi Robot:

Q: Obi has been featured in other publications, but what does the People magazine coverage mean to you?

A: Reaching a large national audience is something we are extremely grateful for. Gaining market awareness is one of the largest challenges for any new technology. However, it is especially frustrating for us because we know there are so many people we could help – if they only knew about Obi. This feature was an opportunity to reach a huge number of families that can benefit, and that’s encouraging.

Q: Your grandfather was your inspiration for this device, what do you think he would say about Obi and the impact it is having?

A: I'd like to think that he would be proud of what we have achieved. Had the option been available to him, I, of course, hope he would have benefited from the product in a manner that would have extended his health-span and his lifespan.

Q: How much of an impact did the University of Dayton have on your evolution as an inventor and entrepreneur?

A: My experience as an engineering student at UD was transformative. I could generate a long list of program attributes, which were valuable. However, most significantly, at the root of it all was Dr. Kevin Hallinan and Professor Phil Doepker. They took a special interest in my personal growth and professional development. In the earliest days, Dr. H encouraged my interest in this problem, and, as my adviser, he guided my course selection and co-op experience. In my junior and senior years, Phil mentored me through directed coursework, where I continued to build an understanding of how to compose a business plan and navigate product development. I think both Kevin and Phil are a genuine example of service-based leadership who truly touch the future through teaching. At the School of Engineering, I was a person, not a number – and I think that made a big difference.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: At the moment, the team and I are working on nothing other than Obi. New medical technology takes a great deal of time to fulfill its potential; product development, regulatory challenges, process development, reimbursement hurdles, market awareness – these are massive challenges that each take many years. Also, in an effort to mitigate the supply chain shortages, we’ve placed a great deal of resources towards the development of alternate components and the elimination of single supplier dependency.

Dekar and the Obi Robot have numerous accolades including the 2017 Soin Innovation Award and the 2016 R&D Award in the category of mechanical/materials, as well as numerous news features on CNBC, NPR, CNet, and Yahoo, and a March 2022 feature article in People magazine.

For more information, you can follow the Obi Robot progress at their website:

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