Collegiate Inventors Competition - Student Science Journalist Program
By Sandra McLean
The MPlug is a small, round revolution.
Its designers came together four years ago in their freshman entrepreneurial class at Lehigh University. The team’s assignment was to identify a problem faced by the elderly, then solve it, enabling seniors to remain independent and in their homes longer.
Michael Harm, Nick Rocha, and Greg Capece realized the difficulty that senior citizens often have with too few kitchen outlets and the need to repeatedly plug and unplug appliances. They invented the MPlug, a two-part adaptor for standard electrical plugs with significant advantages for persons with physical impairments.
The appliance plug is inserted into the tail. The cap always remains in the wall receptacle. It is not live until the tail is securely in place. This completes the connection and the appliance is powered.
Handling standard plugs is difficult for persons with dexterity problems. Orienting the small metal pins to the wall outlet is challenging for the vision impaired.
Gripping is easier with the MPlug because both parts, the cap and tail, are larger than a standard electric plug. Despite its size, the MPlug leaves adjoining outlets open and still usable. The larger size needs less directed force for plugging in.
Because of the concentric ring design, the adaptor connects from any alignment. The MPlug eliminates the need to precisely position the prongs of a standard plug, so a vision-impaired person or a person with hand tremors can easily plug in appliances. As the cap and tail are brought close, magnets attract and snap the two pieces together, making a solid electrical connection, with minimal hand strength.
The magnets release when lightly tugged, so the MPlug eliminates the hazard of tripping on an unyielding, standard electrical cord and plug.
Since that freshman class, the MPlug team has continued to develop their design and now, four years later, have a perfected third generation prototype.
Capece, a fifth year undergraduate from Clinton, New Jersey, has completed his Bachelor of Science in Integrated Business and Engineering and will finish a B.S. in Industrial Engineering in 2011. He says his father encouraged him. “When I was younger, my dad used to give me old hard drives. I’d be in the basement - I had my own tool kit - taking apart things. That was always a good time.”
Harm is a fifth year senior from Colts Neck, New Jersey. He completed his Bachelor of Science in Integrated Business and Engineering in May and will complete his Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering in December 2010. While in high school, he volunteered as camp counselor for special needs kids at the Monmouth County Parks System.
Rocha, from Vero Beach, Fla., has received a Bachelor of Science in Integrated Business and Engineering, and is completing a master’s in analytical finance. He remembers, at age seven, admiring the TV action hero McGuyver and trying to recreate those inventions. He says of the MPlug, “This is the future of plugs.”