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Walker Climbs to DifferenceMaker Crown

Students Develop Prototypes and Business Plans

DifferenceMaker winners with Dean Joseph Hartman and Steven Tello
Engineering Dean Joseph Hartman with the winning Hydraulic Walker team, Peter Klausmeyer, Ryan Andrews, and Steven Tello, vice chancellor of Entrepreneurship and Economic Development.

By David Perry

If the journey to success begins with one step, the duo that pitched a Hydraulic Walker to a curious public and a panel of learned judges is well on its way to acclaim.

Peter Klausmeyer and Ryan Andrews, a pair of third-year doctoral physical therapy students, captured top honors recently at the first College of Engineering Prototyping Competition. Their aluminum walker, designed with hydraulics to simplify movement for those injured or elderly, earned its inventors the top $1,000 prize.

Klausmeyer and Andrews emerged from a pack of 28 contenders who exhibited their inventions in two venues to capture top honors in a final five. They topped a duo whose Proto-Tooth offered dentures using 3D printing technology, a pneumatic tick removing device, the Mayday anti-rape/personal safety device and the runner-up and People’s Choice winner, Kenders Body Armor. The body armor, a light and flexible athletic safety concept, was a family effort devised by junior twins Laura and Elizabeth Kender and their brother, Stephen, a freshman. 

The event, at the Saab Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center, came on the second night of this semester’s DifferenceMaker contest. The previous evening, sophomore accounting majors Joseph Baglio and Megan Foster, teaming as The Bears, took the top prize at the DCU Innovation Contest.

Their project, Subsection Budgeting for DCU Banking, would enable customers to divide their savings account into categories like rent, or new car fund, giving them a more visual representation – and hopefully better control – of their finances. 

In its second year, the contest was sponsored by the university’s DifferenceMaker program, its Manning School of Business and Digital Federal Credit Union.

“They look at things like student loans and budgeting from very different perspectives,” said DCU President and CEO Jim Regan ’88, “and it makes us as a company look at things a little bit differently. It gets us out of our comfort zone of how we’re used to looking at things.”

Regan was one of four judges at the competition.

Simultaneously, the College of Fine Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences Creative Venture Competition took place with four teams pitching their prototypes at O’Leary Library on South Campus. 

Mayday, the pre-programmed sexual assault prevention device that is worn as an accessory and beams a signal to the Internet, won the top prize of $5,000 for teammates Ofa Liz Ejaife, a graduate student in community social psychology, Alessandro Simone Agnello, a computer science Ph.D. student,  and Cibhi SelVen, an MBA student. 

In the College of Engineering finale, competitors, faculty and family packed the Saab ETIC atrium for the five finalists, following an exhibition by 28 teams that filled both the ETIC and Alumni Hall. 

The preliminary was a feast of practical solutions to common problems, from sophomore mechanical engineering major Anne Faber’s Sound Norman device to keep fluctuating television volume from deafening levels, to The Perfect Burger, in which sophomores Tim Buonodono and Kenny Rogers designed an LED program to thermally cook a hamburger to the FDA’s recommended internal temperature of 160 degrees.

“This is the whole package, not only putting together an executive summary and business model, but building the prototype and presenting it,” said Nancy Ficarra, coordinator of student events and programs for the College of Engineering. “This is very exciting for us.”

In the finals, a panel of five judges, including Distinguished Professor of Higher Education in Emerging technologies and Innovation and UMass system President Emeritus Jack Wilson, peppered the finalists with questions about their proposals, a la the popular TV show "Shark Tank." Competitors fielded queries on such topics as patents and existing products with similar functions.  

In the end, it was the hydraulic walker that won the day. Klausmeyer and Andrews were impressed by the competition. Their approach was to keep their prototype as simple as possible and use materials that were readily available. 

“Here we come from over on South Campus into this world of Cloud applications and pneumatics in this building where people are walking around in Tyvek suits,” quipped Klausmeyer. 

The notion occurred to Klausmeyer after he worked for the Lowell Visiting Nurse’s Association and “saw tons of problems with hips, knees.” With its hydraulic rise, using just 5 pounds of pressure, the device rises and lowers forward and moves sideways to adapt to stairs and other impediments.

“If you’re looking for a medical school for trials, UMass Medical would be a great place,” suggested an impressed judge Wilson.   

Runners-up Kenders Body Armor took home $750 to develop their product, and Proto-Tooth took third and $500. Mayday landed honorable mention and $250.

“We’re thrilled with this competition, especially as the first one for engineering,” said Steven Tello, vice chancellor for Entrepreneurship and Economic Development, who oversees the DifferenceMaker program. “These were incredibly creative and well-thought-out proposals.”