Vamos a la Playa

The last time I used cardboard and pipe cleaners to make crafts, I was a children’s summer camp counselor working with six-year-olds, but it turns out that graduate school is full of surprises!

Over the past week, we completed a week-long course in medical device innovation. We learned everything from identifying needs in clinical settings, to prototyping solutions, to conducting cursory market research to see how our proposed devices would thrive best in industry. Groups were composed of around 4-5 Costa Rican University students and 1-2 GMI students. Sarah and I were paired with 3 other local students and assigned the topic of triaging Vertigo in an Urgent Care situation. Because dizziness can be a symptom of an immediate threat, or something low risk, millions of dollars and thousands of physician hours are wasted annually on unnecessary diagnostic imaging. Our prototype, VertiGOALIE, was an attempt to mechanically automate various body movement maneuvers so as to modernize the current standard of care and integrate a quantitative method to analyze otherwise subjective patient data. Movements of the head and neck at certain angles can indicate the presence of a stroke, or other peripheral pathologies, by causing changes in eye movement that can be recognized by a physician. With modern eye-tracking technology, VertiGOALIE could theoretically monitor eye movement in response to body maneuvers to give a more accurate analysis of the root cause of vertigo symptoms.

In a real-life setting, device analysis and development would occur over a much longer span of time than just a few days. While our proposed device may or may not be realistically feasible, the purpose of the assignment was to understand the bio-design process by completing all of the steps involved. I would have to say my favourite part of the design stage was the creation of the low-fidelity prototypes. The idea of low-fidelity prototyping is to use any raw material (cardboard, pipe cleaners, hot glue, etc.) to effectively communicate with your team the story of what you’re trying to accomplish. Everyone understands that the prototype is nonfunctional and would not be made from ten-cents craft supplies, and are, therefore, able to see how you picture your design to facilitate the development discussion. Our team made around eight or nine low-fidelity prototypes, because it turns out we all agreed verbally on what our device would entail, but pictured it very differently. After we had hammered about the specifics of what we each wanted from our device, we made a “life-sized” prototype out of cardboard. Using my aptitude for hot glue and Sarah’s cardboard modeling skills, we were able to effectively demonstrate to our peers the specifics of our design.

I thoroughly enjoyed the short course, not only because it was my first formal introduction to bio-design, but because of the new colleagues we met here in Costa Rica. It was great getting to know them through the whole process and learn more about life as a student in Costa Rica. They were more than happy to point out the flaws in my Tico accent, but taught me quite a few local phrases that Google Translate would never pick up. They also helped me discover my one true love: Gallo Pinto. Gallo Pinto is a breakfast dish, composed of spiced rice and beans and usually served with eggs and meat -and obviously eaten alongside Costa Rican coffee. I’m looking forward to staying in touch with them over the summer and in the future, as we all seem to have a passion for MedTech.

The past week has been long and exhausting, so a group of us decided to take a break and explore more of the Costa Rican jungles over the weekend. We spent all day yesterday at the beaches around Manuel Antonio National Park, getting pummeled by the Pacific waves and getting suntanned (burned). This morning we explored all the trails inside the park where we saw crocodiles, deer, donkeys, red macaws and a sloth! It’s been exciting being able to explain to other foreigners traveling in Costa Rica that we are not just students backpacking through Central America, but engineers here to work. So far the cohort has been great and we’ve had quite a few bonding experiences, to say the least!

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