Grad Student Demos Research at Congressional Event

Dec. 3,2015 - A mechanical and aerospace engineering graduate student presented his research in Washington, D.C. last month at “Ingredients for a Successful, Innovative Economy,” a robotics expo sponsored by the Congressional Robotics Caucus. Doctoral candidate Sumner Lee Norman demonstrated two projects: MusicGlove, a device that helps restore finger dexterity to those who have suffered stroke or other neurological impairment; and Brain Computer Interfacing, a technology that translates electrical signals from the surface of the scalp into meaningful output.

The Congressional Robotics Caucus seeks to increase awareness of the challenges facing the robotics industry and to educate congressional members and staff about current and future research directions.

Norman, whose adviser is MAE/biomedical engineering professor David Reinkensmeyer, is using MusicGlove to learn more about how the brain responds to movement therapy and to try to predict recovery in stroke patients. Working in Reinkensmeyer’s Biorobotics Lab, he utilized the device in a yearlong clinical study of robot-assisted movement rehabilitation in 30 chronic stroke survivors. The device, which was invented by UCI alumnus Nizan Friedman, along with Reinkensmeyer and former professor Mark Bachman, is currently being marketed by spinoff company Flint Rehabilitation Devices.

Norman’s Brain Computer Interfacing research seeks to use brain signals to understand intended movement in people who cannot move on their own, and create those movements with robotic exoskeleton devices. “This closes the natural brain-movement loop that was broken in the injury,” he says, “and drives recovery through an intuitive interface that allows the patient to move.”

In addition to demonstrations, the robotics expo in the nation’s capital also featured discussions about maintaining technological innovation and strategies for sparking new innovation and job creation. The expo is sponsored by IEEE-USA, Carnegie Mellon University,, Georgia Tech and the Computing Research Association.

Held on Nov. 4 at the Rayburn House Office Building, the event gave participants access to Congressional members and White House Staff. “I had the opportunity to meet directly with congressmen and staff from six House of Representatives offices. We also met with the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) at the White House,” Norman says, adding that everyone was enthusiastic about the lab’s progress in using cutting-edge robotics and neurotechnologies to improve the lives of individuals with neurological injuries. “OSTP even discussed the possibility of [my] working for them in the coming year.”

UCI was one of only two schools demonstrating technology at the event; Carnegie Mellon was the other. Norman says the projects were introduced by Georgia Congressman Rob Woodall and Steve Jurczyk, NASA’s space technology mission director.

“It was an incredible experience, and I think that the impact of our visit has been hugely beneficial to UCI and the school of engineering in particular. I know the exposure of UCI as one of only two prominent schools brought a lot of attention to the great research we conduct on a national scale.”

-- Anna Lynn Spitzer