Student Projects

Bringing Self-Care Robots into Homes

Faculty Mentors Gina Kubec and Eric Schearer

Robot assisted feeding picture

Summary. Restoration of arm and hand function is a top priority among people with cervical spinal cord injuries who have limited ability to move their arms and hands.  One potential solution is to design interfaces that allow people to control a robotic arm to do various daily activities such as eating and grooming.  We have developed a system that allows people to use their eye and head movements to select objects identified by computer vision software and have a robot interact with a selected objects.  We want to transition this system from a controlled laboratory environment to a less predictable home environment.  

REU Student Involvement. The student(s) will do one of the following projects:

  1. Eating focus: Students will document the environment while people with tetraplegia are eating in their homes.   Students will collect photographs and video to be used to refine deep neural networks that identify household objects.  Students will work to refine computer vision software and develop and test ways by which non-expert users of the assistive robotic system can teach the system about new food objects they encounter in the home. 
  2. Tooth brushing focus: Students will document the environment while people with tetraplegia are having their teeth brushed in their homes.   Students will collect photographs and video to be used to refine deep neural networks that identify household objects.  Students will work to refine computer vision software and develop and test ways by which non-expert users of the assistive robotic system can teach the system about new bathroom objects they encounter in the home.   

Computer Vision Assessment of Human Motor Control

Faculty Mentors Hongkai Yu and Andy Slifkin

Summary. The goal of this project will be to develop a low-cost, portable data acquisition system for the study of upper-limb function in able-bodied individuals and those with movement disorders. In the initial version of the system, participants will generate quick and accurate hand movements to targets displayed on a video monitor. Computer vision technology will be used to capture limb movement. Other software development will include control of the experimental contingencies and computation of movement trajectory kinematics. The new system will be benchmarked against a commercially available motion capture system.

REU Student Involvement.  Students will be involved in all aspects of the project including researching system hardware, assembling the hardware, software programming, and conducting and analyzing experiments.

Intelligent Assistive and Rehabilitation Devices for Balance and Walking

Faculty Mentors Ann Reinthal and Hanz Richter

MDHBT 20,000 leaks

Summary. Falls are an enormous problem for older adults and adults with disabilities: they risk morbidity and mortality, and even non-injurious falls lead to significant limitations in mobility, independence, and community participation. Balance is necessary during self-initiated movement, such as walking or reaching (proactive balance), as well as when an individual is unexpectedly perturbed (reactive balance).

Evidence shows that balance training can reduce fall risk, and that reactive training may be more effective that proactive. However, proactive training is more typical clinically because it is perceived as easier and safer. In the clinic, it is also easier to assess proactive as compared to reactive balance.  We recently developed a reactive balance assessment used during walking on an instrumented treadmill. While the protocol is excellent for research, it is not appropriate for clinical use (equipment expenses, personnel required, training required, etc.). The goal this summer is to begin adapting the protocol into first, a clinically useful reactive balance measurement instrument, and second, a reactive balance training tool.

The prevalence of mobility aid usage among elderly Americans is 17%, with 12% corresponding to walkers. Walkers and canes are prescribed to reduce loading of the lower limbs and to improve balance and stability. However, walker use has been associated with lower levels of physical functioning, self-confidence and self perceptions of well-being, in addition to a higher fall risk after a period. Studies based on biomechanics have been made that explain certain adverse effects of walker use. Specifically, the typical forward-leaning posture observed in many walker users results in improper load transfer from the lower limbs to the arms. Pain, tendonitis, osteoarthritis and even stress fractures due to excessive forces applied to the upper limbs have been reported. Moreover, recent studies find a correlation between abdominal muscle atrophy and decreased unassisted walking abilities.  This project will develop the engineering design and proof-of-concept testing of a smart walker that addresses problems arising from a forward-leaning posture. The walker handle is no longer fixed, but can slide up and down using a computer-controlled actuator. Handle height is to be automatically adjusted based on sensor indications. 

REU Student Involvement. Students will work on one of two parallel projects:

  1. Intelligent rehabilitation: The REU student will work on modifying a standard treadmill to provide appropriate perturbations and on integrating the different parts of the system: load cell, harness system, and treadmill. Based on ongoing testing of the system, the student will develop initial protocols for its use in reactive balance training and assessment.
  2. Smart walker: Students will read the literature on the problems pointed out above and the state-of-the-art on walking aids. They will then propose concepts and sketches for the kinematic design and potential actuation technologies (electromechanical or pneumatic). Students may assist with small fabrication and machining tasks, and will assemble the prototype. Students will also acquire or improve knowledge on sensor interfacing and control systems. They will assist with initial testing, as well with summarizing and reporting the results.

Quantifying Locomotor Deficits in People with Chiari Malformation

Faculty Mentors Brian Davis and Doug Wajda

Summary. Chiari Malformation (CM) is a congenital disorder in which the cerebellar tonsils descend into the foramen magnum. This descent blocks the pathway for normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), creating an increased pressure gradient within the brain and spinal cord. This disorder leads to a loss of neuromuscular coordination, muscle weakness, and instability during normal locomotion activities such as gait and upright stance. Some of these symptoms may be associated with cerebellar compression, others with basilar invagination.

While there is no cure for CM, surgical decompression can be performed to reduce symptoms. However, the degree to which surgery is successful is hampered by the fact that there is no published literature on neuromuscular coordination or stability in this cohort of patients. There is therefore a critical need to identify neuromuscularcontrol methods used by individuals with CM.

REU Student Involvement. The student(s) will do one of the following projects:

  1. Creation of a multibody simulation of the push-off phase of gait. In this project, a student will use ADAMS software replicate the biomechanics of the ankle musculature during walking.
  2. Collection and analysis of gait data pertaining to adult Chiari patients as they walk on a treadmill. One of the protocols involves perturbation training – an intervention whereby patients learn to respond to challenges imposed by pre-programmed fluctuations in
    treadmill speed.
  3. Collection and analysis of pediatric Chiari gait patterns, with particular focus on upright stance and over ground gait patterns.

Damage Mechanisms in Smart Scaffolds for Tissue Restoration

Faculty Mentors Prabaha Sikder and Josiah Owusu-Danquah

Summary. Tissue repair, regeneration and functional restoration requires interaction of biochemical, electrical and mechanical physiological processes at the cellular level. Since piezoelectric scaffolds have the ability to deform under common physiological movements and produce bioelectrical signals which promote cell formation, they have been explored for bone repair over years. State-of-the-art piezoelectric materials (including polymers, ceramics and their composites) have been fabricated via novel additive manufacturing techniques for applications in regenerative rehabilitation. Additive manufacturing offers large room for process-property control, thus, properties of scaffolds can be tailored to suit the host tissue. The long-term usability or performance of such multifunctional materials lies in their ability to progressively adapt to the cellular microenvironments. However, studies examining the performance of scaffolds under the complex interaction between the dynamic properties of the host tissues, the scaffold’s geometric properties, and the cyclic thermal and/or mechanical microenvironment have been scarcely made. The objective of this project is to systematically quantify the mechanisms that may lead to damage of scaffolds or loss of piezoelectric property of additive manufacturing scaffolds subjected to extended thermal (heating and cooling) cycles close to the body temperature and/or mechanical (periodic, linear, combined, multi-axial) loading cycles. To achieve this aim, experimental and computational simulations will be used to model scaffolds under diverse thermo-mechanical conditions.

REU Student Involvement. The student(s) will do one of the following projects:

  1. Additively manufacture several piezoelectric scaffolds using different process parameters
  2. Test the piezoelectric propoerties of dry and wet scaffolds previously subjected to thermal or mechanical cyling.
  3. Simulate and predict the deformation behovior of additively manufactured scaffolds under mechanical and electrical loads typical to biophysical conditions such as walking, running, and standing.  Create mechanical stress on the scaffold and analyze the stem cell response in the electrical field microenvironment in vitro.