Let me just start off by saying that all of us students and our advisers are having a blast so far while participating in the Undergraduate Summer Research Institute! Doing yoga, catching turtles, playing on a balance board, and free lunch everyday; who said research can’t be fun? One of the main goals of the U.S.R.I. is to give us a taste of what science in the real world is like, and the institute is accomplishing this through two separate projects: the balance study, and the prosthetic hand study. I am currently working on the latter with Dr. Jodi Prosise and Brooke Buresh.
The main task of the prosthetic hand study is to implement the neural data Dr. Prosise gained, through her Ph.D. thesis work, to construct and control a robotic prosthetic hand system. At this point, we are still in the research and design stage. Brooke and I have been searching for, reading, summarizing, and utilizing scholastic articles in the pursuit of information pertaining to our subject of interest. We are making great headway in our understanding of what components are necessary to implement our goal of El Mano Robotico.
There are two main parts of our desired hand system. The first piece is the physical hand itself. My role in the development of the robot is to study potential mechanical mechanisms required to create a hand that will look, and most importantly behave like a human hand. I will then use what I’ve learned to design a graphic model in Pro Engineering, a 3-D solid modeling software system. Once Dr. Prosise and I feel as though the design is where it needs to be, we will make a physical prototype using a rapid prototyping machine to decide what needs to be altered and accounted for. After several prototypes, we should have a final design, at which point we will build the prosthesis using the actual designed parts. At this point we will have the robotic hand, and Brooke’s work should bring it to life.
While I am designing the physical prosthesis, Brooke will be working on the second main part of the study: giving the robot a brain. Brooke has been researching and studying methods for creating a control algorithm for the robot. Without this algorithm, the hand can be nothing but a put together pile of metal and plastic. The neural data that Jodi collected will be used in the program that will control what fingers move, when they move, and how they do it. The eventual goal is to be able to connect the prosthetic hand to a person and allow them to control the hand simply by thinking about moving it. The hand should receive the neural signals and correctly identify and transform those signals into useful mechanical movements comparable to a real human hand.
Overall, the creation of the robotic neural-prosthetic hand will be extremely challenging, and will require us to truly understand the fundamental underlying ideas involved in the process. Wish us luck!
Kenner “Gingy” Ahrendsen