student in lab
Team members Christian Sloat, Tyler Ulanowicz, Angel Ortega and Hendrick Burger (L-to-R)

According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, the reported use rate for seat belts hit 89.6 percent in 2018, with belts reportedly saving nearly 15,000 lives in passenger vehicle crashes the previous year. However, for one Temple Engineering senior design team, the focus is on those who don't wear belts, often due to upper body impairments of some kind. 

"The goal is to assist those with impairments such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, neck and back pain, and other upper-body conditions," said mechanical engineering student Christian Sloat, who estimated about 3 million individuals avoid using seat belts for those or similar reasons in the United States. "As engineers, it is our obligation to prioritize people's safety and well-being," he added. 

The team displayed the current prototype in the first floor Temple Formula Racing workshop, where all are current or former members. The device is made to be a universal piece that can attach to an already working belt rather than recreating the entire system. Through further developed prototypes and iterative design, the team hopes to eventually provide more focus groups with versions of the device with an eye on moving towards a marketplace. 

The belt release prototype is made up of a larger gripping mechanism for easier manipulation as the belt is brought across the body and while connecting to the buckle. In the newest prototype (not pictured), an easily accessed 'slide' mechanism is actuated for release from the seat, an adaptation from the formerly tested 'swing-release'. "The 'swing-release' arm alleviates any pain on the point of one's finger as they try to free themselves from their seat," added Tyler Ulanowicz, also a mechanical engineering student on the team. This holds true for the newest iteration, which incorporates additional design changes based on user feedback.

"Part of the issue is limited mobility. Some users may not be able to make the common motions to look down and over, or tightly angle their wrist, all things that are commonly done when attaching a safety belt," Ulanowicz noted. "With this set up, we're hoping to reduce the discomfort associated with the motions of buckling and unbuckling; improving our prototypes to meet the needs of our users."

In order to produce this assistive device, each of the members drew inspiration from lessons in classrooms, labs, and student organization experience and applied them in a new and tangible setting. Or, as fellow team member Hendrick Burger stressed: iterative design feedback. 

"It's one of the most important things you'll use as a metric of success for your project. You can spend hours thinking about the project, but at the end of the day," Burger said, "if you don't start doing, you won't get anywhere."

Senior design awards, fall 2019

First Prize (Ergonomic Seatbelt Release)
Henrik Burger
Angel Ortega
Christian Sloat
Tyler Ulanowicz

Faculty Advisor
Professor Lawrence Gelburd 

Second Prize (Duststream)
Dave Barr
Ryan Deetscreek
Corey McMillan
Evan Thomas
Olivia Webb

Faculty Advisor
Professor Lawrence Gelburd 

Third Prize (JCN Bioink)
Niko Di Caprio
Jen Hammel 
Chris Hunnewell

Faculty Advisor
Dr. Evangelia Bellas

Fourth Prize (Shroombot)

Abdulrahman Almusalieem
Brandon Begaj
Garret Benner
Kuang Jiang
Andrew Taylor

Faculty Advisor
Dr. Li Bai 
Professor Lawrence Gelburd