Queen's Engineering Students Collaborate on Development of Innovative Assistive Device

Loyalist College Entrepreneurial Studies - Business Launch student Brett Lyons has used a wheelchair his whole life. His parents installed wall-mounted grab handles in the family home when Brett was younger but the handles had to be moved every few months to adjust for his growing limbs.

It’s one thing to customize your home with handles configured and positioned precisely to your needs, but what about public places? What about hotels, hospitals, and care facilities where each new user may need grab handles in different places?

“Accessibility is the difference between going out and living, and staying home and being a shut-in,” says Lyons.

And so he realized that grab handles ought to be adjustable on the fly. There could even be a strong business case for the idea. He teamed up with project partner Dylan Houlden and Bob Millard, their professor at Loyalist, to build a business case and find a way to develop a prototype and design.

Enter the Queen’s Biomedical Innovation Team (QBiT).

“QBiT’s role in this project was to first develop a mechanical design for this grab bar such that it could meet a set of functional requirements, then to get a full-scale prototype made,” says QBiT team captain, Bradley Zakaib.

The result is a floor-mounted system with a hand crank for adjusting a grab handle to the best height for any immediate user. The QBiT team chose a design, built and tested a working prototype, and even installed it in a purpose-built portable demonstration room so Lyons, Houlden and Millard could show it to potential investors and partners.

“I was blown away by the questions from QBiT,” says Lyons. “They really wanted to get down to the important points of the project and they got really passionate about it. They were even really connected after the work was done. I couldn’t believe their commitment.”

“Not only were they co-operative, but they were ingenious with their ideas,” says Millard. “I know how loaded their schedule is, and they met every demand, every step of the way, even while they were writing exams. The QBiT team has really been remarkable.”

“It was definitely one of – if not the most – rewarding projects that I worked on in school,” says Zakaib.

Of course, Lyons with his idea and the QBiT team with its technical and project management skill didn’t just come together solely by happy accident. The Entrepreneurial Studies - Business Launch Post Grad Team at Loyalist worked with Lyons on the development of his business model. Millard is on the Board of Directors of Kingston resource network for entrepreneurs, Launch Lab, Regional Innovation Centre. There he met Queen’s Director of Industry Partnerships & Innovation Park, Janice Mady. Mady introduced him to Queen’s Assistant Director of Industry Partnerships, David Hyndman. Hyndman put the idea on the radar of several faculty members in the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at Queen’s and Smith School Masters of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program director, Shari Hughson. Queen’s engineering professor Claire Davies and Hughson reached out to QBiT who expressed interest.

Later, Lyons, Millard, and Houlden, along with the QBiT program leads met with PARTEQ’s Angela Lyon (Patent Agent) and Jason Hendry (Manager, Commercial Development) to review intellectual property details, followed by Stephen Scribner (Patent Agent) drafting and filing a United States provisional patent application for the device.

Next, Lyons and Millard will be spending the summer further developing their business case and prototype as part of the Queen’s Dunin-Deshpande Queen’s Innovation Centre Summer Initiative. They’re also hoping to find a Queen’s MEng student to undertake more mechanical testing and a manufacturability analysis. Ultimately, of course, they hope to take the system to market.

“We wouldn’t be here without QBiT,” says Lyons. “We really do appreciate their help and there are tons of other things like this that could be done for disabled people.”