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Assistive Technology Transfer Update


Title: RERC's Demand-Pull activities run the gamut
Author: Stephen M Bauer
Published: 2000
Publication: Assistive Technology Transfer Update: Vol. 2 Issue 2 (Fall)


This article reviews the status of the three Demand-Pull Projects; Wheeled Mobility, Hearing Enhancement, and Communication Enhancement. The Wheeled Mobility Project has begun soliciting and reviewing technology solutions focusing on six different areas of wheeled mobility devices, the Hearing Enhancement Project has begun soliciting technology proposals through NASA Technology Briefs, and the Communication Enhancement Project is developing Industry Profiles while preparing for the upcoming Stakeholders Forum.

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The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Technology Transfer (T2RERC) is simultaneously working on three different Demand-Pull projects to cultivate the development of new assistive devices that will satisfy end users’ needs. Each is centered around a Stakeholders Forum, a "meeting of the minds" of researchers, clinicians, manufacturers, consumers with disabilities, and others who "have a stake" in seeing that better equipment is brought to the marketplace. Their current statuses span the spectrum from brokering licensing agreements, to analyzing newly gathered data, to planning for 2001.

  1. Wheeled Mobility
    As the Stakeholders Forum on Wheeled Mobility in Pittsburgh took place back in May 1999, there has been ample time for ideas on improvements in wheelchairs and scooters to be tendered to T2RERC. The submissions are responses to the Problem Statements, drawn up for the areas of technology that the Stakeholders determined had the most promise, and posted on the Internet for all interested parties to consider. As reported in prior issues of Assistive Technology Transfer Update, the six foci are: 1) geared hubs for manual wheelchairs; 2) battery management / charging systems; 3) battery power monitor / indicator; 4) tire materials; 5) motor technology; and 6) transmission technology.

    Status of Solutions
    As of this writing, T2RERC has received approximately thirty proposals to promote to manufacturers; several are moving through the process and are at different stages. The RERC has created complete commercialization packages for five submissions, and will assemble a sixth when it returns from a review by a technology developer. Notifications are going out to three more developers that their proposals have been accepted and will soon be the subject of commercialization packages; also, at least one of three others that are in review are likely to be accepted for commercialization.

    Commercialization packages have gone out to more than twenty manufacturers. Early follow-up contact with these manufacturers has established preliminary interest in two technologies.

    Kinds and Sources of Proposals
    Several of the more promising submissions are for improved power gauges for power wheelchairs and scooters; and attractive proposals have been received for motors and motor controllers. Other design improvements concerned geared wheel hubs, power wheel hubs, and improved production processes for motor magnets that offer improved performance at a lower cost.

    The majority of the proposed solutions came from private-sector companies, a portion of which had been spun-off from federal laboratories. Approximately ten submissions were attracted by printings of the Problem Statements over three months in the publication NASA "Tech. Briefs".
    T2RERC is studying all aspects of its dealings with developers and manufacturers resulting from its first Stakeholders Forum to determine the best practices for future commercialization efforts.

  2. Hearing Enhancement
    As the Stakeholders Forum on Hearing Enhancement took place recently (June 2000) in New York City, at this writing T2RERC is still culling the information gathered in order to create the Problem Statements. By late September or early October 2000, the Proceedings, including comments offered by participants after the Forum, should be disseminated to the stakeholders, and the Problem Statements posted on the event’s Internet webpage, which is presently being developed. The Problem Statements will also be made available through NASA "Tech. Briefs" and Federal Laboratory Consortium publications, as well as hearing and professional journals.

    Two articles in this publication, (beginning on pages 6 and 13), deal with this Forum in considerable detail.

  3. Communication Enhancement
    Initial plans are being made for the next Demand-Pull event, the Stakeholders Forum on Communication Enhancement, currently targeted to take place in summer 2001. The Forum location will be Buffalo, New York, which is the site of one of the six major research universities that make up the RERC on Communication Enhancement (AAC-RERC). (The other bases of this "virtual AAC-RERC Center" are at: Duke University; the University at Nebraska-Lincoln; Pennsylvania State University; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and Temple University.) Of course, the T2RERC welcomes this opportunity to host the Forum in its own hometown, which will significantly reduce staff travel costs and logistical complexities.

    The Forum will focus on seeking to prompt desirable innovation in the area of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC), defined as "technologies that further the development of communication, language, natural speech, discourse skills, and literacy of persons with significant communications disorders."

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