December 13, 2023
UOW engineering students create an assistive device for quadruple amputee
An assistive horse grooming tool helps Grace find a job at a veterinary hospital
In an inspiring collaboration between a local employment agency from Wagga Wagga and the University of Wollongong (UOW), UOW students designed and created a pioneering assistive horse grooming device for Grace, a quadruple amputee and a dedicated animal lover. The device has not only transformed Grace's life but has paved the way for her to secure a job at a local Wagga Wagga Veterinary Hospital, where from 2024, she’ll be working with horses.
26-year-old Grace, who contracted meningococcal as a baby, experienced difficulties pursuing her passion for grooming horses due to her unique needs. To help her find employment, the local agency, CVGT Employment, contacted the UOW Makerspace program to enquire whether there are ways of creating a tailored, assistive horse grooming device for the young woman.
The UOW Makerspace is a workshop for students to explore their creative side using technology, with access to tools, equipment, and regular events and training on 3D printing, Virtual Reality and other STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) activities.
After hearing Grace’s story, Dr Lucy Armitage and Dr Jon Roberts, UOW Makerspace’s coordinators and lecturers in the UOW’s School of Mechanical, Materials, Mechatronic and Biomedical Engineering, asked the students from UOW Biomedical Engineering Society whether they would take on a real-life engineering challenge to create an assistive horse grooming device tailored specifically to Grace’s needs.
“Not many hands went up during the initial meeting, but the challenge seemed really interesting, so my friend Stephan Fonti and I decided to do this,” Charles Crisp, a third-year engineering student and one of the leaders of the UOW Biomedical Engineering Society, said.
Charles and Stephan, the students from UOW Biomedical Engineering Society, took up a challenge of helping a disabled girl pursue her dream of working with horses.
First, the students had to do thorough research on prosthetic limbs and assistive devices, as well as biomaterials and their properties.
Then, over the next five months, Grace’s tailor-made, assistive horse grooming device underwent an intricate design process. Her measurements were sent to UOW, where a 3D-printed prototype was crafted, and the most durable and comfortable materials were picked out. The final product, equipped with interchangeable brushes and a comfortable Velcro strap mechanism, was fitted in July 2023, opening new possibilities for Grace’s employment in equine care.
In August, Grace started looking for a job that would enable her to work with horses. In mid-December, she successfully secured a position at Wagga Wagga Veterinary Hospital. In a conversation with CVGT Employment, Grace admitted she was very grateful to UOW, as having the device meant she could find a stable job that gave her so much happiness and a shot at an independent life.
“This device is going to help me a lot. I will have a job now. Nothing could make me happier,” Grace said.
Thanks to her tailor-made assistive horse grooming device Grace was able to find a job a a veterinary hospital.
Student Charles Crisp emphasised the real-world impact of this collaboration.
“As aspiring biomedical engineers, we strive to develop solutions to improve people’s quality of life. We haven't done much work with horse grooming devices or upper-limb prosthetics before. However, applying what we learned in our studies and consulting with our professors, we were able to achieve a successful design, which made for a fantastic learning opportunity. It is also so rewarding to know that Grace will now be able to use the device daily at work,” Charles said.
Dr Lucy Armitage praised her students for their passion, empathy and knowledge application.
“It was fantastic to see Charles and Stephan apply the engineering skills they are learning at UOW to such an important and rewarding project. It was also great to be involved in a project where we could use the state-of-the-art facilities at the University to provide direct benefits to members of the community, like Grace, who don’t have existing solutions available to facilitate them performing the day-to-day tasks that are important to them,” Dr Armitage said.