Biomedical Engineering 460L

Biomedical Engineering 460L: Devices for People with Disabilities

More than 150 devices have been made by students in Duke BME 460L for people with disabilities in the local community. 

Faculty members Larry Bohs, Richard Goldberg, and Kevin Caves teach this dynamic course in which students apply engineering skills to a real-life situation.

In groups of three or four, students design and build a custom devices to aid an individual with a disability. Health care professionals in the community partner with the students to supervise the development of projects for individual clients who vary from about 4 to 80 years of age.

Goals for the course include students being able to:

  1. Design and construct a device to meet the need of a person with a disability.
  2. Perform a quantitative analysis of the device and/or design.
  3. Apply appropriate statistical methods during the design process. 
  4. Work as a team (e.g. with other students, the client, the client’s therapist, teachers, etc.) to devise a safe and effective solution.
  5. Prepare an oral presentation to clearly describe the work performed and outcomes.
  6. Prepare a written report describing the project and outcomes, including professional-quality technical drawings and user’s manual.
  7. Research and discuss an ethical issue in biomedical engineering.

"A major challenge this class offers our students is the open-ended problem - there is no one right way to solve the client's need," explained Professor Goldberg. "Students may know what to make but now how to do it. They have to learn manufacturing skills and consider all the issues of people with disabilities."
Most students have not worked previously with people with disabilities or built devices that will be used everyday by a client. Safety and durability become important factors to consider. Learning to interact effectively with the client's clinicians is also a new experience for many students.
"It’s a really unique opportunity to see how you can make a difference for an individual," said Professor Goldberg. "This is the chance to apply what you have learned in the real world."
This course is offered both in the fall and the spring. In the spring class, the engineering students also work with UNC students in physical and occupational therapy, who provide a clinical perspective to their projects.

Service-Learning in BME460L

The service experience is integrally related to the academic subject matter of this course, allowing students to develop their engineering skills while assisting a person in the community.

Many different non-profit community partners have graciously agreed to welcome Duke engineering students. Examples include the Durham Public Schools, NC Sports for Kids, OE Enterprises, and Bridge II Sports.

Each student contributes significantly more than 20 hours of service working in a student group to:

  • meet the individual client and their support team
  • design and build the device
  • test the device
  • train the client on how to use the device

Professors of this class estimate that at the beginning of the term each student will spend 5 - 10 hours a week working on the client's device and anywhere from 10 - 20 hours a week near the end of the term. 

Students consistently say that the time put into this class is well spent. 

For more information, visit the course website showcasing many student projects.