Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Crash Testing social entrepreneurship part 2

Simple and inexpensive child car seat design proven safe, meets standards

“The goal here is to validate the design and then give it away with the confidence that it met the highest standards.” Matthew Reed (Research Associate Professor in the Biosciences Group at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute) said moments before the bumper sled slammed home.

Rachel Strauss (left) and Megan Bland (right) fabricating their design. 
Photo by Marcin Szczepanski.
In early February of this year, LabLog reported on a pair of biomedical engineering students who will graduate from the University of Michigan College of Engineering this spring. Though a noteworthy accomplishment, Rachel Strauss and Megan Bland have succeeded at something even more inspiring:

They designed an inexpensive and simple to fabricate child restraint that has passed the NHTSA standards for rear and front facing impact.

“Megan and I were both very happy to see that the crash testing proved that this concept is feasible. It was very gratifying to see that all of the time that was put into the development of the child restraint paid off,” says Strauss.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Remote Stethoscope

The heart of the matter sets the pace for new understandings, future progress


“We came down here, to Guatemala, about a week ago with a prototype of our remote stethoscope and a whole bunch of unanswered questions.” Jeremy Koehler sat on the steps of a hostel in Antigua, juggling a doll in one hand and the prototype in the other.

As we reported on
LabLog, before their trip, the M-HEAL team had no real idea what they would encounter on their exploratory mission to Guatemala. All they knew for certain was that each year, nearly 1,600 Guatemalan babies are born with congenital heart defects. 

They also understood that many of these babies are born in rural areas; places a potentially life-saving diagnosis might be impossible to make in time to prevent serious complications. Some of the villages that the team visited didn’t even have a traditional stethoscope available, let alone one that could remotely transmit heart sounds to doctors in Guatemala City.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Update from Guatemala: "It broke our hearts to have to say we could not help"

At a clinic in the mountains of central Guatemala, a mother and baby waited hopefully for the American students and their special stethoscope.

Students meet with Dr. Cristian Barrios (first right) and the staff
of a clinic in Nueva Santa Catarina Ixtahuacán.
Photo by Marcin Szczepanski. More coverage on tumblr.
The tool could eventually help diagnose congenital heart defects early enough for children to get preventative treatment and avoid permanent damage to their hearts, brains and lungs. But right now, it's an early prototype.

The Michigan Engineering students were visiting the clinic to learn how to improve their device. Because it's still in the development stage, they weren't prepared to actually use it yet.

"It broke our hearts to have to say we could not help," said Nathaniel Skinner, a Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering who is leading the team designing the stethoscope. "The team was surprised, saddened, and encouraged. Nothing could make us want to move faster and deliver technology and hope to Dr. Christian Barrios and his staff more intensely."

Dr. Barrios heads a clinic in Nueva Santa Catarina Ixtahuacán---one of many the students visited this week as they journey across Guatemala. They're meeting with the midwives, doctors and patients who need this technology as the students work to refine it into something that can help save young lives. The College of Engineering's Marcin Szczepanski is traveling with the team and posting photos, videos and observations of the trip on tumblr.

15-month-old Wilson Irael Mendez has a congenital heart defect
known as tetralogy of Fallot. Wilson needs to get stronger
before surgery. Wilson’s sister is keeping an eye out on him.
Photo by Marcin Szczepanski. Learn more on tumblr.
The goal is to build a stethoscope that can record the heartbeats of infants in rural areas and send them to a specialist in the city who could make more sense of the sounds. That specialist is internationally-known pediatric cardiac surgeon Dr. Aldo Castañeda, who requested the device. Since 1998, his foundation has diagnosed and treated more than 2,000 children with congenital heart defects in Central America. But there are many more who need help, his website says. Every year, another 1,200 babies in Guatemala alone are born with these heart conditions. It can be difficult or impossible to get newborns to the city for early diagnosis and treatment.

The young engineers belong to the student organization M-HEAL. This is their spring break. They've spent a lot of it in a van---traveling up to 12 hours a day. They've made progress narrowing their objective and understanding the ecosystem that their technology will be a part of. Read a full Q and A with team leader Nathaniel Skinner on tumblr. Students from biomedical engineering and computer science and engineering are also involved in this effort.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

YouTube sensation MABEL to appear on Discovery Channel

A Discovery Channel Canada crew in Prof. Jessy Grizzle's lab
Photo by Catharine June

MABEL, the robot that walks like a person, got her 15 minutes last year when a video of her breaking a leg in an experiment went viral.

She'll be back in the spotlight soon to redeem herself. The Discovery Channel Canada's science documentary show Daily Planet was in electrical engineering professor Jessy Grizzle's lab last week filming a spot. This was their second visit.

The segment (airdate TBA) will show MABEL's progress in navigating bumpy ground. In MABEL's May 2010 debut, she fails to recover after a 2.5-inch curb. Grizzle says she can hack twice that these days.

"For anyone who thinks this is not so impressive, we keep a set of stilts and a blindfold in the lab and invite them to beat MABEL," Grizzle said. "So far, no one has taken us up on the challenge."