Mechanical easel provides artist with independence-enhancing tool

Project is collaboration between students in Department of Mechanical Engineering in the College of Engineering and in the Department of Communications Science and Disorders in College of Behavioral and Community Sciences

An innovative, interdisciplinary student team called “G4orce” has made life a lot better for Paige, a young woman with multiple physical challenges and multiple talents, by developing the prototype of a mechanical easel to help her carry out her passion for painting.  The mechanical easel enables her to paint using a paint brush held in her mouth, accommodates her wheelchair, is easily transportable, and also replicates an instructor’s hand motions.

The G4orce team, senior mechanical engineering students Robert Tirado, Sara Elorfi , Anthony Hable and Travis Ingrahm developed the mechanical easel not only to better facilitate Paige’s painting skills on a larger scale, but also to help enhance her sense of independence.

Among their goals in developing the mechanical easel were facilitating painting, making it maneuverable, and creating a prototype of a product that could be mass produced. They created it rather inexpensively, at a cost of just over $1,100.

According to Jennifer Chapin, a PhD student in the Department of Communications Sciences and Disorders who helped to facilitate the project, both Paige and her brother Tyson have a rare neuromuscular disease and USF students and faculty have teamed up on several projects with the family.

The easel was a “capstone” project for the senior mechanical engineering students who also provided a brief presentation for Florida Senate President Joseph Negro when he visited USF on his “listening tour” this spring.

“The students selected this project from a list of possible projects,” explained Stephen Sundarrao, associate director of the USF Center for Assistive, Rehabilitative and Robotic Technologies (CARRT) who supervised the project. “The students were enthusiastic and felt they could make a difference. They interacted closely with the family to make sure they got the design right and the model flexible to be able to add or change features to accommodate Paige’s current needs and also future needs as her disability progresses.”

Early on, several challenges had to be overcome before the final product emerged.  Early on the frame was shaky and there were some coding problems. All were resolved, however.

Besides being a painter, Paige also enjoys writing books and a passionate Tampa Bay Lightning fan.

The project’s highly collaborative development included help from Dr. Kyle Reed in the College of Engineering Department of Mechanical Engineering, who supervised the mechanical engineering students and Dr. Michelle Bourgeois from the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences’ Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders who supervised the communication disorder students. Also, the work was assisted by the USF Center for Assistive, Rehabilitative and Robotic Technologies (CAART). The team also collaborated with “Hands on USF!” who provided sign language interpreters for communicating with Paige and also had help from Dr. Lara Katzin from USF’s Morsani College of Medicine’s Department of Neurology.