Building Better Crutches

Building Better Crutches

Crutches can help people with disabilities get around better. But even crutches have their limitations — they can be uncomfortable, bulky and difficult to maneuver. 

Those are problems students in the University of Louisville J.B. Speed School of Engineering are helping to solve. As part of their introduction to bioengineering, the freshmen had two weeks to build a better crutch, while applying the teamwork and product design skills they learned in class. 

One team solved the mobility problem by creating a crutch that can fold in half, and become a weight-supporting scooter. 

“The goal of the class is to expose students to different routes and career paths in bioengineering, from research to industry,” said professor Dr. Jill Steinbach-Rankins, who has taught the class for four years. “But at the same time, for them to gain team building skills and skills in the engineering design process.” 

Every year, students take on a different project with a big impact on human health and safety. Steinbach-Rankins said she chose crutches for this class, due to limited access for disabled people in developing countries.

“We’re first-year engineering students,” said Madeline Mitchell, who was on the student team that build the scooter-crutch hybrid. “It’s kind of nice to work on something that actually has real-world applications so early in our engineering education.”

Past classes have engineered better prosthetic hands, anti-microbial shoes to prevent injury and infection and hovercraft to deliver supplies to people stranded in remote areas. 

The project also introduces students to on-campus resources they can use to build products over the course of their career at U of L, such as the FirstBuild maker space and microfactory. And, they get to apply the skills they’re learning in class. 

“I think it’s a good thing to add to your resume,” said student Barret Adams. “But also, it builds your confidence as an engineer for whichever job you’re looking for in the future.”

I think it’s a good thing to add to your resume. But also, it builds your confidence as an engineer for whichever job you’re looking for in the future.
— Barret Adams, freshman engineering student