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Dynamic headrest helps wheelchair users Anoek Geers is the 50th University of Twente PDEng trainee

A dynamic headrest will soon reduce pain and other handicaps for wheelchair users. Anoek Geers constructed the prototype of this new head support within the framework of the University of Twente's PDEng programme. She is hoping to obtain a doctoral degree with the final design. Anoek is the 50th PDEng trainee to receive her diploma at the University of Twente.

Anoek Geers was placed at Focal Meditech, a manufacturer of devices for the healthcare sector, as a PDEng programme trainee. The Brabant company has been working on improving the dynamic adjustability of headrest supporting structures within the NWO Symbionics project for a few years. This is necessary, among other reasons, because traditional head supports do not move along with changes in sitting posture. “This can result in pain and stiffness. Some wheelchair users have difficulty swallowing or cannot maintain proper eye contact with the person they are talking to. These are all handicaps that we want to remove.”

Robotics

Anoek Geers started the two-year PDEng programme after receiving her degree in Biomedical Engineering. “I worked as project engineer at an offshore company for a few years, but my interests lie in another direction. The PDEng programme has given me the opportunity to increase my knowledge of robotics and to work on a practical design project. It has been a stepping stone to a job that suits me.”

The programme laid an emphasis on expanding knowledge, especially in the robotics field, in the first year. The Focal Meditech design project was also begun. The second year focused entirely on designing. Anoek studied the current use of the headrest and formulated the bases for the new generation head support. She then constructed the prototype of this dynamic headrest. “What I did during the PDEng programme goes further than research for a bachelor's or master's programme. This is more in-depth and carries greater responsibility. I was given the chance to be in charge of most of the design process.”

Now that Anoek has finished the PDEng programme, she wants to go further. She is working on the next phase of the design at Focal Meditech and wants to obtain a doctoral degree at the University of Twente in three years’ time on the basis of this research. “My objective is for there to be a concrete product on the market. I want it to be useful for people in an electric wheelchair.”

50th PDEng graduate

The University of Twente awarded a Professional Doctorate in Engineering (PDEng) degree to Anoek Geers, the fiftieth since the modernization of the programme in 2012. The PDEng graduate is the application-oriented designer in the business world, beside the PhD graduate who is trained for the (basic) sciences. “Our trainees want to expand their knowledge after the master's programme and dig their teeth into complex design issues in the business world”, says University of Twente PDEng coordinator Timo Meinders.

The programme consists of a number of theoretical courses and a practical design project. There is continuous interaction between both components. The design project is a concrete issue within a company. Meinders: “You could regard the PDEng programme as a crash course in technical design.”

Trainees are on the University of Twente's or the company's payroll. “We have observed that many companies also regard the PDEng as a good way of attracting high potentials”, says Meinders, who expects to see increased interest in the PDEng programme. “We aim to have 30 to 40 trainees per year.”

For more information about the PDEng programme, go to www.utwente.nl/pdeng or email v.t.meinders@utwente.nl.