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A MECHANICAL FLUTE – Electrical engineering major Colin Blake ’19 holds part of an adaptive flute controller for amputees, which he helped design and build with project partner Chandler Whipple ’19. (Photo by Sean Markey.)

Designing an instrument for amputees

The Norwich Record | Summer 2019

An estimated 50,000 Americans undergo limb amputations each year, with one in four losing an arm or hand. So how can they regain their ability to play music or enjoy the mental health benefits of learning an instrument for the very first time? Two teams of Norwich students addressed the problem for their capstone senior engineering projects.

Mechanical engineers Daniel Keating ’19, Noah Richwine ’19, and Thomas Williams ’19 designed and built a remote-control flute, using solenoids and actuators to play notes on a stand-in wooden flute made of PVC—something flutists would normally do with their fingertips. Meanwhile, Chandler Whipple ’19 and Colin Blake ’19 made the corresponding electrical microcontroller system. Their design: a five-finger controller capable of playing 20 notes (more than two octaves) while gripped in just a single hand. “There’s a lot of different things that go into making a full product work,” Whipple says, reflecting on his project experience. “You’re not always working hand in hand with the people who are going to be building your devices. So being able to come up with a plan, talk to them every so often, and reach a final product that kind of meshes and works together “is key.”


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