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Communicating with Frankie: Progress on a Nova Solution

Last summer, the generosity of Villanova University alumni fueled the work of Computer Engineering seniors Michael DiGiacomo and Christian Berger as they adapted their capstone project to meet unexpected challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. The student team aimed to develop a system to help Villanovans with spastic cerebral palsy communicate more independently. More than 240 donors contributed over $40,000 to “Communicating with Frankie: A Nova Solution” and with that support Michael says, “We accomplished a great deal and put the project in a good position for future improvements.”

To date, the team has:

  • Delivered functioning prototypes to the three mentors—including Frankie Kineavy ’14 CLAS—with spastic cerebral palsy who participated in this research and equipped them with the applications necessary for the classroom and workplace.
  • Customized the applications to meet the needs of each mentor, designing them specifically for their typing approach and accommodating their most commonly used words and phrases.
  • Used 3D modeling software and 3D printing to create a housing unit for each device to ensure safety and functionality. The units were assembled on campus in the Drosdick Hall Multidisciplinary Design Lab (MDL).

The project was also viewed from an entrepreneurial perspective by students in the Engineering Entrepreneurship minor who analyzed its feasibility as a business venture, researching different facets of the project, including manufacturing, marketing and the competitive landscape for accessibility devices. Capstone faculty advisor and MDL Director George Simmons ’87 MSCS says students in the program are also applying their creative skills to the project: “Special attention is being placed on adjustability, adding a second screen, and universal wheelchair mounting.”

Looking ahead, Simmons plans to assemble a new team of Electrical and Computer Engineering seniors to advance the system with software improvements and new functionality. Meanwhile, in response to the new prototype, Kineavy writes, “This device will open so many doors for me both personally and professionally.”

View this summary video to see the new system in action.