Sunday, November 23, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Engineers take part in ‘WalkAgain’ effort at World Cup to help disabled

Sanjay Joshi, Associate Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Adam Shapiro photographed in Joshi's lab in the Academic Surge Buildingon the UC Davis campus.

UC Davis engineering professor Sanjay Joshi, standing, and lab volunteer Adam Shapiro show off one of the brain-controlled robots developed in Joshi's lab at UCD. Shapiro, who is quadriplegic with limited movement of arms and legs, has helped Joshi's team test the systems. Karin Higgins, UC Davis/Courtesy photo

By
From page A1 | June 06, 2014 |

On June 12, if all goes well, a paraplegic young adult will take a few steps and kick a soccer ball — at the opening ceremony of the FIFA World Cup in São Paulo, Brazil, in front of a global audience of billions.

It will be a showcase demonstration of the WalkAgain Project, which aims to develop a thought-controlled robotic exoskeleton for everyday use for the disabled.

Sanjay Joshi, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at UC Davis, is playing a key role on the project, which is led by Miguel Nicolelis of Duke University and supported by the Brazilian government. Joshi coordinates the international team building the control systems that take weak electrical impulses from the user’s brain and muscles and turn them into action by the robotic exoskeleton.

“The idea behind the project is to show the state-of-the-art in combining neuroscience, robotics and rehabilitation,” Joshi said. “The idea behind the World Cup demonstration is to inspire kids around the world to become scientists, engineers and doctors.”

The “controls team” has to work with both physicians and engineers to connect the human with the machine, Joshi said.

Since Nicolelis asked Joshi to join the team a little over a year ago, he and UCD graduate student Kenneth Lyons have been on a crash program coordinated across three continents.

The call came after several years’ work by Joshi and his graduate students on devices that could enable disabled people to control machines.

Joshi began his career working on spacecraft robotics for NASA, but after arriving at UCD in 2001 he became increasingly interested in using robots to address biological problems, including animal behavior research and human/machine interfaces.

In 2007, he began a project with professor Tony Wexler in the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering, on systems to allow disabled children to use computers. That work was funded later by The Hartwell Foundation and the National Science Foundation.

A sabbatical year in 2010 as a visiting professor in the department of neurology at Columbia University in New York was a particularly big influence.

“It was an amazing experience to work with neurologists who study epilepsy and stroke,” Joshi said. “It’s a very different perspective when you see how research is done in a hospital.”

Roboticists have been inspired for a long time by how the human brain controls its own body, Joshi said, so it’s a natural progression to look at how the brain can control robotic devices.

The devices in Joshi’s work pick up tiny electrical signals from muscles or the brain to operate. Researchers and physicians have made progress in developing prosthetic limbs and exoskeletons that can be operated by disabled people. However, these efforts are mostly used in rehabilitation, and in a controlled environment.

A significant challenge, Joshi said, is to get such systems to work reliably in everyday use, with more electronic “noise” to interfere with the tiny signals from user’s brain and muscle activity.

Among the projects developed in the UCD lab are small wireless robots that are controlled by a disabled person moving a cursor on a screen, a TV remote that can be operated by a person with quadriplegia and a robotic arm in a lab in New York operated by a person in the lab at Davis.

Quadriplegic volunteer

One of the volunteers helping in the lab is Adam Shapiro. A spinal cord injury 16 years ago left Shapiro with limited movement of his arms and legs. While he hasn’t been directly involved with the WalkAgain project itself, he has helped Joshi’s lab develop their ideas and technology.

“A friend of mine told me about this lab, and I participated and they saw that I could contribute to what they were doing here because of my experience of being in a wheelchair,” said Shapiro, who graduated from UCD with a bachelor’s degree in clinical nutrition in 2012.

With electrodes over a muscle behind his ear, Shapiro can move a cursor on a tablet and direct a small robot. He doesn’t consciously flex the muscle to generate the signal: Part of the work is learning how to make the muscle produce a signal, while thinking a command, such as “turn left.”

“It’s very exciting, especially for people who have more of a disability and can’t move their arms or legs at all. To be able to do things for yourself is very powerful,” Shapiro said.

Technology for the disabled

The WalkAgain exoskeleton will use a cap of electrodes to pick up signals directly from the brain — electroencephalography, or EEG, as well as muscle signals. A team of neurologists and rehabilitation physicians is working with disabled volunteers in Brazil to train them to operate the exoskeleton with their thoughts. Users have to learn how to generate the signals that control the exoskeleton and to use it to walk. Essentially, they have to learn to walk all over again.

Technology like the WalkAgain Project, Joshi’s research and other projects around the world hold huge promise for the disabled.

“We’re at a very early stage in this whole field where we’re just learning how the brain can control its own body and how the brain can be extended to control outside objects,” Joshi said.

Other partner institutions involved in the WalkAgain Project include: Technical University of Munich, Germany; the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne; the Edmond and Lily Safra International Institute of Neuroscience of Natal in Brazil; the University of Kentucky; and Colorado State University.
— UC Davis News

Comments

comments

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

    Hollywood readies its big guns for the holidays

    By Derrick Bang | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Need for local foster parents grows

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A1

     
    Tactical robot decreases officer risks

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Berkeley, Santa Cruz students protest fee hikes

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    Couple arrested on drug, firearm possession charges

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

    Woman confronts suspicious follower

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

     
    Bob Dunning: Signs, signs, everywhere a sign

    By Bob Dunning | From Page: A2

    For the record

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A2

     
    Auction-bound student artwork stolen in downtown heist

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A3, 1 Comment | Gallery

    UCD awarded $100M to lead program to predict, prevent pandemic threats

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

     
    Breakfast with Santa tickets are going fast

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Workshop will answer financial aid questions

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Probationers, parolees graduate from Yolo transitional program

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4 | Gallery

     
    Free boot camp, yoga fundraiser this week

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Enterprise observes holiday hours

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Bell-ringers still needed this holiday season

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Give blood and get a free movie ticket

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Thanksgiving feast is open to all

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Round up at the registers for Davis schools

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

     
    Yolo Food Bank invites locals to run with the flock

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

    Museum announces holiday schedule

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

     
    At the Pond: Stop, look and listen

    By Jean Jackman | From Page: A5 | Gallery

    Swing your partner!

    By Wayne Tilcock | From Page: A6

     
    Project Linus seeks donations

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A6

    Fairfield School enjoys a festive feast

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7 | Gallery

     
    Right at home: gifts you can use and use up

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A8

    Dec. 10 jeans drive benefits STEAC

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A9

     
    Davis Community Church history recounted in Sunday talk

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A10 | Gallery

    Open your heart

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

     
    Bob Hope interview pulled from ‘the vault’

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A12

    .

    Forum

    There’s only one way to fix this

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

     
    Students barking up the wrong tree

    By Our View | From Page: A14

    Rick McKee cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A14

     
    Heartbroken over treatment of teacher

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A14, 1 Comment

    Google, tell me. Is my son a genius?

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A14

     
    Easing the stress during college application season

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A15

    Daryl Cagle cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A15

     
    Cordial political discourse: Seven years later, the thoughts resonate

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A15

    When the computer stares back

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: A16

     
    How I want to be remembered

    By Marion Franck | From Page: A16

     
    Watch out for holiday weight gain

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A16

    .

    Sports

    Turnovers costly as UC Davis loses Classic, 41-30

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Aggie men finish off Furman

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

    Upset-minded Lions bounce UCD from WWPA tourney

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

     
    New, old-look helmets not enough to lift UCD footballers

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Late shot sinks Aggie women

    By Spencer Ault | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    UCD roundup: Seniors play well in Aggie volleyball loss

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B3 | Gallery

    Wire briefs: Kings get past depleted T-Wolves

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

     
    With volleyball playoff berth, DHS accomplished its 2014 goal

    By Evan Ream | From Page: B6 | Gallery

    .

    Features

    .

    Arts

    .

    Business

     
    Don’t pass up the parking gift downtown

    By Wendy Weitzel | From Page: A13

    Honey, spreads showcased at open house

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A20

     
    Doby Fleeman: Give thanks for our innovation culture

    By Doby Fleeman | From Page: A20

    .

    Obituaries

    .

    Comics

    Comics: Sunday, November 23, 2014

    By Creator | From Page: B8