How Engineering Can Impact a Life – Devin’s Story

Devin Hamilton in studio working with SOLIDWORKS from a desk of his own design. (Image courtesy of CADimensions.)

Engineering firms often tout the fact that the work they’re doing is “changing the world”. You hear it in commercials, you read it in industry publications and there’s no point in denying that it’s at least partially true—engineers really are reinventing the world to make life easier and fairer. Large companies and corporations aren’t the only ones in this domain. Often times, some of the most profound changes have been envisioned and built by lone individuals who isolate a problem and decide to solve it.

That’s very much the case for Devin Hamilton.

It’s an understatement to say that Devin Hamilton is a remarkable engineer, let alone a remarkable human being. Since early childhood, Hamilton has had Cerebral Palsy, a physical disability that effects the communication between the brain and muscles making it difficult to control the movement of one’s body. For Hamilton, who describes himself as someone who’s “always been interested in building things, taking other things apart and putting them back together”, the challenges of Cerebral Palsy have made interacting with the physical world difficult. This led Hamilton to have to constantly ask if other people could help him explore the world around him.

Fortunately, these challenges didn’t stop Hamilton from pursuing his ambition to be an engineer.

While growing up on the family farm, Hamilton and his dad were constantly devising solutions so that he could stay engaged in an active life on the farm. Whether they were designing tractor seats, plows or hitches for his wheelchair, Hamilton learned early how he could use engineering to transform his world. “Growing up on a farm with a disability and a supportive, encouraging family created the perfect storm for my passion for engineering” Hamilton says.

Hamilton working with SOLIDWORKS using an eye tracking interface. (Image courtesy of CADimensions.)

But even with his activities at the farm, one big issue remained. Hamilton had trouble building on his own. Then, Hamilton was accepted into the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).

The Liberating Influence of CAD

Once at RIT, Hamilton says that he was immediately drawn to CAD, realizing its potential to give him access to a design space that he could interact with on his own. Using an eye tracking interface, Hamilton quickly learned how to sketch and model with Dassault Systèmes’ SOLIDWORKS and that changed everything.

“Learning SOLIDWORKS opened a whole new world for me.” Hamilton said. “I didn’t need any help anymore building things, I could just make a model. SOLIDWORKS became my hands.”

But, now that Hamilton had hands, what would he build?

Plenty. And the stories of what Hamilton has invented just kept rolling off his tongue. “Recently I wanted to make a way to hold spice and pill bottles so that they were more accessible,” Hamilton explained.“After I came up with an idea, I modeled it and ran a simulation on a magnetic spice clip.”

Now, let’s just step back for a minute.

Hamilton’s ability to create a model with the blink of an eye is amazing in and of itself, but he is doing something profound. Most of us engineers take for granted the very simulations that gave Hamilton unprecedented access to the physical world.

We all know that simulations are just a quicker, easier and more universal method for looking at how a model would behave in the real world. For Hamilton, simulations represent one of the only ways he can understand how his models will work while still being able to work on his own.

“Because I can’t physically feel the forces required to put a clip on the bottle, I used simulation to obtain the information that one would normally get by feeling,” Hamilton explained.

Launching RapAdapt

The bottle clip is just one of many examples of how Hamilton has used engineering and SOLIDWORKS to transform and improve his world.

A few of Hamilton’s assistive technology inventions. The control panel he designed helps him control his robot and makes it easier to eat. (Image courtesy of CADimensions.)

“Engineering has improved my life in many ways,” Hamilton said.“I use engineering to overcome many of the obstacles having a disability presents. Most of the assistive technology that I have, I have developed [personally]. Engineering allows me to simply make whatever I need. I’ve built power chairs, keyboard stands, shower valves, a robotic arm to feed myself, a tablet, phone and dog leash holder attachment for my power chair and numerous other devices.”

Hamilton now puts his engineering background and unique perspective to work helping others with disabilities overcome some of the same obstacles he has faced and some he has never encountered!

Since embarking on this life of invention, Hamilton has realized that he’s not the only one looking for assistive technologies to make life a bit easier. He’s decided to create his own corporation, RapAdapt, which provides Assistive Technology consulting services and product development for those with disabilities. If there were ever a case of an engineer finding creative solutions based on obstacles, Hamilton and RapAdapt seem to be a perfect embodiment of that idea.

While engineers with Hamilton’s drive may be few and far between, he represents what all engineers should strive to become, undaunted innovators. With his mastery of CAD, Hamilton has opened up new opportunities for himself, including making it possible to communicate his ideas effectively, giving himself more complete access to the world around him and, most importantly, the ability to have a positive impact on the lives of others.

Now, if only all engineers could deliver to that degree, they would truly match the often heard motto, “We make the world a better place.”

To learn more about Hamilton’s story, check out this video from CADimensions Inc.

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