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New Smartphone Aims To Improve Lives Of Amputees

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Cell phones seem to be everywhere, but they're not always easy for everyone to use. An industrial design class at Virginia Tech invented a very smart, smartphone designed for people missing a limb... and everyone else.

The design solution the students came up with is for the following scenario: a woman returning from war with her dominant arm amputated. The idea was to design a phone she could use by clenching different muscles in her jaw.

"The phone would send a signal to my earpiece, which would give me a beep, that there's an incoming call, and I have a choice -- whether to do the two second clench, that activates that yes, pick up the phone, and without even touching the phone I can start talking," explains Akshay Sharma, an associate professor of Architecture and Design at Virginia Tech.

Sharma led a team of students working with Industrial Design colleague Mitsy Vernon, collaborating with an Atlanta group working to provide wireless access for people with disabilities.

Tech's winning student team took a silver medal in the UX contest — UX standing for user experience. Sharma says that means the focus is not so much on designing a new cell phone, but on how it will enrich the lives of people using it.

"The largest demographic in our country in the next few years is going to be people above 65," says Sharma. She says issues such as vision deterioration and flexibility problems are matters that innovative designs need to address.

The International UX Awards is not a student competition. The Virginia Tech students competed with the likes of Google, Nike, and Bloomberg to earn a silver medal.

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