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Human Centered Design studio (HCDS)

Seniors in the College of Engineering and Computational Sciences traditionally take a 2 semester capstone design course Senior Design. In this traditional course sequence, students work in fixed teams on a single project. There are multiple challenges with this model; projects can only begin in September or January, they must be suitable in scope for exactly 2 semesters, and all the students graduate at the same time eliminating opportunity for iteration.

In HCDS we do things quite differently, running more like a professional design firm.

    Students work on multiple projects simultaneously with an expectation that they'll work on at least 3 over 2 semesters.
    Projects can have varying durations.
    Projects can begin at any time.
    Everyone is expected to serve in a leadership role.
    Team staffing is flexible. One or two students from the class serve as project lead(s) for each project and are responsible for the overall progress of their project. They recruit other students based upon expertise and availability.
    Half the class starts each semester so that there is continuity, allowing for iteration.
    25-30 students (approximately 80% Mechanical and 20% Electrical Engineering majors) are involved at any given time. The hope is that we can double this number for Fall 2018.
    We're able to work on 18-24 projects per year.

Some features of HCDS

    All projects involve adaptive equipment for people with some sort of disability.
    Wherever possible, students interact with a client who will use the equipment.
    Clients range from children to paralympians, coming from civilian, veteran, and first responder polulations.

Advantages of this model for the students in that they

    Work on multiple projects, not just one.
    Serve in various roles.
    Get experience leading a project, and recruiting/managing a team.
    Interact with clients – building real world design thinking and customer empathy.
    Learn humility and humanity via exposure to people with significant challenges.
    Learn management skills and communications more effectively than in the traditional Senior Design model.
    Learn better time management skills, adaptability, and flexibility since they work on multiple projects simultaneously.

Advantages of this model for the program include

    Projects have varying start dates and durations.
    We can be responsive to imminent needs.
    We can take on simpler or more complicated projects.
    There is the opportunity to iterate through designs across semesters.
    At current staffing we can complete 15-20 projects per year.

Of course there are some disadvantages as well.

    Student who require a great deal of structure may not find the Studio model rewarding.
    Faculty have to commit significantly more time to this model.

This model was piloted for the 2015-16 academic year and has been tweaked each semester since. Students are typically selected from an applicant pool.

Our past, current, and future work includes;

  • a low cost, modular and adjustable upper extremity prosthesis for kids
  • a seating system for whitewater rafting
  • tranfemoral prosthesis attachment system
  • a binding for a prosthetic foot to wakeboard
  • an activity monitor for osseo-integrated transfemoral prosthesis
  • an overhead lift system suitable for a variety of enviroments to assist with transfer from a wheelchair to a sitski, kayak, raft, bobsled, etc.
  • snowplow and lawnmower attachments for a tracked wheelchair
  • a self-parking system for powered wheelchairs
  • outriggers for a bi-ski
  • a stand-up ski frame
  • an accessible pedal bar
  • a cross-country sitski for backcountry use by paraplegics
  • adaptation of a downhill mountain bike for use by incomplete quadriplegics
  • an ice climbing tool for upper extremity amputees
  • a high-back saddle for horseback riding by individuals with various motor impairments
  • a 3d-printed muscle-controlled prosthetic hand
  • climbing holds for visually impaired individuals
  • a thought controlled power wheelchair
  • design of an advanced alpine monoski
  • a manual propulsion mechanism for backcountry use of an alpine monoski
  • a purpose-built binding for monoski racing
  • a foot/ankle prosthesis for snowboarding
  • an instrumentation system for biomechanical analysis for use outside the lab
  • a quickrelease bucket to frame attachment for monoski setup at adpaptive sports programs
  • a handle and mounting mechanism for an adaptive skateboard
  • an instrumentation system for providing feedback on head position to Olympic track cyclists
  • an instrumentation system for training of the U.S. Olympic trampoline team

  • and we're always looking for more ideas


design projects


Sitski team

Articulated cross country sit-ski for backcountry use.

This Senior Design team developed an articulated sit-ski for backcountry use.

The client that this was designed for is a high-functioning paraplegic who has undertaken several traverses of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

His standard sit-ski was less than ideal for side-slope conditions.

The prototype is undergoing testing this winter (2014/2015).




Adaptation of FourCross downhill mountain bike.

This Senior Design team modified the braking system to be functional for people with incomplete quadriplegia as well as others with upper extremity weakness and/or dysfunction.

They also modified the seating system with modular panels to increase support and stability as required by individual users.

The client was the Adaptive Sports Center in Crested Butte, CO.

The modified bike was introduced into their fleet for the summer 2014 season.

This project won First Place in the Senior Design Trade Fair in Spring 2014.

Ice tool for upper extremity amputees.

Ice climbing involves significant wrist motion for setting the pick of the ice-tool into the ice. Most upper extremity prosthetics lack the necessary motions.

This team of graduate students design a device that uses motion of the forearm to store and release energy into a mechanical element to provide the necessary motion profile.

This project was undertaken for a Graduate design class.

The client was the Adaptive Sports Center in Crested Butte, CO.




Reverse gearing system for Reactive Adaptations hand-cranked mountain bikes.

This Senior Design team is developing a reverse gearing system to be added to the hand-cranked mountain bikes designed, built, and sold by Reactive Adaptations.







Wheelchair dynamometer. A Senior Design team developed a dynamometer for use with manual wheelchairs. Effective rolling resistance can be varied via a magnetic brake to simulate propelling over various surfaces and slopes. The dynamometer is being used for upper extremity biomechanics studies in the CBRR.

Prosthetic knee for cycling. Another Senior Design project aiming to create a prosthetic knee to be used by a trans-femoral amputee during cycling. The client wanted to be able to get out of the saddle while going uphill or otherwise accelerating. This project won First Place in the Senior Design Trade Fair in Spring 2013.

Olympic Pommel horse. Pommel horse is one of the apparatus used in men's gymnastics competition. The U.S. Team coaches are seeking additional tools to help improve the performance of their athletes in this event. A Senior Design team is utilizing inertial sensors from APDM Movement Monitoring Systems to provide athletes and coaches with feedback on timing and rythm during training. This project is ongoing as of the 2014/2015 academic year.

Olympic Trampoline (Phase I). Time-of-flight is one of the scoring metrics in competition. Commercially available systems for measuring time-of-flight are too expensive ($2000+) for most training gyms. A Senior Design team was tasked with creating a highly-accurate, but reasonably priced, time-of-flight measurement system to be deployed to training centers for U.S. Olympic gymnasts and hopefuls. Their prototype solution was sufficiently accurate but could be produced for under $400. This project won First Place in the Senior Design Trade Fair in Fall 2014.

Olympic Trampoline (Phase II). This Senior Design team is tasked with improving the hardware and software from the first team as well as adding measurement and reporting of jump height and foot placement relative to the scoring box. This project is ongoing as of the 2014/2015 academic year.

Alpine sit ski. Undergraduate Research Fellow project to design an alpine monoski with increased travel and improved damping.

EMG controlled 3d printed prosthetic hand. An Undergraduate Researh Fellow project to develop a low-cost EMG controlled 3d printed prosthetic hand and wrist.

Improvements to the Ropes Course at the Adaptive Sports Center in Crested Butte.

This project is still in the planning phase.









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