The research fields of health sciences and engineering at University of Texas at Tyler have come together to yield a unique exercise device to help older adults and those with spinal injuries improve their strength and muscle function.
Dr. Yong Tai Wang, UT Tyler College of Nursing and Health Sciences dean, and Dr. Chung Hyun Goh, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, used their skills in nursing and engineering to design and earn a patent for their Tai Chi Ball, a device used in the Chinese martial art of tai chi for physical and mental health benefits.
Wang has taught tai chi for more than 25 years. His research features the effects of Tai Chi on physical and psychosocial functions for different populations, including the elderly and patients with spinal cord injuries.
Wang said he had the idea for the Tai Chi Ball, but with the help of Goh his vision came to life.
This isn’t a typical tai chi ball; Wang and Goh’s ball comes apart at the curves of the yin and yang symbol for weight training and the weight of the ball can be adjusted.
Goh explained that the ball dividing in half and adjustments to the weight are key, unique factors of their collaboration.
Using a 3D printer at the university, Goh created a computer-aided design for the ball and constructed the materials.
The twist-and-release motion of separating the top and bottom half is caused by the placement of certain parts of magnets. The ball also has a hole in order to twist it apart.
Tai Chi is traditionally a mind-body, slow-motion exercise that can help older people become more mobile, Wang said.
The practice imitates animals and focuses on relationships between the polarities of yin and yang to better a person’s mental and physical health.
“Tai Chi is really for the harmony of the body,” Wang said.
Goh said it took a few tries to make sure the design would work.
“We optimized the design several times,” Goh said. “We tried many times and after trial and error we made the right configuration.”
The duo shared the Tai Chi Balls with residents at Meadow Lake Senior Living in Tyler to see how they would react to the exercise tool.
“They love it,” Wang said. “They became very motivated.”
Since February 2018, Wang and Goh worked with UT Tyler's Office of Research and Scholarship intellectual properties division to submit the patent application. The application was denied twice by the US Patent and Trademark Office.
But neither of them gave up, and they worked as a team. The Office of Research and Scholarship help them move forward after the denied applications with US PTO.
Both called the collaboration of the nursing and engineering fields successful.
“This is a good collaboration because he provides objectives and I provide the technical aspects,” Goh said. “I like this interdisciplinary collaboration.”
Wang said the intellectual property officials were very helpful. He explained a phone conversation detailing how practical the ball would be to help with exercise contributed to getting the necessary approval.
After getting approval, the next step is to find a company to invest in the product to assist with marketing and mass production.
And their work together isn’t ending, as they plan to create a project that can help people with spinal injuries learn how to use their legs to walk again, Wang said.
Goh said they’re working on prototypes and will implement virtual reality concepts this year.
In addition to this patent application, Wang submitted one in 2008 for the design of an EZ Push Wheelchair that can be operated with one or two hands to help stroke patients and elderly wheelchair users.
Wang said his wheelchair design allows those who have suffered from a stroke to move around and rotate better.