Using their love of engi­neering and tech­nology, a North­eastern stu­dent group has spent the last two years devel­oping prod­ucts that will make the lives of Mass­a­chu­setts res­i­dents living with dis­abil­i­ties easier.

Enabling Engi­neering, which became an offi­cial stu­dent orga­ni­za­tion a year ago, grew out of a North­eastern senior cap­stone project that won the elec­trical and com­puter engi­neering com­pe­ti­tion in 2012. The win­ning project was dubbed iCRAFT and fea­tured a robotic feeding arm con­trolled by the user’s eye. Stu­dents said the cap­stone served as a strong example of how engi­neering can assist people in need and helped launch the group.

The founders wanted to create a group that could come up with ideas that could help people with dis­abil­i­ties in their daily lives,” said Aaron Cooper, E’14, the group’s former president.

Team mem­bers meet weekly to brain­storm, research, and develop other low-​​cost solu­tions that improve the lives of and pro­vide increased inde­pen­dence to indi­vid­uals with cog­ni­tive or phys­ical dis­abil­i­ties and elderly indi­vid­uals in need of extra support.

Jake Hol­stein, E’16, who will take over as the group’s pres­i­dent in the next aca­d­emic year, noted that Enabling Engi­neering is a unique stu­dent orga­ni­za­tion in that it focuses on cre­ating spe­cific prod­ucts or projects that sup­port its mission.

The team is cur­rently working on building sev­eral prod­ucts. Exam­ples include a speech-​​assisting com­puter for wheelchair-​​bound people using consumer-​​based prod­ucts; and a hos­pital sleep tracker that will allow nurses to mon­itor patients’ sleep pat­terns so they know when to admin­ister med­i­cine or take vital signs.

The group has stages in place to move projects along, including a devel­op­ment stage in which a pro­to­type is built for clients. The group also has an exten­sive online com­mu­nity that pro­motes idea-​​sharing among mem­bers, men­tors, and alumni.

It is def­i­nitely a dif­ferent expe­ri­ence,” Hol­stein said. “You learn the the­o­ret­ical aspects of engi­neering in the class­room. But with Enabling Engi­neering and co-​​op, you really get an application-​​based perspective.”

Waleed Meleis, an asso­ciate pro­fessor in the Depart­ment of Elec­trical and Com­puter Engi­neering, was the fac­ulty adviser for iCRAFT and serves in the same role for Enabling Engi­neering. He stressed that the stu­dent organization’s focus on engi­neering solu­tions doesn’t mean it’s only for stu­dents within the Col­lege of Engi­neering; stu­dents university-​​wide and alumni inter­ested in helping people with dis­abil­i­ties are also welcome.

Our stu­dents have enthu­siasm, energy, ideas, and they are incred­ibly caring,” Meleis said. “Many of them have family mem­bers or par­ents who are dis­abled or par­ents who work with dis­abled people.”

Stu­dents also work closely with Fikst Product Devel­op­ment, a Massachusetts-​​based product design con­sulting firm that reached out to Enabling Engi­neering last year with the goal of cre­ating like-​​minded prod­ucts. Since then, Fikst has men­tored group mem­bers to help them develop their ideas.

Meleis also noted that Lifestream Inc., a human ser­vices orga­ni­za­tion based in New Bed­ford, Mass., pro­vides Enabling Engi­neering with funding sup­port and con­nects stu­dents with staff mem­bers and clients who live with dis­abil­i­ties. Lifestream offi­cials have also vis­ited North­eastern to dis­cuss the organization’s mission.

We are cre­ating an infra­struc­ture and building rela­tion­ships for stu­dents who have good ideas,” Meleis said. “When stu­dents come to us wanting to make a dif­fer­ence using engi­neering, we can now send them to dif­ferent groups and have men­tors who will help them.”