Co-inventor of Wearable Robot Says WKU Engineering Program Prepared Him Well for Career
July 25, 2013
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – A co-inventor of the Indego, a lightweight wearable robot, credits WKU's Department of Engineering with providing the hands-on, real world training to develop cutting edge technologies.
Dr. Ryan Farris, a 2007 mechanical engineering graduate, is Engineering Manager for the Human Motion and Control unit at Cleveland-based Parker Hannifin Corp. Farris earned his Ph.D at Vanderbilt University where he worked with another graduate student and a faculty member to develop the powered exoskeleton now called the Indego.
Farris noted it was his undergraduate work at WKU that prepared him for graduate school and for a career.
"My experience at WKU was a great one all around," said Farris, who grew up near Cynthiana. "From the freshman year on, we were doing real projects and learning real project management skills."
Farris said Dr. Chris Byrne and other WKU engineering faculty members brought their professional experience into the classrooms and laboratories and "taught us to be professional engineers."
"What I observed in Ryan Farris was an ability to seize opportunities to produce results," said Dr. Byrne, professor of mechanical engineering. "He had many such opportunities and he never failed to impress those he worked with or for. The research opportunities in the mechanical engineering laboratories provided him some visibility to the joys of generating new ideas, information and new devices."
"At WKU, engineering professors taught you what you were capable of," Farris said.
For Farris, that meant looking for ways to apply mechanical engineering skills for designing products that would improve the lives of others. "I wanted to think about the future, and the engineering program at WKU was structured to help me do just that," he said.
"Ryan's experience at WKU gave him insight and experience in the many facets of research and product development," Dr. Byrne said. "He added to this education during summer internships where he designed, built and installed manufacturing assembly lines. This furthered his experience and abilities to create new devices and systems. By the time Ryan completed his mechanical engineering degree, he had gained as much experience in engineering as one might expect from several years of full-time work experience."
During internships at area industries, Farris worked on several projects including the design of industrial automation equipment. "I was an engineer doing real work," he said. "Those experiences really defined where I was going."
His first stop after graduating from WKU was as an engineering research assistant at Vanderbilt University. As part of his master's degree program, Farris worked on a project to develop a clutch/brake mechanism for medical devices. His doctoral research with Dr. Michael Goldfarb and others in Vanderbilt's Center for Intelligent Mechatronics resulted in the Indego.
The Indego allows individuals with severe spinal cord injury to walk and enhances rehabilitation for people who have suffered a stroke. Parker Hannifin has licensed the technology and is working to further develop and test the system before a commercial launch of the product.
Farris expects to spend the next few years working to bring the Indego to market and hopes that thousands of individuals with walking impairments will soon be aided by this technology and others that are being developed by Parker's Human Motion and Control unit.
"Ryan's time at WKU was one of productivity and growth," Dr. Byrne said. "While he may not have fully realized it at the time, his trajectory was one that was destined for advanced study leading to a position where he could contribute at the highest levels. He is now an international leader in robotic systems for augmenting human movement. His passion for creating new ideas and devices was fostered while at WKU and has led him to a rewarding career."
Read more about the Indego technology at www.indego.com.
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Looking for an engineering program close to home, Nick Harlow found the perfect fit at Western Kentucky University. The intimate and intensive learning environment with small classes and professional interaction suited his learning style well. In addition to projects in every class, he was encouraged to participate in the student section of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Harlow also had the opportunity for student employment in the Thermal Fluids Laboratory under the direction of Dr. Robert Choate.
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