Invention would help those living with Parkinson’s write again – Part III

As I sat in the UTRGV Engineering building room listening to the Self-Stabilization Holder Pen presentation by members of the SSH Team (Rodolfo Becerra, Carlos Hernandez, Misael Martinez, and Arnoldo Ventura), I knew there was only one thing missing…my mom. Dr. Lozano invited her to go, and the team hoped she would so they could meet her in person, but she lives in Illinois and doesn’t like to travel much these days. So as soon as the presentation ended, I thanked Dr. Lozano and the other three professors, thanked and hugged the team members, and walked to my car. Once I closed my car door, I immediately called my mom to tell her all about it. Somehow, some way, I hope she gets to one day meet Dr. Lozano and this team of UTRGV mechanical engineering students who took on this project in the hopes that, one day, my mom and the other 999,999 people in the U.S. living with Parkinson’s will be able to write freely again.

Because I still had questions, I conducted email interviews with Dr. Lozano and members of the SSH Team after the presentation. The Qs & As follow:

How did this team decide to pursue the project I wrote to you about?

Dr. Lozano: In this class, students come to faculty members for projects. When you wrote to me, it was at the time they were looking for projects, so I offered it to them, and immediately, they loved it.

Why did your team decide to take on this project?

Misael: We took this project because we saw it as an opportunity to help others and give back to the community. We knew it was going to be a challenge, but we knew if Dr. Lozano trusted us with this, then it could be something achievable.

Rodolfo and Carlos: We first met during our high school years at Valley View High School (in Hidalgo, Texas). Even though our relationship had not fully grown, it flowered during our college years. Since we began taking classes together in the fall of 2014, we all have had good chemistry. As our final year approached, we decided to join forces for our Senior Design Project, a project established by the Mechanical Engineering Department to apply our skills learned in previous courses. At first, we approached Dr. Karen Lozano for another project; however, she told us about a woman (my mom) who was having trouble writing because of Parkinson’s disease. After learning more about Parkinson’s disease and what it does to people, we saw a great opportunity to not only help one person but a whole community.

How did you guide them along the way?

Dr. Lozano: I met with them once a week for one year to discuss all aspects of the technology, from evaluation of present technologies to design and fabrication of the prototype and analysis of it. Also, to evaluate its potential and encourage them to continue; for example, when, halfway, they saw the announcement of a watch that could do something similar, I had to encourage them and help them find a competitive edge.

What steps did you take from beginning to end?

Misael: The first step we took was researching everything we could about Parkinson’s disease. We only knew about the tremors, but that’s it. So we looked into what caused it, how it affects the person, the treatment, and the side effects, as well as more technical aspects like the frequency, the motion, and the acceleration. Once we got all of this data, we identified the key aspects of what would be needed and wanted by someone who would buy this. We researched any other competitor and, from there, we started designing a basic prototype. Over the course of the semester, we modified it a couple of times until we got to our last model, which we tested for our presentation.

Rodolfo and Carlos: Our work can be summarized in two big steps: research and development. During our first semester of Senior Design, we researched more about the technical aspects of people suffering from hand tremors and worked on an approach to make them write better. The second part consisted of gathering all of the components from our theory, manufacturing and assembling them, and testing our design to improve its functionality.

During your presentation, you discussed the challenges you faced. Of those challenges, which one was the most challenging and why?

Carlos: The most challenging were the non-technical problems. For example, when one of the essential parts malfunctioned, we had to wait from a few days up to two weeks before the part arrived. These challenges slowed us down. 

How did you overcome this challenge?

Carlos: Brainstorming and having open communication helped the team overcome these challenges.

Rodolfo: Instead of waiting for the parts to arrive, we kept working on other parts and identifying what caused the malfunction to prevent it in the future.

What are the benefits of injection molding if you were actually to manufacture this product?

Misael: The benefit of injection molding is that it allows mass production. Compared to 3D printing, which takes more time, injection molding allows for the production of many units, faster.

Carlos: The encasing (the component that holds everything together) is made of plastic, and using an injection-molding process improves the production rate and quality.

Rodolfo: An injection-molding machine is best for the final design because of high-quality, large-volume production. It also has its drawbacks. It requires high initial cost: expensive mold tools and high-cost internal cavity designs. Nonetheless, in the long run, this process is more viable than 3D printing. Once the mold tools are designed, they can be reproduced, up to 1000 parts, with high precision. Also, multiple parts can be produced within minutes, compared to 3D printing that produces only one part within a few hours.

What was the most important thing you learned about Parkinson’s during this project?

Misael: One thing we learned about Parkinson’s is that it varies from person to person; not everyone has the same conditions or symptoms. We learned there are different levels of the disease, and, as time passes, it may get worse until the point of the person being unable to care for himself/herself.

Arnoldo: The most important things we learned about people suffering from Parkinson’s disease are that there are five stages to it and how big the challenges are that they face when completing simple motor-skill tasks like writing and eating.

What’s next for this team of future engineers? Will they actually bring this product to market? What is Dr. Lozano asking the community to do? Find the answers to these questions and more in Part IV next week.