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Pitt’s SHRS Innovation Challenge awards $100,000 for inventions that help people with disabilities

Teams behind a laser-cut wheelchair, an AI medical diagnostic and a carseat device each got a boost to get their products to market.

Presenting the check to the team behind Aspirometer, the 2024 SHRS Innovation Challenge first place winner (Instagram/SHRS)

An annual competition to inspire innovation in assistive technology has named its latest class of winners, including an AI tool to detect difficulty swallowing, an affordable wheelchair, and a seat for safer vehicle transfer.

The School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences Innovation Challenge exists to allow University of Pittsburgh faculty members, students, and other staff members to compete for funding for inventions that serve individuals with disabilities. In years past, the teams that secured the top prizes walked away with $10,000 each. 

This year the stakes were raised: After two months of contestants honing their pitches and participating in educational programming, the competition awarded a total of $100,000 to a trio of top contestants.

“In our academic world we spend a lot of effort in research generating knowledge,” SHRS associate dean for technology and innovation Dave Brienza said in the announcement. “But it doesn’t have impact until people use it; when it’s translated into a product or service. That’s the ultimate success in our field. We’re trying to promote that ‘last mile’ from the lab to the market.”

First place winner of the 2024 SHRS Innovation Challenge was Aspirometer, which scored $50,000 for development of its new noninvasive method  to screening for swallowing condition dysphagia, which is said to affect at least 1 in 25 adults.

Second in the running was Kirigami Wheelchair, which earned $30,000 for its design of a laser-cut, bent sheet metal chair that’s both lightweight and affordable.

The third-place prize of $20,000 went to The Safer Seat, an overlay for seating in cars and other vehicles that safely boosts people up and helps them exit without incurring injury. 

Each award is meant to help the recipient team further develop its products to be sold on the market and improve the lives of people with disabilities.  In years past, winners have included wheelchair designs and devices geared toward improving home safety for disabled individuals. 

The nine competing teams this year all participated in an NSF I-Corps short course to help them gain a better understanding of the challenges facing their respective target audiences. 

“These teams have gone through a rigorous process over the past two months exploring the markets for their innovations and practicing their pitches,” Brienza said. “With the support of our dean, Tony Detilo, we are excited to be able to provide additional funding this year to help these teams make an impact.”

Scroll down for a look at all of the 2024 SHRS Innovation Challenge teams, as described by the university.


Difficulty swallowing causes aspiration, the misdirection of food and liquid into the lungs. Pitt researchers have developed a novel, non-invasive sensor-based, artificial intelligence method of detecting swallowing dysfunction.

Kirigami Wheelchair

Over 75 million people need an appropriately fitted and affordable wheelchair. Engineers from Pitt’s Human Engineering Research Laboratories have created a wheelchair from laser-cut and bent sheet metal that increases the quality and customization of wheelchairs, while lowering costs.

The Safer Seat

For individuals with decreased strength, balance or mobility, and their caregivers, PItt researchers have developed a vehicle seat overlay to facilitate safe transfer into and out of vehicles.

The Adapt App

Delirium is a sudden and severe change in brain function that can happen to anyone. The ADAPT App is a novel software assessment, prevention, and treatment app to improve management and outcomes of patients with delirium in hospital settings.


Sweep-It is a universally designed grabber tool that integrates with a commercially available “Hook-It” device and enables wheelchair users with limited hand function to pick up small objects such as credit cards, money, pens, and pieces of food off the floor.

MRI Passport

Metals in implanted medical devices may interact with MRI fields, causing device movement or damage, injury, and death. MRI Passport improves screening for implants by addressing existing information exchange issues with a proprietary strategy for aggregating device information from multiple sources.

Adjustable and Breathable Prosthetic Liner

There is a critical need for prosthetic liners that can reduce the risk of skin issues and discomfort for amputees. Pitt researchers have created an innovative liner that enhances breathability and accessibility for amputees utilizing advanced materials and design to improve comfort and skin health.


Pitt researchers have developed an advanced AI-driven system tailored to transform emergency department triage by swiftly analyzing patient data to prioritize care delivery.


Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2024 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.

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