The University of Alabama

UA Engineering Students in Finals of National Design Contest

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — A team of engineering students from The University of Alabama College of Engineering is among the top 12 finalists in the Texas Instruments Analog Design Contest.

TI is funding the team’s travel to Dallas, Texas, as a finalist, to compete for a $10,000 prize in the prestigious, national Engibous Summit July 29 – Aug. 1.

Contest rules specify that teams incorporate a TI processor and analog components, and UA students said they wanted their entry to be user-friendly, inexpensive, long-lasting and accurate.

The UA team submitted a wheelchair seat cushion monitoring system designed to reduce the incidence of pressure sores in patients with spinal cord injuries. These patients often use inflatable seat cushions that evenly distribute pressure to prevent ulcers, but they are unlikely to have enough sensation to realize when pressure sores are forming from a loss of air pressure in the cushion. It can also be difficult for these patients and their caregivers to manually evaluate the condition of the air cushion.

The students’ monitoring system, developed in collaboration with researchers at the Spain Rehabilitation Center at The University of Alabama at Birmingham, constantly gauges air pressure and alerts the patient and caregiver when it is no longer correct.

“The engineering challenges were tough,” said Dr. Edward Sazonov, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and the team’s adviser. “The team developed a device concept, designed user interface, produced a functioning prototype and solved some of the integration tasks, including printed circuit board design and enclosure design, in just one semester.”

The students said the contest’s budget restrictions influenced them to print their own circuit board in-house, sparing more than a third of their budget. They also noted the most rewarding part of the project was the potential to significantly improve the lives of wheelchair users.

“The fact that this device was chosen as one of the finalists in the Engibous Summit shows the engineering talent of the team and proves that UA engineering is competitive in the most challenging contests,” Sazonov said.

The UA team includes:

Robert (Will) Abele, a senior in electrical engineering from Birmingham

Ashley Gerrity, a graduate student in electrical engineering from Hoover

Travis Kennamore, a senior in electrical engineering from Meridian, Miss.

Patrick May, a senior in electrical engineering from Huntsville

Kenneth Spradling, a senior in electrical engineering from Madison

In 1837, The University of Alabama became one of the first five universities in the nation to offer engineering classes. Today, UA’s fully accredited College of Engineering has more than 3,300 students and more than 100 faculty. In the last eight years, students in the College have been named USA Today All-USA College Academic Team members, Goldwater, Hollings, Portz and Truman scholars.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.

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