Physical therapists at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, Boston, spurred student-researchers at Northeastern University to develop a modified ergometer that can be used by patients affected by spastic paraplegia to perform unaided exercise.
The device, dubbed the “power row,” was the subject of a senior capstone project under the direction of Sandra Shefelbine, an associate professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, according to a media release from Northeastern University. Team members comprised Margaret Bergson, Robert Griffith, Jenna Hormann, Chris Parfitt, and Nikita Shah.
The project grew out of a problem-??solving meeting between the young engineers and the physical therapists at the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston. The problem, the physical therapists told the students, was that some two dozen patients living with a medical condition known as spastic paraplegia lacked sufficient motor control of their legs to return to the starting position after taking each stroke on their rowing erg. Trainers had to push patients forward using the handle bar on the back of the their seat, applying up to 130 pounds of force to overcome their inability to flex their legs. The solution, both parties agreed, was to design a motorized device that would allow the patients to exercise in their own homes without a trainer’s assistance.
After designing three original concepts, the group of five students settled on a prototype that utilizes a gear system to translate torque from a brushless servomotor to a capstan, which moves the seat.
According to the media release, the students proposed that their final design offers two key advantages. First, the device remains underneath the erg, which is said to allow the system to operate without interfering with the rower’s workout. Second, the servomotor allows for flexibility in speed and torque, which can be changed based on the size and ability of the rower.
The students assert that Spaulding patents will soon begin using the retrofitted rowing machine, and offer feedback. Eventually, the students note in the media release, they will seek to modify additional ergs for the facility, and estimate the cost of the modification at approximately $100 per machine.
A provisional patent for the device was recently filed by the five students, according to the university media release. The filing is said to have drawn interest from Concept2, a manufacturer of indoor rowers.
“A device like ours does not currently exist in the market,” Shah says in the media release. Shah recently graduated with a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering, and says the device is in demand by both people with paraplegia and their trainers.
[Source: Northeastern University]