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Making a World of Difference

Students Teach Assistive Technology in India

Erin Webster and David Harrington

By Edwin L. Aguirre

An electric rickshaw was one of the outcomes of a unique opportunity afforded engineering students recently.

Last summer, four engineering students at UMass Lowell spent nearly a month teaching assistive technology at two institutions in India.

Erin Webster, David Harrington, Heather Sweeney and Nichole Griffin, together with Assistive Technology Program staff members Alan Rux and Senait Haileselassie, taught more than 300 students and helped set up assistive technology labs at the Padmasri Dr. B.V.Raju Institute of Technology (BVRIT) in Hyderabad and the Shri Vishnu Engineering College for Women in Bhimavaram.

The group also met with physically and mentally handicapped and blind/deaf clients who would eventually benefit from these assistive projects. They were so successful that Webster, Harrington and Rux have been invited to go back this summer.

Students Invited Because of Work

“In the fall of 2009, Mr. K. V. Vishnu Raju, chairman of the BVRIT, toured UMass Lowell and other schools in Boston,” says Rux. “He was so impressed with the work being done at UMass Lowell that he invited our students and staff to help them set up a similar assistive technology lab back at their home institute.”

Among the many assistive projects that have been developed at BVRIT are a wireless patient monitoring system and a voice-activated home automation system as well as smart hats, shoes and wheelchairs.

In addition to the trip to India, Webster and Harrington hold weekly live video conference with their counterparts to discuss ongoing projects, help choose new ones and meet with prospective clients.

Webster, a computer engineering sophomore, is currently helping the institutions to develop grade-school hands-on science curriculum.

“In addition to chemistry, biology and physics, we would like to include robotics in the curriculum,” she says.

Mobile Robotics Labs

They want to establish a mobile robotics lab that will tour various schools. They will be bringing to India a dozen Lego NXT robot kits as well as a dozen netbook computers ߞ; all courtesy of Mr. Raju ߞ; so they can teach young kids programming and mechanical engineering.

“I love our Assistive Technology Program,” she says. “I’m having fun while learning. It’s part of the reason why I came to UMass Lowell ߞ; I turned down other universities because you can’t get into their labs until you’re a grad student. I don’t want to wait that long.”

“The students from UMass Lowell were very focused and driven by a passion to improve the quality of life among the physically disabled,” says T. S. Surendra, principal of the Padmasri Dr. B. V. Raju Institute of Technology. “I was particularly impressed by their acumen, penchant for detail and their ability to think out of the box.”

For more information about the Assistive Technology Program, visitits website at