Tamara Reid Bush

March 24, 2021

Focus on mobility – using biomechanics for accessibility and safety

Spartan Engineer Tamara Reid Bush is making transportation more accessible through her research on whole-body biomechanics. She is currently the interim chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

Tamara Reid Bush
Tamara Reid Bush

Her research analyzes seating mechanics, injury mechanics, vehicle interface research, universal design and clinical biomechanics.

“I look at the needs of persons with disabilities,” Bush said. “Not only in terms of what they might like to see implemented for transportation and safety, but also what they would need in terms of features, devices and designs associated with the accessibility of autonomous vehicles (AVs).”

When explaining the practical applications of her work in the mobility field, Bush emphasized the need for a better understanding of what we can do around mobility to help ensure the safety of individuals.

“The ideal would be to design a vehicle to accommodate the disabled populations. Typically, however, that’s not how design work is conducted,” she said. “Vehicles are typically designed for an able-bodied, mid-sized male, however, that design may not be usable for a person with a disability. We need to better understand human function and the limits of function so that we can accommodate the needs of persons with disabilities.”

Bush said she is proud of her diligent efforts to connect to communities both on and off campus, such as the adaptive sports group or specialized rehabilitation units.

“I think it’s critical for an engineer to not just talk about the needs of different populations, but to truly try and understand them, and I believe my research team goes out of its way to make what we do accessible to all.”

Her team’s surveys have found that the needs of persons with disabilities are not met in most forms of transportation.

For example, persons with disabilities who utilize various forms of available transportation have indicated that they can’t get to medical appointments or other important activities. This is due to several reasons, such as transportation that doesn’t fully accommodate their wheelchairs or other assistive device(s) – often creating a sense of embarrassment.

Another potential shortfall is that the transportation arrives and there is a lack of support for assisting the individual into and out of the vehicle.

“Mobility has such potential, if done well, to transform the lives of many,” Bush said. “We could have some sort of small pod pull up with an easily accessible wheelchair ramp that pulls down and locks the wheelchair in place or has a pre-programmed iPad for visual and audio impairments.”

Additionally, she notes, a major challenge is the lack of focus on vehicle interface with the person and that individual’s accessibility.

“To have a successful product, the person should be one of the top priorities in your design,” Bush said. “There needs to be more engagement in how to successfully design for not only able-bodied individuals, but the other populations as well.”

Bush said the MSU campus could act as a unique test-site for AVs, if parts of the campus were closed.

“MSU is uniquely situated for research on self-driving vehicles. Not only do we have the engineering side, but we also have the social side collaborating to better understand these implications,” she added.

Story by McKenzi Roe, courtesy of MSU Innovation Center Business Connect. See the original story.