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Students Address Posture in Parkinson’s

Pitt engineering students created a posture correcting device that won “Best Overall Project” at the Fall 2017 Design Expo

PITTSBURGH (January 16, 2018) … Many of us have been told to stand up straight but may take for granted the ability to easily correct our posture. For those with Parkinson’s disease, postural awareness can diminish, and they often struggle with this characteristic slouched symptom. A group of Swanson School of Engineering students took a stance and addressed this medical issue with a device that promotes good posture and were recognized for their innovation at the School’s biannual Design Expo.

Posture Protect was created by bioengineering juniors, Tyler Bray and Jake Meadows; bioengineering senior, Raj Madhani; mechanical engineering senior, Benji Pollock; and mechanical engineering junior, Gretchen Sun. The students developed their project in ENGR 1716 The Art of Making: A Hands-on Introduction to System Design and Engineering. 

"The poor posture experienced by individuals with Parkinson’s disease can limit mobility, impact gait, affect balance, and cause neck or back pain,” Meadows explained. “All of these symptoms combine to ultimately decrease independence, lower confidence, and negatively impact their quality of life by exacerbating existing challenges.”

According to the team, Posture Protect is an easy-to-use, supportive posture quality detection and alert system that provides tactile feedback when bad posture persists. “The device increases postural awareness by determining the position of the user’s thoracic spine using three different sensors; when poor posture persists, vibrating motors provide gentle tactile feedback to notify the user of their change in posture,” Meadows said.

posture-protect-imgComponents of Posture Protect.

The team performed extensive user outreach and testing, culminating in feedback from more than 60 individuals with Parkinson’s disease that indicated a need for such a device. Madhani said, “Our research found that of the people with Parkinson’s interviewed, 95 percent struggled with posture on a daily basis, and 90 percent of those people could correct their posture if they were reminded.” 

To further refine their device, the students took their testing to a local boxing club, Fit4Boxing, that offers strength training classes for individuals with Parkinson’s disease. “We visited the gym six times and tested five different iterations of our design, making modifications each time based on feedback received and data collected,” said Bray.

With results in hand, the team presented Posture Protect at the Swanson School of Engineering Fall 2017 Design Expo, where they took first place in the “Art of Making” category and won “Best Overall Project.”

The group intends to continue work on the project. “We plan to engage in longer-term user testing, incorporate Bluetooth into the device for setting customization, and code a smartphone application for posture tracking,” said Meadows. “Ultimately, the project's goal is to help patients stand straight and stand proud in the face of Parkinson’s disease.”


Contact: Leah Russell