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Students Develop Mind-Controlled Robotic Arm

Industry Partner Provides Engineering Expertise, Support

Dec. 16, 2013

Adrian Iniguez and Yeu Cheng, wearing the mechanical arm, recently demonstrated how their project, under the direction of Kiran George, associate professor of computer engineering, works with industry mentors from Western Digital.

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Imagine if a person loses mobility of an arm following an accident or stroke, and to regain use, is able to use a robotic arm to assist with movement — solely with the power of one's thoughts.

This 21st-century, science fiction-like technology is what College of Engineering and Computer Science students are imagining with their Brain-Computer Interface Robotic Arm for Rehabilitation project, under the direction of Kiran George, associate professor of computer engineering.

The project allows individuals to control — with facial expressions — a mechanical arm attachment using commercially available brain-computer interface technology, explained sophomore mechanical engineering major Adrian Iniguez.

"Electrical signals from the brain are measured and decoded into digital output," Iniguez said. "The digital output is then analyzed and translated to physical movements."

By using this relatively new technology, the mechanical arm brace is designed to help individuals recover faster from the loss of mobility, added senior computer science major Hayden Donze.

A Western Digital Foundation grant is helping underwrite the research, along with another cross-disciplinary student-team project focusing on designing and building an autonomous robot for NASA's Sample Return Robot Challenge in June. Funding from two National Science Foundation grants awarded to George also support the robotic arm project.

What's exciting is that both student-led projects are creating an opportunity to collaborate with mentor engineers from Western Digital, an Irvine-based computer hard disk drive manufacturer, George said.

"The Western Digital engineers present a valuable learning experience for students," George said. "They provide students with varied opportunities to learn about the latest technology trends, and expose them to how technology ideas are conceived, realized and marketed in industry."

Western Digital mentors Jie Yu, senior director of engineering, and Grant Mackey, senior engineer, recently came to campus for a demonstration of the robotic arm, and were impressed with the students' work.

"It's a very exciting project and quite promising. What the student engineers have accomplished so far is pretty amazing," said Yu, who noted that researchers worldwide are exploring brain-computer interface technology and the  possible real-world applications that can help people see, hear and feel.

The goal of the robotic arm project is to streamline the design and control system so that the final product is affordable, noninvasive and user-friendly.

"We plan to improve it so that the user can simply look at one of several flashing lights on the arm to control it," said Donze.

Yeu Cheng, computer engineering graduate student, and Jose Gutierrez, an electrical engineering student at Cypress College, also are involved in the project. Gutierrez, along with Iniguez and Donze, began working on the project through CSUF's Strengthening Transfer Education & Matriculation in STEM summer program. The U.S. Department of Education-funded program is designed to encourage community college science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors to transfer to four-year institutions.

"Our team has enjoyed learning about the inner workings of brain-computer interface technology and receiving valuable feedback from the Western Digital engineers that will help to improve our design. We're excited about the benefits to humanity this technology will bring," Iniguez said.

Media Contacts:
Kiran George, Computer Engineering, 657-278-2640
Debra Cano Ramos, 657-278-4027

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