Invention would help those living with Parkinson’s write again – Part IV

After a year of researching, designing, building a prototype, testing, studying results, and redesigning, their Senior Design Project has been presented. How do they feel about their presentation, and what lies ahead for University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley SSH Team members Misael Martinez, Carlos Hernandez, Arnoldo Ventura, and Rodolfo Becerra? That is exactly what I wanted to know when I followed up with email interviews with them and Dr. Karen Lozano.

This is the second part of those interviews:

How did you feel about your presentation?

Misael: Before our presentation, I was really nervous. This was the culmination of our year-long project, and if it didn’t work properly, it would be a year of time wasted. Thankfully, it worked properly, and everything went better than expected.

Arnoldo: In my opinion, the presentation went fantastic, even though we faced some last-minute issues with not have a connecting wire to connect the laptop to the monitor and having to wait two extra hours for the presentation. I think we were pretty clear about our project, and our professors were happy that we were still considering pursuing our project after graduation.

Rodolfo: We felt confident because we put all of our efforts into creating a functional and helpful product. After working day after day on a project, you get to know it like the back of your hand. We understand that there is still a long road to follow, but the summer provides a great opportunity to advance. Being able to say we did everything that could have been done during these two semesters took a lot of pressure from us.

Could you see this (the SSH Pen) actually being developed into a product?

Dr. Lozano: Yes

Can any of you see yourself actually developing products for people with Parkinson’s and other neurological issues in the future?

Misael: Personally, I see myself developing other products in the biomedical field for people with special needs. I want to do more research in the biomedical and biomechanical field, combining engineering and medicine to improve the health and lifestyle of many people.

Arnoldo: Actually, we do see ourselves finishing this product. We are mechanical engineers, and once we stick with a project, we are determined to finish it and to find the best way to help the community and to improve something out there for people who are affected by tremors.

Rodolfo: We decided to pursue a career in mechanical engineering because we want to help people and improve their quality of life. We all see ourselves helping our community and creating a better future for our society and the ones that follow. In fact, I believe all of us will have completed a minor in medical Spanish by the time we complete our bachelor’s.

Ten days before their May 8 presentation, Dr. Lozano shared with me that the SSH team had entered a business competition with their SSH Pen and had won second place. I wanted to know more about that, too.

What was the name of the contest you recently entered based on the business aspect of your project? (I also asked the SSH team to tell me more about it.)

Misael: About three weeks ago (He wrote this May 15), we participated in the UTRGV business competition hosted by the Brownsville campus. We presented our project, only with a twist, making it more business-based. The judges liked our idea, and we got second place out of six teams that participated and out of 25 that applied to participate. We got a prize of $1250, which we split in four. It will be used to do more research and to pay for our master’s.

Rodolfo and Carlos: We participated in the 8th Annual Rafael Munguia UTRGV Business Plan Competition. We took into account the business side of the product and the potential success in the market. The final round of the competition was held at the UTRGV-Brownsville campus. With the help of Dr. Karen Lozano and Dr. John Sargent, we were able to come up with a business plan. Being engineering students, the business concepts were new to us, so we put in a lot of effort and time on this ‘side project.’ At the end of the day, we won second place, with a $1250 cash prize. The money is going to help pay for our master’s.

When I met with the team prior to their presentation, they mentioned that three of them were graduating and immediately starting on their master’s. I wanted to know more about this.

Arnoldo: Carlos, Misael, and Rodolfo just graduated this past week (written in May) with their bachelor’s in mechanical engineering, and they are going directly to work on their master’s at UTRGV. I expect to graduate in May of 2018, as I am going to do internships with companies like Cummins Inc. and Toyota. After that, I will be going into the master’s program at UTRGV, also.

In speaking with Dr. Lozano, she had mentioned that this experience inspired her to reach out to the community to invite others to come to UTRGV with ideas for products her students could develop.

You mentioned that you would like other community members to contact your department with ideas for products?

Dr. Lozano: Necessity is the mother of all inventions, and even though we live in such an advanced-technology world, there are still so many needs to take care of. I always tell them, just look around, wherever you are, and think about how you can make it better, or actually think of something totally new, a disruptive technology. Many times, like in this case, you had a need that none of us had been exposed to, and you did the right thing. You communicated your need. We can help society in this way or by solving any other need. I am constantly stressing to our students the value of innovation and our responsibility toward our community. Just as a doctor would cure a patient, an engineer would try to solve other needs.

I asked the team one final question in my email interview.

Is there anything any of you would like to add about this project, about the outcome, etc.?

Carlos: I would like to say I’m very proud to be a part of the Self-Stabilizing Holder group. They are a group of amazing professionals and astonishing individuals.

Rodlfo: I understand that the project might not have functioned how we would have liked, but the analyses shows we are heading in the right direction. The plan is to continue working on the project during the summer, fine-tuning the code and testing the encasing design for writing. All I can say is that it has been a great year working alongside my friends.

Arnoldo: I am extremely proud of the result of our project, even though we didn’t end up with a fully functional product that can reach the outcome of attenuating the involuntary vibrations from tremors. It was a really good result for us to take this project this far, already having a prototype and being able to get some data by simulating the tremors. To me, it’s a true blessing being able to work on a project that can one day help not only the community but a lot of people who suffer from this difficulty in the world, and the best way to do it is working with your closest friends.

Although it is rare to do this in a feature story, I must express, once more, my sincerest gratitude to Dr. Lozano and the SSH Team for caring about my mom and the estimated one million other Americans living with Parkinson’s. This has been one of the greatest experiences of my life.

While this is the final part in the series, I am hoping there will one day be a new series based on the SSH Team taking their product to market. I can only imagine my mom’s expression the first time she uses the SSH Pen, writing freely again.