Bears Unlimited compete in Microsoft Imagine Cup

Finding a way to motivate physical therapy patients to do their exercises led a group of University of Central Arkansas computer science students onto the world stage in Russia recently.

The students – R. Kyle Eichelberger, Michelle Enfinger, Ben Tackett and John White – researched and developed the Bear Claw system, a glove fitted with sensors that interfaced with a Windows-based smart phone. With tutelage from professors Dr. Tansel Halic and Dr. Sinan Kockara, their finished product was entered into Microsoft’s Imagine Cup competition and made it to the world finals held in St. Petersburg, Russia in July.

“It was a wild ride getting to Russia,” said White. “The travel took us almost 30 hours. I don’t think I’ve ever feared for my life more than when I was in a Russian taxi.”

The idea’s genesis came in the form of a digital stress ball, which Enfinger proposed out of her personal experiences with relatives undergoing physical therapy.

“As we were working on that project, about halfway through we looked at each other and said, ‘You know, it would be cool if the sensors were on a glove instead of a ball.’ So, that’s where we started, and we added in the game aspects,” White said.

“The idea didn’t come from one specific place; it was several months of evolving and growing to be what it is today.”

One of the major hurdles that the team faced was being unfamiliar with the rehabilitation procedures the glove would be used to treat. This required a good deal of research by the team.

“We’re all computer science students,” Eichelberger said. “We really didn’t know a whole lot about physical therapy or what that entails. The entire product hinges on our ability to be successful in those fields, so we had a lot of research that we had to do about that, about everything medical, the problems facing that side of the project, and all of the previous work done by people who wanted to do similar things to what we’re doing.

With 71 countries represented in the competition, the team came away with a keen sense of bigger things that may be a part of our future.

“Our idea was really cool, but ours is only one of 86 ideas that were there,” White said. “You’re talking to all of these different people who have this incredible vision for the future, and so it’s almost like a preview of the future. It’s very exciting and very motivating being around 300 other students who are really excited about changing the world.”

According to White, the team has a new idea that it is keeping “under wraps,” and it plans not only on competing in the Imagine Cup in the future, but also ideas that they hope to take to the marketplace.

“I have learned a lot of things from this about what I’m capable of and people that I work with are capable of,” Eichelberger said. “With that knowledge, I realize it’s possible to achieve your dreams. We’re in the works of developing this further, which is definitely something we’ve been thinking about from the beginning.”

“I’ve always told people the reason I went into computer science is because I want to change the world, and this is just step one in that,” White added. “Kyle and I have a very big vision of some things we want to accomplish in terms of starting a company and doing things, maybe not necessarily with the Bear Claw, but making a lasting impact on people’s lives.“