Published: May 7, 2008

Growing up in Michigan, Jay Price saw it happen countless times to his father, a multiple sclerosis patient who used a rolling walker to maintain his mobility.

Wanting simply to carry a cup of coffee or bowl of soup into another room, he would place the food item on the walker's accessory tray, only to have the walker get hung up on the threshold and end up spilling the hot liquid across the floor.

Now a senior studying mechanical engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Price teamed up with classmates Darwin Millard, Jonathan Bean and Blake Olson to design and build an accessory tray that will make such spills a rare occurrence.

Although Price's father died many years ago, Price says there are more than 12 million other Americans currently using mobility aids that could potentially benefit, and the number is predicted to grow significantly with the aging of the baby boom generation.

The students already have a provisional patent on their device and are involved in licensing discussions with a major medical equipment manufacturer.

The students have been working on their prototype since last fall as part of the senior design course sequence in mechanical engineering. Price and Millard also enrolled in the Leeds School of Business business plan preparation course where they teamed with business students Andrew Bates and Zack Woodcox. The team won first place and a $2,000 prize in the Deming Center for Entrepreneurship's Undergraduate Business Plan Competition on April 30.

Their invention, called the Dynamic Stability Tray, incorporates a stabilizing device consisting of four polypropylene rails along with some ball bearings and additional components. The device allows the tray to remain level while the user goes up and down ramps or tilts from side to side, and it sustains low-speed impacts. A series of field tests resulted in no spills as compared with the standard tray available as an accessory to rolling walkers.

"I have seen firsthand the positive impact that a well-designed assistive device can have on the quality of life of a person who is disabled, and I have also seen how useless a poorly designed device can be," said Price, who along with his fiancé, Katie Hauser, is co-leading team Blue Fish in the Boulder MS walk May 10. The annual event raises funds to aid research on multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease that Hauser also is facing.

"This disease has already taken so much away from me. I try to do as much as I can to help put an end to its devastating effects," Price said.

Price and his teammates plan to continue testing and improving their prototype in the coming months, with support from their prize money and a grant from CU-Boulder's Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program.

The team also has been granted display space for its invention at the Collaborative Assistive Technology Conference of the Rockies June 12-14 at the Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center.