Co-inventor of Wearable Robot Says WKU Engineering Program Prepared Him Well for Career

July 25, 2013

A co-inventor of the Indego, a lightweight mechanical pic 1wearable robot, credits WKU’s Department of Engineering with providing the hands-on, real world training to develop cutting edge technologies.

Dr. Ryan Farris, a 2007 mechanical engineering graduate, is Engineering Manager for the Human Motion and Control unit at Cleveland-based Parker Hannifin Corp. Farris earned his Ph.D at Vanderbilt University where he worked with another graduate student and a faculty member to develop the powered exoskeleton now called the Indego.

Farris noted it was his undergraduate work at WKU that prepared him for graduate school and for a career.

“My experience at WKU was a great one all around,” said Farris, who grew up near Cynthiana. “From the freshman year on, we were doing real projects and learning real project management skills.”

Farris said Dr. Chris Byrne and other WKU engineering faculty members brought their professional experience into the classrooms and laboratories and “taught us to be professional engineers.”

“What I observed in Ryan Farris was an ability to seize opportunities to produce results,” said Dr. Byrne, professor of mechanical engineering. “He had many such opportunities and he never failed to impress those he worked with or for. The research opportunities in the mechanical engineering laboratories provided him some visibility to the joys of generating new ideas, information and new devices.”

“At WKU, engineering professors taught you what you were capable of,” mechanical pic 2Farris said.

For Farris, that meant looking for ways to apply mechanical engineering skills for designing products that would improve the lives of others. “I wanted to think about the future, and the engineering program at WKU was structured to help me do just that,” he said.

“Ryan’s experience at WKU gave him insight and experience in the many facets of research and product development,” Dr. Byrne said. “He added to this education during summer internships where he designed, built and installed manufacturing assembly lines. This furthered his experience and abilities to create new devices and systems. By the time Ryan completed his mechanical engineering degree, he had gained as much experience in engineering as one might expect from several years of full-time work experience.”

During internships at area industries, Farris worked on several projects including the design of industrial automation equipment. “I was an engineer doing real work,” he said. “Those experiences really defined where I was going.”

His first stop after graduating from WKU was as an engineering research assistant at Vanderbilt University. As part of his master’s degree program, Farris worked on a project to develop a clutch/brake mechanism for medical devices. His doctoral research with Dr. Michael Goldfarb and others in Vanderbilt’s Center for Intelligent Mechatronics resulted in the Indego.

mechanical pic 3The Indego allows individuals with severe spinal cord injury to walk and enhances rehabilitation for people who have suffered a stroke. Parker Hannifin has licensed the technology and is working to further develop and test the system before a commercial launch of the product.

Farris expects to spend the next few years working to bring the Indego to market and hopes that thousands of individuals with walking impairments will soon be aided by this technology and others that are being developed by Parker’s Human Motion and Control unit.

“Ryan’s time at WKU was one of productivity and growth,” Dr. Byrne said. “While he may not have fully realized it at the time, his trajectory was one that was destined for advanced study leading to a position where he could contribute at the highest levels. He is now an international leader in robotic systems for augmenting human movement. His passion for creating new ideas and devices was fostered while at WKU and has led him to a rewarding career.”

Read more about the Indego technology at

The Pressure’s On! Engineering Lab Explores “DeflateGate”

February 11, 2016 photo

            Following the Broncos victory in Super Bowl 50, WKU’s Professor Jason Wilson decided to bring the football enthusiasm into his classroom. For civil engineering students, this meant that they would have the opportunity to explore the NFL scandal “DeflateGate” from a scientific perspective.

Professor Wilson has described his Strength of Materials Lab as the “gateway to the rest of the engineering labs” here at Western Kentucky University. However, it is not the usual, mundane prerequisite. Mostly sophomores and juniors take the course, where they complete different and interesting experiments each week. Calculators and pencils abound, but the room can be quickly changed from a typical classroom into a laboratory, where theory is put to the test as applications to the real world are made. For example, students regularly complete an experiment to determine the best value for fishing line by testing the strength of different lines and looking at the price per yard. However, the “DeflateGate” lab was a new one for all this year.

“DeflateGate” was a controversy that occurred when the Patriots played the Colts in a 2015 AFC Championship game. The Patriots were accused of under-inflating their balls—at halftime, the balls were found to be below the regulation pressure range of 12.5-13.5 psi. The Colts were outraged, feeling that the low-pressure balls would be easier to catch and give the Patriots an advantage over them. After much uproar and media attention, reputable scientists eventually determined that the football controversy could simply be the result of a natural occurrence. Due to the fact that the game occurred on a rainy day with temperatures around 48 degrees, the balls could have lost pressure because of the Ideal Gas Law (which relates the variables of pressure, volume, and temperature for gases). Perhaps less exciting than the thought of a football scandal, this rationale seemed to very logically explain the situation. Last week, WKU students worked to test this hypothesis.PV=nRT


In order to recreate the circumstances of the AFC game, the footballs were filled with air at 9:32 Thursday morning, inspected at 10:47, and stored in water from 1:37 until the students performed the lab. By keeping them immersed in water, the footballs endured weather and temperature conditions similar to those at the 2015 game. While waiting until the proper time to remove the balls, students passed around two different footballs—one was at regulation pressure, and one at the low pressure of the Patriots ball. They held the footballs to see if they could feel the difference between the two balls. After two attempts, over half of the class still made incorrect guesses as to which was the lighter football. With such a small difference in pressure between the balls, very few students could even detect it at all.

Next, the chilled footballs were retrieved from the materials lab. To ensure accuracy, the class worked quickly—measuring the temperature and calculating the pressure of the foothermal cameratballs. Of course, there was enough spare time to point the thermal energy camera at one student, much to the amusement of the rest of the class as they saw the colors of a heat map spread across their friend’s face in the screen. Re-taking measurements regularly, the class observed how the footballs’ pressures changed over time.

Their conclusion? The Patriots were innocent! After comparing their football pressures to those of the game-day balls, the class concluded that the Patriots did nothing wrong. The Ideal Gas Law proved to be a reasonable explanation for the low pressure in the footballs. The students were also mostly unable to feel the difference between the low-pressure footballs and the regulation balls—this made them question whether deflating the footballs would even give the Patriots an advantage, anyway. After reviewing their data and discussing these findings with the group, the class came to an end.

From this lab specifically, students learned about the application of the Ideal Gas Law to football. However, other lessons were not missed. The class teaches students to think critically about questions before simply taking widely-accepted beliefs for the truth. They learn how to work with a group to solve problems and find answers. They learn about important academic concepts by footballapplying them to real-world events that are interesting and understandable. Through this, students learn the importance of understanding theory and applying that theory to the real world.




Works Cited:

Duffy, Jocelyn. Football. Digital image. Carnegie Mellon University News. Carnegie Mellon University, 28 January 2015. Web. 24 February 2016.

Lowe Steve. Thermal Camera. Digital Image. A Primer on Infra-Red Thermography. Thermalcities, 2008. Web. 24 February 2016.

Wilson, Jason. Personal Interview. 11 February 2016.

Surveying Students in Action

Surveying Students in Action!



Students using trigonometric measurements to determine the change in elevation




Measuring the slope distance of this vertical triangle





First semester surveying students using an electronic transit to determine the building height





Boundary surveying students measuring existing property corner locations on 69-acre farm parcel





Boundary surveying class student using a total station to measure the location of a property corner pin in the tree line





Route surveying student measuring the location and the time of Polaris star during a night shot





Four members of the Boundary Surveying class performing a public land sectional survey in Hammond Township, Spencer County, Indiana or more accurately described as the southeastern corner of section 2, Hammond Township, Spencer County, Indiana, Second Principle Meridian


Another group of Boundary Surveying students at the northeasterly corner of section 2, Hammond Township, Spencer County, Indiana





First semester surveying students learning how to measure compass bearing and azimuths





First semester surveying student learning the basics horizontal angle measurement





Surveying students performing a traverse closure






Collecting topographic data using Trimble R6 GPS disk and Trimble TS2 controller





First semester surveying students using GPS equipment for the first time







Students learning the difficulty of obtaining good position parameters adjacent to a large tree





More practice using GPS gear in this boundary line project






WKU newly acquired Trimble brand GPS equipment






Boundary line determination project In Warren County KY





Route surveying class starting a horizontal curve staking –layout project at the WKU farm facility