Campus: CSU Long Beach -- March 21, 2003

Engineering Students at California State University, Long Beach Win 2 Awards in IEEE 2003 BME Bio-Tech Students Applications Contest

Three engineering students at California State University, Long Beach won the top two awards in the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) 2003 Bio-Tech Students Applications Contest, including graduate student Ali Sleiman, who captured the top prize in the fifth-annual competition for an original design that has recently been patented.

The theme for this year's contest was to develop and present a concept using electrical, electronic, biomedical and/or electro-optical engineering to assist a person's disability or to improve a person's ability to manage tasks that usually require assistance.

Sleiman, a graduate student in biomedical engineering, garnered first-place honors for his design of a bottle pump for the traditional water cooler that eliminates the need for picking up the heavy five-gallon water bottle. Electrical engineering majors Chela Manzo and David Veloz, Jr. placed second in the competition with their submission--a robotic arm page-turner designed to aid the physically impaired with reading a book or magazine.

"The level of submission from Cal State Long Beach students was much higher this year than in years past because we saw some real practical projects. There is no question that our students made a strong showing this year," said Christopher Druzgalski, CSULB professor of engineering and long-time IEEE member. "This competition is an exciting and rewarding way for students to put real applications into engineering practice. It is also a way for students to make a small contribution to the improvement of people's lives."

Sleiman's invention, which he calls the "IHKLASS" (named for his mother) bottle pump for water dispenser, sits on top of a cooler and allows individuals to leave the water bottle on the floor in an upright position. The bottle doesn't have to be lifted, rotated and placed on top of the water cooler. Rather, the device transports the water to the reservoirs in the top of the cooler by means of a pump and tubing.

"I hate changing the bottle for the water cooler at home. One time, I was carrying the bottle to change it and it slipped out of my hands and broke on the floor. I spent the next two hours cleaning up the water," said Sleiman, who earned his bachelor's of science degree in electrical and bio-medical engineering at CSULB in May 2002. "After that accident, I tried looking for something to make the process easier. I looked at all of the companies that sell water dispensers and nobody had anything. So, I decided to make my own."

After ordering a variety of pumps from various locations (including overseas) and doing some testing, Sleiman completed the design of his pump in about a month, and the invention is working "really well" at home. Since then, he has contacted an attorney and submitted all the proper paperwork to receive a patent for his design. The patent is still pending, but Sleiman has received permission from his attorney to shop his invention around to interested companies.

In his presentation for the competition, Sleiman noted a full five-gallon bottle weighs about 43 pounds, which can make lifting the bottle a problem for some women, especially pregnant women, senior citizens, children and anyone with a back problem.

"It's very convenient, and you don't need to be strong or tall to lift the bottle to the top of the cooler," Sleiman said. "You just put the hose in the bottle and attach it with a plugging devise. Then, you just push the button to start the machine, and it works great. When the bottle finishes, you have a red LED light that blinks to tell you the bottle is empty."

Manzo and Veloz used a five-axis robotic arm kit to implement the design of a hands-free page-turner for aiding a disabled person with reading. According to their presentation for the contest, they chose a kit rather than a custom design for the robotic arm for several reasons, including to reduce costs and meet time constraints. Their intent was to make the device easy to use, reliable and functional for the user.

While the arm was successful in turning the pages of a book, its performance was inconsistent, they reported. The problem was due to sensor-microcontroller interface issues that needed adjusting. Obviously, reliability of this device is a major factor because it serves as an aid in self-efficiency to the disabled.

Druzgalski said he continues to work with the Manzo and Veloz as well as other students on the project, which he described as an "ongoing project." He said the device can still be improved in a number of different ways.

The IEEE 2003 Bio-Tech Student Applications Contest was sponsored by the IEEE Coastal Los Angeles Section, the IEEE Los Angeles Council and the Los Angeles Chapter of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society. The awards were presented recently at the IAE (Institute for the Advancement of Engineering) 2003 Engineering Awards Banquet as part of National Engineers Week.

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