UB Center Receives $4.75 Million to Research, Transfer and Commercialize Assistive Device Technology

Grant supports ongoing efforts to develop products to meet disability needs

By Lois Baker

Release Date: April 22, 2004 This content is archived.


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UB's Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Technology Transfer and its community-based partners have put 21 new products in the hands of consumers, including the Black & Decker LidsOff Automatic Jar Opener.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Technology Transfer (T2RERC) at the University at Buffalo has received a $4.75 million five-year grant from the National Institute on Disability Rehabilitation Research to research, evaluate, transfer and commercialize assistive devices for persons with disabilities.

The T2RERC, which is beginning its third competitive five-year grant cycle, facilitates introduction of new and improved products into the marketplace to meet employment, education, recreation and independent-living needs of people with disabilities. This latest grant brings total federal funding of the center to $16.75 million.

Since its inception, the T2RERC, with its community based partner, the Western New York Independent Living Center, has put 21 new products into the hands of consumers.

One of the most successful recent examples of T2RERC's collaboration with industry is the Black & Decker® LidsOff™ Automatic Jar Opener, which was introduced in June 2003. A boon to persons with poor grip strength, it sold out of its initial production run.

UB President John B. Simpson, who announced the grant at a press conference, called it "important recognition both of the excellence of the innovative research being conducted at UB in assistive technology, as well as our university's ability to shape the future of vital technology transfer.

"The quality of the work in development at T2RERC and our Center for Assistive Technology directly contributes to a better way of life for millions of people, and with this latest in a long line of grants, UB is being recognized as a true vanguard in the field," Simpson added. "I am pleased by this recognition of the important impact and real-world benefits of our research within the School of Public Health and Health Professions, and I anticipate much continued success in the future."

The center is one unit under the umbrella of UB's Center for Assistive Technology, which is part of the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions. Maurizio Trevisan, M.D., interim dean of the school and a professor in the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, said the renewal is a clear indication of the ongoing importance of the center's work.

"The fact that the center is entering its third five-year grant cycle validates the outstanding work done to date by center investigators and staff and their insights into the future," Trevisan said.

"The grant is particularly gratifying because it builds on UB's pioneering work in the field of assistive devices and technology, which exemplifies the overarching mission of the School of Public Health and Health Professions -- to improve the health and quality of life of Western New Yorkers and residents of New York State."

Stephen M. Bauer, Ph.D., UB clinical assistant professor of rehabilitation science and director of the T2RERC, said the new grant will support several new endeavors.

"In the next five years, the center will carry out four development projects aimed at introducing new products into the market place, and complete four research projects that will advance the state-of-the-art of the technology-transfer discipline," said Bauer.

Three of the development projects will continue the center's work in shepherding promising products to the marketplace, he noted. Researchers will concentrate on validating technology needs of the assistive-technology industry, finding solutions to those needs and integrating consumers' functional requirements into new products.

The final development project will involve collaboration with the UB School of Informatics, Bauer said. This project will help the national network of Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers and the broader community of technology-transfer organizations make better use of technology-transfer methods and knowledge.

Three of the T2RERC research projects will focus on defining effective technology-transfer practices, Bauer said. Researchers will analyze case studies of especially successful products, review federal technology-transfer programs for effectiveness, and conduct market research on relevant industry sectors.

The fourth research project will involve laboratory and home trials of transferred and marketed products to assess the value and utility of these products to consumers.

"Collectively, these projects will generate new knowledge necessary to improve on the theory and practice of technology transfer, both for the field of assistive technology and beyond," Bauer said.

The new grant builds on the center's past success in bringing products to the marketplace that help solve lifestyle and safety problems for persons with disabilities.

In addition to the Black & Decker® LidsOff™ Automatic Jar Opener, new products developed by the center include:

* The "Accenda Accessible Remote Control," another new product, is a voice-operated remote control unit for home entertainment systems, including DVD and TV equipment, VCRs and stereos. The Accenda allows persons with impaired vision and mobility to control all functions of these products with voice commands.

* The PowerCheq™, a revolutionary battery management system for power wheelchairs and scooters, extends battery life up to 300 percent and increases the daily operating time by more than 20 percent without increasing the battery size. The PowerCheq™ saves the user hundreds of dollars annually and significantly improves user safety, Bauer said.

* "UpStop," a newly patented braking system for manual wheelchairs, engages a set of brakes automatically when the occupant begins to exit, preventing the wheelchair from rolling forward or backward and dislodging the occupant.

Bauer said several more products, some of which will improve radically the way persons with disabilities live their lives, are in the pipeline, and will advance to the marketplace with the help of the center's new grant.