STEM 1 is our first semester STEM course that primarily focuses on the completion of a long term science fair project over the course of the first two terms. Each student is allowed to explore topics of interest and decide on a large scale project they would like to research, experiment with and present to a panel of judges at the regional fair in February. Projects range from engineering concepts, scientific research and testing, to mathematical conjectures! We learn about how to properly brianstorm ideas, research topics, carry out our own testing and research and finally science and technical writing with our conclusive thesis at the end of the semester.
The basis of this project stems from an experience I had at the senior assistive living center where I work in which on eof the residents spilled their soup from their spoon because of their tremor. That sparked my interest in the market for tremor utensils where I found that there were only two options: cheap ones with little stabilization or extremely expensive ones with incredible stabilization. With nothing inbetween these vast extremes I set out to build a tremor utensil with the efficiency in decreasing food loss of the expensive ones without using the sensors and motors used to actively stabilze the utensil head. After prototyping and settling on a design, testing was carried out with real hand tremor patients (including the one who inspired the project). I measured how much they spilled and how much soup and peas they were able to move with a normal spoon, a current market leader and my spoon. It was concluded that this design caused considerably less spills and allowed the participants to move more of the food without spilling.
The tremor utensil market is saturated with a large variety of products that use different strategies to deal with hand tremors and covers an extensive price range. The two options currently available when choosing a stabilization utensil are active and passive tremor cancellation methods. ATC spoons use sensors and motors to actively stabilize the head of the utensil, preventing the food from spilling. PTC spoons, which is where this design falls, do not use any moving parts but instead utilize weights, handle designs, grips to counterbalance the tremor. These spoons are cheaper but provide less stabilization, a problem that is aimed to be fixed with this new design. Participants diagnosed with neurological diseases causing them to suffer hand tremors were asked to move peas and soup from a bowl on the table to a tube right next to the mouth with each spoon being tested against this design. The number of peas moved in each trial as well as a questionnaire about the feel of each utensil was gathered. After data analysis, it was concluded that the new design was the most effective in decreasing loss of food from the utensil relative to its cost. These findings support the applicability of this design against the current market leaders when taking into consideration the price to loss efficiency ratio. The data makes it clear that if this was to be available to the public that it would provide a compelling option with active stabilization like performance at a passively stabilized cost.
Elderly living with hand tremors have difficulty with daily tasks like eating because modern utensils have poorly considered designs for people with lower motor function and tremors.
The objective of this project is to engineer a device that passively stabilizes an eating utensil that is cheaper and easier to produce than any active stabilization technology while still providing enough stabilization to improve the accuracy and confidence of the user.
A significant size of the elderly population struggles with hand tremors that affect daily tasks. Hand tremors appear at various different ages for many different reasons. The most common cause for a loss in motor control is old age. As the human body ages, the connection between your brain, nerves, and muscles weakens, often leading to hand tremors (Carmeli et al., 2003). Pathological diseases such as Parkisons and Essential Tremor are also major causes for hand tremors in the elderly. Although they have very similar symptoms and are often misdiagnosed, Essential Tremor is a neurological disease that affects the communication between the brain and muscles. Parkinsons on the other hand is found only in the muscles. Living with a hand tremor makes controlling certain everyday objects much more difficult and often prevents the patient from maintaining independence (Turgeon et al., 2020). This lack of independence can be extremely frustrating for patients and introduces an important secondary problem that would be solved in conjunction with a solution to the everyday tasks they might struggle with. This project specifically aims to aid hand tremor patients when using utensils for eating meals, a common occurrence that if able to be solved, would gain the user the ability to eat by themselves with much less required aid than before. Utensils such as normal forks and spoons are not designed with this troubled population in mind as the materials are often decorative but not practical for metrics like gripability and weight (Sabari et al., 2019). Current solutions to this problem include active tremor cancellation utensils that use accelerometer sensors to detect movement (Xia et al., 2015) and motors to move the spoon in the opposite direction (Sabari et al., 2019). This technology is incredibly helpful to patients with access to it but they are generally $200 to $300, meaning that they are not accessible to the general population (Ripin et al., 2020). Because the goal of the project is to design a cost effective and easily producible utensil, the application for such ranges from household use to large commercial spaces such as retirement homes and assisted living facilities.
In order to provide supporting evidence to the claim that this utensil is a viable option in the current market, data needed to be collected on stabilization efficiency. Because the problem for this target market was spilling the food from their utensil the obvious metric to measure is how much food they are able to move from the bowl to their mouth without loss. The participant was first given a generic metal utensil and a bowl of soup. They were asked to, in 10 spoonfuls, move as much of the soup from the bowl in front of them to the device placed next to the mouth. This device consisted of a circular opening replicating the size of an open mouth that leads to a bowl-shaped holding container where the food placed in the opening would fall into. After 10 spoonfuls the amount of soup moved into the holding container is weighed and emptied to make room for another trial. After the control trials, the participant repeats the same process with the market leading utensil and the new design. Once data is collected for all three utensils, two trials each, everything is repeated once more with boiled peas replacing the soup. When finished with all trials, the participant is asked to answer a brief survey asking for a scaled response, quantifying the experience they had with each utensil.
After a deeper analysis of the decision matrix, it was decided upon to move forward with prototyping an empty handle design. Through many iterations of that concept the final design ended up with a more pocket like concept on the spoon head instead of an empty handle for many reasons. Once finalized, this design was taken to two elderly people who suffered from hand tremors. They were asked to move tomato soup and peas from one bowl to another with a mouthpiece attached to the lip. Data was collected on how much the subject was able to move and how many times they spilled in each trial. After data analysis, in can be concluded that these tests support the hypothesis that this design will outperform current competitors in a similar price range in the passive tremor cancellation market. The data also supports the use of this new design over the standard metal utensil as it allowed for the user to more efficiently move their food from bowl to mouth while also decreasing the numbers of spills from the utensil because of the hand tremor. In totality, this design performs as intended.
Currently in progress, will update later!