“An innovative course gives first-year students early engineering experience as they work in teams to design, prototype and deliver solutions to meet real community needs”
This course allows first-year Pratt students to work on teams of 4-5 student with a local client on a semester-long project to create real-world change. Under the guidance of professors and faculty advisors and given a budget, students use the engineering design process to take a product from ideation to implementation.
I, along with three of my peers, worked with Kelsie McLaurin, a young woman with cerebral palsy who has difficulties eating independently, and her family to create adaptive eating utensils that would allow her to eat on her own. All of Kelsie’s mobility lies on the left side of her body and she has a strong bite reflex.
We spent the first week of the semester in the brainstorming stage of the engineering design process. We each jotted down several ideas on note cards. Once we sorted through the ideas and were able to narrow it down to 5 ideas, we used a Pugh Scoring Matrix to decide on a final design.
From the conclusions of the scoring matrix, our final design would me a fork with angled prongs facing downwards, a walled, angled spoon and an asymmetrical walled plate.
We went through many rounds of prototyping before reaching a final product. Each time we created new prototypes, we met with Kelsie and her family to receive feedback. In addition, we presented our prototypes to Dr. Kevin Caves, our faculty advisor who specializes in designing for disabilities and Laura Joel, an occupational therapist at Duke Hospital.
Our first round of prototypes were very low fidelity. We used Play Doh, popsicle sticks, construction paper and foam. The goal of these prototypes was to confirm a shared group understanding of our design and estimate the angles of the spoon and plate walls and the fork prongs.
The second round of prototypes were higher fidelity. The spoon had an oversized 3D printed head to emulate the shape and angle of the final product. It was attached to a wooden stick that was inserted into a Play Doh filled gel-grip hair brush handle to mimic the soft grip handle we hoped to product. By creating this prototype we realized that it would be more effective to make the spoon head rounder and deeper as opposed to flat.
This fork was 3D printed with downward facing slanted prongs and a circular grip to mimic that of the hair brush handle. After testing this prototype we decided to make the tongs longer and positioned at a smoother angle.
This plate is very similar to the first prototype except for the fact that we used Play Doh instead of foam to figure out the perfect angle and height for the upper wall.
For our last round of prototypes before delivering a product to Kelsie, we printed our final design in a lower quality 3D filament to ensure that they were the right shape and size. These prototypes proved to be very successful and we were ready to print in the food safe material.
At the end of the semester, we were able to deliver a food and dishwasher safe 3D printed spoon, fork and plate that met all of Kelsie’s needs. The angles of the spoon and the plate compliment each other in order to make getting food from the plate and into her mouth as easy as possible. The prongs of the fork point downwards and at an angle to make it easy to poke food and transfer it into her mouth. The handle was constructed from a gel grip hair brush handle and silicon gel in order to facilitate both comfortable and efficient eating. We sealed all parts of each of the utensils with a sealant to ensure longevity and water resistance.
Final Spoon Design
A video summarizing our work over the semester can be found here.
I strongly believe that having the opportunity to work on this project during my first semester at Duke has largely impacted the engineer I am today. Working on such an important project with such little engineering experience gave me the confidence necessary to succeed on all of my project moving forward. It was an honor to work with the McLaurin family to finally provide Kelsie with the resources she needs to live a more independent life. This project opened my eyes to the ways that small engineering projects can make big impacts on peoples lives.