CEAS Students Engineer Solution for Safer Retirement Communities

By:    Brandon Pytel
Date: May 1, 2018

Three mechanical engineering students designed a wearable tracking device for older adults with cognitive decline. Their project earned them the title of Fan Favorite at the 2018 CEAS Senior Design Showcase.

The three students with their poster.

From left to right: Demjanenko, Stock and Weaver present their project at the CEAS Senior Design Showcase.

Cognitive decline affects millions of people in the U.S. Because of aging-associated diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia, this decline can be especially prominent in older adults. Retirement communities require additional resources or creative solutions to respond to these residents with progressive cognitive decline.

One issue that these centers address daily is the adults’ tendency to wander. On a large retirement community’s campus, this can cause big safety concerns. Three mechanical engineering students at the University of Cincinnati (UC) came up with a practical solution for these wandering adults: wearable tracking devices.

The project was part of the senior design capstone class all College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS) students take their final year at UC. When local retirement community Maple Knoll Village presented the problem to the class, these three students knew it was the project for them.

“I have had two grandparents go through cognitive decline,” said Anne Weaver, one of the team members, “so this project really hit close to home.”

The other two team members, Kaitlin Stock and Emily Demjanenko, saw this problem as an opportunity to apply engineering to a cause that could benefit the entire community.

Weaver and Demjanenko install an antennas in a garage.

Weaver and Demjanenko install one of the antennas.

The design team started by determining the technology behind the tracking device. WiFi and GPS had pairing and location-tracking issues, so the team agreed that radio frequency identification (RFID) would work best because of RFID’s ability to pair with unique IDs on each tracking device.

The team purchased RFID tags and used a 3D printer to create a wearable tag bracelet. Since an older adult with cognitive decline may not remember why he or she is wearing a bracelet, the team had to design a bracelet with a specialized head that only Maple Knoll staff could remove using a universal key.

The team then placed four readers and six antennas around the exits of one building. The theory was, if they could localize the technology first, they could eventually apply it to the whole campus. Maple Knoll Village resides on a 55-acre campus, so keeping track of its several hundred residents is no easy task.

Stock, who has experience with software engineering through her cooperative education (co-op) rotations, wrote code that synchronized each bracelet with the antennas. When one of the nine volunteers wearing a bracelet walks by an antenna, the antenna recognizes the device and sends that data directly to a reader. A staff member can then easily access this data from a computer.

Though there were some hiccups along the way – like the FCC standards that regulate how much radio frequency antennas can emit – the team successfully argued a proof of concept for the technology. With this proof, Maple Knoll can apply for grants that would give them the funds to carry out this technology on a larger scale.

3D printed tag holder.

The team used a 3D printer to create wearable tag holders.

On April 17, the team displayed their work at the annual CEAS Senior Design Showcase. Their project earned them popularity among faculty, staff and students, winning them the event’s Fan Favorite Award.

“We knew that this project was something that really made an impact,” said Stock, “so seeing that other people saw that and voted for us was really rewarding.”

As the three mechanical engineering students graduate this spring, they leave behind an impressive product that benefits an aging population. The team exemplifies UC’s commitment to improving lives through technology of the future.  

After graduation, Stock will work as a software engineer with Siemens PLM Software; Weaver as a design engineer with GE Aviation; and Demjanenko as a materials planner with Space-X.