Duo Uses Hydraulics to Capture $5,000 Top Prize

UMass Lowell Image
DifferenceMaker Idea Challenge winners Peter Klausmeyer (center) and Ryan Andrews demonstrate their hydraulic walker for Assoc. Prof. Valerie Kijewski. Photo by Tory Germann.

By David Perry

Confident, personable and touting their hydraulic walker’s simple design and wide-ranging benefits, Peter Klausmeyer and Ryan Andrews walked away with $5,000 and the top prize at the third annual DifferenceMaker Idea Challenge.

“I’m just ultimately humbled by this whole situation,” said Klausmeyer after the decision by the panel of seven judges was announced. Klausmeyer and Andrews both graduate next month with doctorates in physical therapy

For more than 90 minutes, 10 teams pitched their ideas to the judges, who included UMass President Emeritus Jack Wilson and Taniya Nayak ’97, the Boston-based interior designer best known for her work on HGTV. Behind the bank of judges, nearly 200 students, alumni, faculty and family packed the Moloney Ballroom in University Crossing to hear the students’ explain their ideas.

Ten teams competed in the finals, whittled down in previous competitions from 60 that represented all six colleges and over 30 departments. Pitches ran from psychology majors and twin brothers Hector and Arnaldo Rivera’s Homework Center to the rape-alert Mayday device and a trio of solar vehicles designed by an 11-member team.

“It’s an exciting time for this university,” said Chancellor Marty Meehan, noting the “extraordinary talent represented in this room.”

In all, $35,000 – donated by alumni – was at stake. In each of four categories, first and second place teams won $4,000 and $2,500, respectively. The Rivera brothers took Honorable Mention for their idea for the Homework Center, a drop-in facility where Lawrence public school students could go to get academic support.

Each team presented five-minute pitches, and were queried by the judges.

The winning walker, made with guidance from Klausmeyer’s father, uses hydraulics to allow users to navigate stairs, something that walkers currently on the market do not do. Designed for the elderly, for those recovering from hip and knee replacements and other surgeries, the walker would afford people greater mobility and improve safety, Klausmeyer told the judges. “The number one fear of the elderly is falling down stairs,” he said. 

The team’s goal was to create a walker that is “simple and affordable.” During the design process, Klausmeyer’s engineer-turned-sculptor father advised him to try to create a product that could be “put together with a screw driver and wrench.”

“You know, I’ve judged all three of these,” said Amy Hoey ’88, executive vice president and Chief Operating officer at Lowell General Hospital, after the competition wrapped up. “And I’m just constantly amazed by what the students come up with. I think we went to a whole new level this year.”

It was all in the family for Kenders Athletic Body Armor, as twin sisters and plastic engineering juniors Elizabeth and Laura, and their brother, Stephen, a mechanical engineering freshman, pitched protective padding for athletes that is thinner and lighter yet offers greater shield thanks to shear-thickening fluids. 

Masela Dentures offered denture systems via 3-D printer, and Love of the Game outlined plans to use sports to bring people with physical and cognitive disabilities together with universities. Playable Therapy proposed using exercises and games to track and encourage physical therapy patients.

Buddies without Borders was a proposal to blend domestic and international students to improve comfort and cross-cultural communication, and Word Builder pitched an interactive, block-based toy designed to stem the failure to read at grade level. 

“The real work begins this summer at our boot camp program,” said Assoc, Vice Chancellor of Entrepreneurship and Economic Development Steven Tello. “That’s when we move this forward.”

“I was sitting there looking at these young students and their projects and presentations,” mused  Nayak, who earned a business degree with a concentration in marketing.  “And I was thinking ‘what was I doing at their age? Nothing like this.’ I was so impressed with not only their ability to come up with something but to present it. I do a lot of public speaking and what they did is not easy.”

The winners:

2015 DifferenceMaker Challenge Winner: 

Hydraulic Walker: Ryan Andrews, Peter Klausmeyer.

Contribution to a Healthier Lifestyle category:

First place: Playable Therapy: Suhaib Allageeh, Lucas Brown, Chelsea Hayes, Damir Ismagilove, Colin Piette, Anthony Pitaro, Mark Mcgrotty.

Second place: Solar Electric Vehicles: Chukwuma Azubuine, Richard Asirifi, Anas Dahany, Alexander Gribov, David Jenkins, Oliver Kayego, Chris Leger, Jared Mrvos, Charles Reid, Kenneth Sanders, Mukhammaddin Zinaddinov.

First to Market category:

First place: Mayday: Alessandro Agnello, Chibhi Selven.

Second place: Word Builder: Sergio Coronado, Ian Copithorne.

Innovative Technology Solution category:

First place: Masela Dentures: Cormac Hondros-McCarthy, Casey McRae.

Second place: Kender’s Body Armor: Elizabeth, Laura and Stephen Kender.

Significant Social Impact category:

First place: Love of the Game: Jessica Dion, Dylan Doucette, Lucas Parsons, Rachel Silk, Daniel Schmith.

Second place: Buddies Without Borders: Tugba Arsava, Burhan Colak, Katherine Cox, Madeline Ormaza, Shashank Raghuveer, Fang Zhang.

Honorable Mention: Homework Center: Arnaldo and Hector Rivera.

People’s Choice Award, voted on by audience from among four teams that did not advance to the finals: Indoor Gardening System.