UD, Accudyne create harness for physically disabled

Gov. Jack Markell places an order with Anne Dunlap, who demonstrates how technology developed can help allow people with physical disabilities the ability to work outside the home. (Photo: ROBERT CRAIG/THE NEWS JOURNAL )

Anne Dunlap had suffered a traumatic brain injury, and has trouble standing up, but last week she was serving coffee, scooping ice cream and using a bagel slicer at a kiosk at the University of Delaware.

The technology was created in a UD laboratory, but the application was built by Accudyne Systems Inc. of Newark, based on an “aha” moment that happened while one of the company’s founders was driving south on I-95.

The kiosk includes a harness system that allows users to move around anywhere within a 50-square-foot space. There’s a quick-release in back, in case the user wants to sit down.

In written comments, Dunlap said the kiosk was easy to move around in. There’s no drag and the harness feels light when moving, she said.

It was “the first time in more than 16 years I’ve had the freedom to move securely in any direction without holding on to something,” she said. “I feel comfortable and liberated because I’m secure and protected – and I don’t have to worry about falling.”

Ralph Cope, Accudyne’s co-founder, said the company builds custom automation equipment for a wide variety of industries. Accudyne first came into contact with Cole Galloway, a professor of physical therapy, when they built a large harness unit for the University of Delaware Early Learning Center in the beginning of 2012, Cope said.

That system, commissioned by Galloway, was designed, built and installed by Accudyne to give body weight support to children with disabilities.

They then worked with Galloway to create fall-restraint systems for the UD Science, Technology and Advanced Research campus about a year ago, when the building was being constructed. The building is where Galloway has his GoBabyGo laboratory, which specializes in innovative forms of physical rehabilitation for children and treats people of all ages.

Galloway said the harness systems are useful for people who have suffered head injuries, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease or a stroke. He recommended getting people into the harness, if possible, two to three weeks after the injury, as soon as they’re medically stable.

The harness won’t allow the user to fall – Galloway called it a “hands-free body weight support.”

Eventually, users “should be able to walk out of this harness,” he said. Wheelchairs can get someone into a work environment, but “you get weaker and weaker because you’re not challenged,” he said. “This is set up to progress you.”

Accudyne created several other prototypes in collaboration with Galloway. One day, Cope’s brother and Accudyne’s co-founder, Steve Cope, was driving south to Virginia with his wife to their vacation home, and she wondered aloud whether a family could use a portable version of the harness system at the beach.

The Copes passed along that germ of an idea to Galloway, and, as Ralph Cope recalled, “one thing led to another, leads to another, and then it keeps blossoming” into the kiosk idea, he said.

The kiosk took four months to develop and four weeks to build. It opened for business, in association with the UDairy Creamery, on Thursday. Steve Cope said the system is, to his knowledge, the only system in the world that allows the user, supported by a harness, to walk anywhere within a 2-D space.

Accudyne has 30 employees. With the harness systems gaining momentum, Enliten was created as a spin-off to handle that business, Ralph Cope said. It currently has just three employees, the Cope brothers included, but they said they expect growth.

Enliten provided the equipment for the kiosk, and the university is providing feedback to Enliten about how it works.

The version used at the kiosk is known as the Oasis – Open Area Support System – it can handle patients of up to 300 pounds, and it can be easily designed to fit in almost any shape room. Unlike the one at the Early Learning Center, it doesn’t require power. The building in which it is located doesn’t need to be modified, the Copes said.

Galloway’s team is applying for a grant from the National Institutes for Health to test the impact of using the harnesses in a workplace setting on muscle and joint strength – including using the kiosk, which received a visit from Gov. Jack Markell on Thursday.

There’s a big psychological boost to getting someone out of their home and into work, Galloway said. Adults want to work, to have a reason to wake up in the morning, he said. “You can’t put a price on that. That’s major.”

Contact Aaron Nathans at (302) 324-2786 or anathans@delawareonline.com.