PULLMAN, Wash. — A group of Washington State University bioengineering students won first place with their plans for a Rapid Automated Posture Profiling System in the annual business-plan competition. The students received a $5,000 prize.

On March 27, the bioengineering students presented their prototype system to a panel of four judges. It included a plan for external testing of the product and the start-up of a company that can produce and introduce RAPPS successfully into a market with known competitors.

The students hope that the RAPPS will aid physical therapists, chiropractors and others in obtaining posture data for diagnosing postural abnormalities and for tracking changes over time. Such evidence-based practice is becoming important to medical practitioners for both documenting the effects of their therapies and for conducting research to determine the most effective therapies. 

“This competition is one element in the students’ comprehensive capstone design project that helps to achieve learning outcomes preparing them for real-world success in multidisciplinary engineering endeavors,’’ said Denny Davis, director of WSU’s bioengineering program and an adviser on the project.

The RAPPS stands about four feet high, with a swiveling arm on top, the tip of which contains a photo sensor. To accurately measure a patient’s posture, light-reflecting markers are placed in strategic places on the patient, such as their spine, hips and shoulder blades. The markers reflect light and signal the photo sensor to record three-dimensional coordinates of the reflector positions. The therapist will be able to use the RAPPS as a wand and wave it over the patient’s back, which will capture the marked points. The device saves the 3D coordinates of the markers in space for transfer to a computer for visual analysis.

The students’ device does not touch the patient, giving it an advantage over current technologies that do touch patients, and can cause them to change their posture as a result.

As part of the business plan, the students described their initial product testing and their plan to work with Eastern Washington University to have physical therapy graduate students test the product. They also plan to work with St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute in Spokane to obtain feedback on clinical use of their instrument.

The project, said team member Jonathan Kirk, gave him a better idea of the whole process of being an engineer, from setting up a budget to keeping safety in mind. The group also gained much technical experience in learning milling, machining and programming languages, and developing business plans, in addition to the engineering product-development process.

The team included seniors Kirk, Lindsey Egeland, Nigel Campbell, Stuart Campbell and Becky Currell. T.J. Minckler, a senior studying communications with a business minor, served as a consultant to the RAPPS team, as did personnel at Pullman-based Decagon Devices Inc.

The competition was sponsored by WSU’s College of Business and Economics.