An ALS Head and Neck Support System designed by Clarkson University’s Herman L. Shulman Endowed Chair of Computer & Electrical Engineering Professor Charles Robinson has been chosen the Clinical Panel Winner of the Academy of Spinal Cord Injury Professionals (ASCIP) Innovation Competition at the ASCIP’s annual conference in September. At the conference, Robinson discussed and demonstrated his novel design of the Head and Neck Support System for those with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).
With about $60 worth of building materials found at the local hardware store and a few hours of spare time, anyone can build Robinson’s Head and Neck Support System. Robinson constructed the system for his wife, Rosemary, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2006. While Rosemary passed away in 2008, the invention that helped her lives on and Robinson hopes to pay it forward by making plans for his ALS head support system available to anyone who wants them.
“Holding your neck up when you have Lou Gehrig’s disease is very tough,” says Robinson, who serves as the Director of the Center for Rehabilitation Engineering Science & Technology at Clarkson University. “There are a lot of collars out there that focus on the use of the sternum or the shoulders to keep the head straight, but there is some restriction with using them. My collar uses the back of the chair as the main support.”
Robinson utilized his neuroscience and engineering background to design the simple, yet effective, collar that can used for anyone with this type of paralysis. The design is composed of PVC pipe, various fittings and flanges plus dowel rods and a padded Velcro strap. The final product is anchored to a wood-based armchair (or other steady chair surface) to provide stability. While the system appears to be straightforward and simple in design, it takes someone with Robinson’s expertise to mesh the concepts together.
“I never thought I would apply what I teach in the classroom to my own life, my own wife,” says Robinson. “As engineers, we try to work toward the most appropriate solution. Even when there are a lot of high tech solutions, low tech is sometimes the best. And, in this case, this is pretty low tech.”
While he doesn’t plan to manufacture the support system, he says that the design plans will be freely available to anyone who wants to use them. “Maintaining the best quality of life for the person with ALS is key,” says Robinson. “My device can help do just that.”
A video about the device is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u9FUH_CPpfc&feature=youtu.be