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June Lukuyu — pushing engineering boundaries to improve energy systems in underserved communities

UW ECE Assistant Professor June Lukuyu blends technological innovation and social development to engineer sustainable, inclusive, and integrated energy systems and technologies for people in underserved communities around the world.

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Congratulations to the 2024 UW ECE Awards recipients!

The UW ECE Awards recognize exceptional teaching, research, and entrepreneurship efforts in the Department as well as outstanding mentorship, student impact, and collaborative work.

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Congratulations to the 2024 UW ECE Awards recipients! Banner

Amy Orsborn receives NSF CAREER award to study how the brain responds to using neural interfaces

UW ECE and BioE Assistant Professor Amy Orsborn was recently named a recipient of a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER award, one of the most prestigious awards in the nation for early-career faculty.

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Amy Orsborn receives NSF CAREER award to study how the brain responds to using neural interfaces Banner

‘The best chance for the biggest impact’: Shwetak Patel inducted into SIGCHI Academy for advancing health, sustainability and interaction research

UW ECE and Allen School Professor Shwetak Patel was recently inducted into the SIGCHI Academy for his contributions in health, sustainability and interaction research. Patel explores how technology can be incorporated with medicine that utilizes sustainable resources.

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‘The best chance for the biggest impact’: Shwetak Patel inducted into SIGCHI Academy for advancing health, sustainability and interaction research Banner

Device restores hand function for some with spinal injury

UW ECE Professor Chet Moritz is leading groundbreaking research enabling some people with paralysis to regain hand strength and function via electrical stimulation to the spine.

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Device restores hand function for some with spinal injury Banner

Alvin Wang Graylin from HTC to speak at UW ECE Graduation

We are proud to welcome UW ECE alumnus Alvin Wang Graylin (BSEE ‘93) as honored guest speaker for the 2024 UW ECE Graduation Ceremony. Graylin is the Global VP of Corporate Development for HTC and co-author of a new, visionary book,“Our Next Reality: How the AI-powered Metaverse Will Reshape the World.”

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Alvin Wang Graylin from HTC to speak at UW ECE Graduation Banner

News + Events

https://ee.washington.edu/spotlight/june-lukuyu/
https://ee.washington.edu/spotlight/2024-uwece-awards/
https://ee.washington.edu/spotlight/amy-orsborn-nsf-career-award/
https://ee.washington.edu/spotlight/shwetak-patel-inducted-into-sigchi-academy/
https://ee.washington.edu/spotlight/moritz-spinal-stimulation/
https://ee.washington.edu/spotlight/why-animals-can-outrun-robots/
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https://ee.washington.edu/spotlight/2024-uwece-awards/
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https://ee.washington.edu/spotlight/shwetak-patel-inducted-into-sigchi-academy/
https://ee.washington.edu/spotlight/moritz-spinal-stimulation/
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IDEAS focuses on planning and developing sustainable, inclusive, and integrated energy systems and technologies for underserved communities around the world. Photo by Ryan Hoover / UW ECE[/caption] UW ECE Assistant Professor June Lukuyu was born and raised in a small community outside of Nairobi, Kenya, where both of her parents worked as agricultural research scientists. In school, she excelled in math and physics, and she knew early on that she wanted to pursue a career in engineering. She also was familiar with the frequent power outages and other electrical grid problems that are common throughout East Africa. Lukuyu realized at a young age that she wanted to do something with engineering that could address large-scale problems such as this, but at the time, she wasn’t sure how to turn that idea into a reality. While in high school, she applied as an international student to colleges and universities in the United States and was accepted into Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, on a full-ride scholarship. It was there, while pursuing her bachelor’s degree in engineering science, she was introduced to the concept of merging disciplines. “Energy systems were, for me, at the core of how society worked. It intertwined with so many different things. So, I knew I wanted to do something technical with engineering, something to do with power systems,” Lukuyu said. “But what was really surprising for me was how being in a liberal arts school shaped how I perceived energy systems because my coursework was not just from a technical perspective.” At Smith College, Lukuyu was encouraged to take courses in economics, psychology, and other social sciences, alongside her engineering studies. This blending of disciplines got her thinking about how energy systems relate to the social and cultural contexts in which they reside. After graduating from Smith College in 2013, she worked for a time at a software company doing cost estimation for power systems. She then studied renewable energy systems technologies through a distance-learning program at Loughborough University, where, in 2016, she received her master’s degree. In 2022, she earned a doctoral degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where her research was aimed at finding ways to create a more integrative approach to solving energy problems in underserved communities.
"We’re flipping the narrative, where instead of just bringing in a decentralized power system, undersizing or oversizing it, and then trying to get people to use it, we first attempt to understand the community and then build systems that are responsive to their needs.” — UW ECE Assistant Professor June Lukuyu
In January 2023, Lukuyu accepted a position at UW ECE as an assistant professor. She said that she had been looking for an environment that would value intellectual freedom as well as appreciate and support the interdisciplinary nature of her research. She also was interested in continuing field work she started while pursuing her doctoral degree that was mostly located in East African communities. “There is a really good group of people at the UW, even outside of ECE, who do international work. There's a global health school, a team in the Allen School that creates technologies for developing countries, and a public policy school that works in Africa,” Lukuyu said. “So, there’s several different groups here that I can collaborate with. I also wanted to develop courses that would be cross-cutting and multidisciplinary within the Department. The support for all of this was here, and by the time I finished interviewing at UW ECE, I knew that if I received an offer, it was a place I really wanted to be.” Lukuyu brings a strong technical background to the Department and has received recognition early in her academic career for the strength of her research work. Her awards and honors include a Grace Hopper Celebration Scholarship, a Microsoft Research PhD Fellowship (Finalist), a Link Foundation Energy Fellowship (Honorable Mention), and a Spaulding Smith Fellowship at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “Most people approach issues with electrical grids and sustainable energy from either a pure science and engineering perspective, an industrial point of view, or a community-based social science standpoint,” said UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins. “June blends all these approaches in an innovative way to find integrated, holistic, and long-lasting solutions. We are very impressed with her expertise and delighted to have her as a part of our Department.”

IDEAS for sustainable, inclusive and integrated energy systems

Lukuyu has established the Interdisciplinary Energy Analytics for Society, or IDEAS, research group at the UW. IDEAS focuses on planning and developing sustainable, inclusive, and integrated energy systems and technologies for underserved communities. The core of Lukuyu’s work with IDEAS is blending technological innovation and social development, pushing beyond the boundaries of conventional engineering practices, and emphasizing a mixed-methods approach. This work is interdisciplinary, incorporating students and faculty from several different units and departments across multiple universities, and transdisciplinary, including partnerships with startup companies, utilities, and the communities in which they serve. The IDEAS research group includes three UW ECE doctoral students, Eliane Nirere, Ahana Mukherjee, and Kwame Donkor. The group will expand soon and welcome two more incoming doctoral students, Miquilina Anagbah and Aya Alayli. IDEAS oversees collaborative projects in cities and communities around the world. The group has worked primarily in Africa, in countries such as Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, and Rwanda, but Lukuyu has also been involved in projects in the Fiji Islands and here in Washington state through Spark Northwest, a Seattle-based nonprofit organization that partners with communities to build an equitable, clean energy future. Because IDEAS is bringing engineers together with industry, government, and community organizations, the work is by nature highly collaborative. It is also aimed at creating long-term, customized solutions. “We’re flipping the narrative, where instead of just bringing in a decentralized power system, undersizing or oversizing it, and then trying to get people to use it, we first attempt to understand the community and then build systems that are responsive to their needs,” Lukuyu said.

Partnerships and grants

[caption id="attachment_34782" align="alignright" width="350"]Photo of high-voltage power lines In October 2023, Lukuyu received a Climate Change AI Innovation Grant. This grant program supports projects that address research and deployment challenges in climate change mitigation, adaptation, and climate science by leveraging AI and machine learning, while also creating publicly available datasets and tools to catalyze further work. Photo by Rose Galloway Green / Unsplash[/caption] At the UW, Lukuyu is affiliated with the Clean Energy Institute, the Evans School Policy Analysis & Research Group, and the Information and Communication Technology for Development Lab in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. Outside of the UW, she serves on the board of Spark Northwest, is a co-principal investigator with the Electricity Growth and Use in Developing Economies initiative, and is a fellow with the Energy for Growth Hub. She also collaborates with faculty in the Department. For example, she recently wrote a paper with UW ECE Professor and former Chair Radha Poovendran, describing the design of pricing mechanisms for microgrids. Their work will be presented at the 2024 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Power & Energy Society (PES) General Meeting, which will be held this month in Seattle, Washington. Lukuyu has been the recipient of a growing number of grants during her time at UW ECE. She was awarded a Collaborative Seed Grant from the Clean Energy Institute, along with UW ECE Associate Professor Baosen Zhang, to study climate and equity considerations for community-based electricity demand response strategies in the Pacific Northwest. She also has received a grant from the UW’s Royalty Research Fund, which is supporting work Lukuyu is doing blending qualitative and quantitative methods for energy needs assessment. In October 2023, Lukuyu received a Climate Change AI Innovation Grant. This grant is enabling Lukuyu and her research team to collaborate with the tech startup nLine, local government, and community partners in Accra, Ghana, to produce a low-cost, flexible sensor network that will monitor and strengthen the city’s electrical grid while helping to lower costs and associated greenhouse gas emissions. “We are gathering data about power reliability and quality from granular voltage measurements across the city and pairing it with an AI or machine learning approach to be able to predict where the topology of the grid is and where the grid interconnections are,” Lukuyu said. “I think that having this data is power. It can reveal and highlight inequities in how an infrastructure is managed and help us get at those questions of how we could provide better quality power and infrastructure for the community.”

Educating the next generation

In her work as an educator at UW ECE, Lukuyu instructs a mix of undergraduate and graduate students. She teaches a course on wind energy development that last quarter included a field trip to the Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility and Renewable Energy Center in Ellensburg, Washington. She has also designed a special topic course for graduate students focused on sustainable energy and global development. This course introduces the challenge of energy poverty in underserved communities around the world and explores the relationship between current and future energy needs and achieving sustainable energy systems. “We are taking a global perspective on energy poverty, on how energy interplays with sustainable development goals, security, government policy, and rural development. The course contains many different pieces that rely heavily on students being willing to explore and engage,” Lukuyu said. “I’ve been amazed at the quality of students at UW ECE and their perspectives. It has really enriched the course.” Lukuyu has found much enthusiasm for this special topic course, and it has proven to be popular both inside and outside the Department. Students from mechanical engineering, civil engineering, and even chemical engineering have taken the course. As a relatively new instructor, Lukuyu said that she was pleasantly surprised how much she has enjoyed teaching at UW ECE, and she often learns new information and ways of looking at things from her students. Lukuyu enjoys novelty outside of the classroom as well, including traveling to places she has never been to before and meeting new people. She also holds a deep belief in the value of learning and passing on knowledge to the next generation. “I think we often underestimate the power of education,” Lukuyu said. “The UW is an intensive research institution, but it is also shaping the minds of young people. Even in our role as researchers, we are educating and mentoring. We have a responsibility for the platform we have, and the things we enforce in the classroom are going to have repercussions. I think it’s important for all of us to remember that our students are going to be the future of engineering.” For more information about UW ECE Assistant Professor June Lukuyu and her research work, visit her bio page or the IDEAS website. [post_title] => June Lukuyu — pushing engineering boundaries to improve energy systems in underserved communities [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => june-lukuyu [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2024-07-11 08:49:40 [post_modified_gmt] => 2024-07-11 15:49:40 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.ece.uw.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=34772 [menu_order] => 1 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 34627 [post_author] => 27 [post_date] => 2024-06-27 09:51:36 [post_date_gmt] => 2024-06-27 16:51:36 [post_content] => Article by UW ECE staff, photos by Ryan Hoover [caption id="attachment_34630" align="alignright" width="600"]The 2024 UW ECE Awards recipients, standing in a group with their award certificates, next to UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins (left) with the 2024 UW ECE Awards recipients. From top left, clockwise: Shanti Garman — Chair's Award, Niveditha (Nivii) Kalavakonda — Yang Award for Outstanding Doctoral Student, Kevin Shao — Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award, Assistant Professor Matt Reynolds — Outstanding Teaching Award, Felix Schwock and Professor Chet Moritz — Outstanding Mentorship Award, Jean Ishac — Outstanding Staff Award, Kedi Yan — Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award.[/caption] Each year, UW ECE holds an awards ceremony that honors students, faculty, and staff for their exceptional achievements and outstanding contributions to the Department. This year, the annual event was held on Tuesday, May 14, during a luncheon in the ECE building. The luncheon and awards ceremony were hosted by UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins. “I am continually impressed by the high caliber of the students, faculty, and staff at UW ECE, and this year’s award recipients are standouts,” Klavins said. “I would like to thank all UW ECE Awards nominees and recipients on behalf of the Department for their amazing contributions and accomplishments. They represent the best of the best at UW ECE.” The UW ECE Awards recognize exceptional teaching, research, and entrepreneurship efforts in the Department as well as outstanding mentorship, student impact, and collaborative work. Award recipients are considered by the Department to be high achievers and embody UW ECE core values, such as leadership, collaboration, and teamwork. Learn more below about this year’s award recipients.

Yang Award for Outstanding Doctoral Student

[caption id="attachment_34632" align="alignright" width="350"]Niveditha (Nivii) Kalavakonda standing with her award certificate in between UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins (left) and Professor Blake Hannaford (right) Yang Award recipient Niveditha (Nivii) Kalavakonda (center) standing between UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins (left) and her adviser, Professor Blake Hannaford (right)[/caption]

Niveditha (Nivii) Kalavakonda

This award recognizes a UW ECE doctoral student in their final year of study who has conducted outstanding research in electrical and computer engineering, as evidenced by their publications or recognized by outside researchers in their field. This year’s award recipient was Niveditha (Nivii) Kalavakonda, who received her master’s degree in electrical engineering from the Department in 2017 and is now a doctoral student advised by UW ECE Professor Blake Hannaford. Kalavakonda received the Yang Award for researching human-robot interaction designed for healthcare environments and for building community at UW ECE through various leadership initiatives. In her research, Kalavakonda spearheaded the development of an intelligent robotic surgical assistant that can respond to voice commands and collaborate with a human surgeon. This work was supported in part by the Amazon Catalyst program. She also was named this year as one of the Husky 100 — a group of the top students at the UW. Kalavakonda is part of the UW BioRobotics Lab, which is co-led by Hannaford. “Nivii came to the UW with an exciting background in virtual reality programming. She very quickly dove into a medical application of augmented reality, and her dissertation represents her ambitious vision of an autonomous robotic assistant for neurosurgery,” Hannaford said. “I fully expect that Nivii’s work will actually launch a new subfield, surgical human-robot interaction, as a new community within both the HRI and surgical robotics communities.”

Outstanding Mentorship Award in UW ECE

This award recognizes any member of the UW ECE community whose exemplary mentoring and advising activities made important contributions toward building a supportive culture in the Department. In 2024, there were two recipients of the award: [caption id="attachment_34636" align="alignright" width="350"]Felix Schwock standing with his award certificate in between UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins (left) and UW ECE and BioE Associate Professor Azadeh Yazdan (right) Outstanding Mentorship Award recipient Felix Schwock standing between UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins (left) and Schwock's adviser, Associate Professor Azadeh Yazdan (right)[/caption]

Felix Schwock

Felix Schwock is a UW ECE doctoral student and research assistant in the lab of his adviser, Azadeh Yazdan, who is an associate professor in UW ECE and in the UW Department of Bioengineering. Schwock’s research interests are in the fields of signal processing and machine learning for network data, with a focus on developing new tools for processing and analyzing signals recorded from brain networks. Since June 2021, he has been working with Yazdan on the development of a new framework for studying neural communication in the brain, which is part of his doctoral research. Schwock received his master’s degree from UW ECE and was advised by UW ECE Professor Les Atlas and Shima Abadhi, who is an associate professor of oceanography at the UW and an adjunct associate professor at UW ECE. At the end of his master’s degree, Schwock received the UW Graduate School Distinguished Thesis Award. “Felix’s exceptional research achievements, leadership qualities, and dedication to mentorship and service make him an exemplary candidate for the Outstanding Mentorship Award in the ECE Department,” Yazdan said. “His contributions have significantly enriched our academic community, and I am confident that he will continue to inspire and empower future generations of scholars in the field.” [caption id="attachment_34639" align="alignright" width="350"]Outstanding Mentorship Award recipient Professor Chet Moritz (right) standing with his award certificate next to UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins (left) Outstanding Mentorship Award recipient Professor Chet Moritz (right) standing next to UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins (left)[/caption]

Professor Chet Moritz

Chet Moritz is a C.J. and Elizabeth Hwang Endowed Professor in Electrical & Computer Engineering at the UW with joint appointments in rehabilitation medicine, physiology, and biophysics. He is also co-director of the Center for Neurotechnology. Moritz is well-known as an international leader in the field of neural engineering. At the UW, he directs the Restorative Technologies Laboratory, which focuses on developing technologies to address symptoms of spinal cord injury, stroke, and cerebral palsy. Current research in Moritz’ lab includes multiple studies of electrical stimulation to restore hand function for people with spinal cord injury and stroke, improving walking for children with cerebral palsy, and optogenetic stimulation to guide neuroplasticity and recovery in an injured spinal cord. “Dr. Chet Moritz’s mentorship has been pivotal in our professional development, significantly contributing to our success in securing funding, refining teaching methodologies, and managing our research laboratories,” wrote professors Azadeh Yazdan and Amy Orsborn, who both hold joint appointments between UW ECE and the UW Department of Bioengineering. “We wholeheartedly endorse his nomination for the Outstanding Mentorship Award, recognizing the transformative impact of his mentorship not only on our careers but also as a beacon of inspiration for future generations of female academics and underrepresented individuals in academia.”

Outstanding Staff Award

[caption id="attachment_34641" align="alignright" width="350"]Outstanding Staff Award recipient Jean Ishac (right) standing next to UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins Outstanding Staff Award recipient Jean Ishac (right) next to UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins[/caption]

Jean Ishac

This award recognizes a staff member who demonstrates exceptional commitment to UW ECE and whose service has made a lasting impact on the Department. The 2024 recipient was Jean Ishac, who is a finance manager in the research management division of the Department. “Jean’s management of post-award procedures has been exemplary, handling numerous proposals and awards with precision and care. His leadership ensures that timely support and assistance are consistently available, significantly advancing our ability to secure and manage funding,” said UW ECE Associate Teaching Professor Rania Hussein. “In my opinion, this level of dedication is critical and has had a tangible, positive impact on our ability to secure and manage funding effectively.”

Outstanding Teaching Award

[caption id="attachment_34643" align="alignright" width="350"]Oustanding Teaching Award recipient Matt Reynolds (right) standing next to UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins (left) Oustanding Teaching Award recipient Matt Reynolds (right) next to UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins (left)[/caption]

Professor Matt Reynolds

This award recognizes a UW ECE faculty member who has demonstrated exceptional, positive impact on students and in the Department. The 2024 recipient is UW ECE Associate Professor Matt Reynolds. His research interests include millimeter-wave sensing and imaging, radio-frequency identification (RFID), energy efficiency at the physical layer of wireless communication, and the physics of sensing and actuation. Reynolds has also co-founded several startup companies, including, most recently, ThruWave, which uses innovative, human-safe millimeter-wave imaging technology to see inside closed boxes and packages to scan for contraband, such as illegal drugs. Reynolds holds 76 issued U.S. patents and has over 88 pending patent applications. “Professor Reynold’s commitment to student success extends beyond the classroom. His well-organized course materials on Canvas, comprehensive office hours, and additional review sessions are just a few examples of how he supports his students’ academic journeys,” said UW ECE Associate Teaching Professor Rania Hussein. “His dedication is evident in the meticulous care with which he plans and executes all aspects of his course. The positive impact of his teaching approach is clearly reflected in the attentive and engaging demeanor of his students. I enjoy listening to his lectures, and I walk away learning tips to implement in my own teaching.”

Outstanding Teaching Assistant

This award recognizes a student who demonstrates an outstanding contribution to teaching at UW ECE. This year, there were many nominations and two award recipients: [caption id="attachment_34647" align="alignright" width="350"]Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award recipient Kedi Yan (right) standing next to UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award recipient Kedi Yan (right) next to UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins[/caption]

Kedi Yan

Kedi Yan is a UW ECE doctoral student advised by Joshua Smith, who is a professor in UW ECE and in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. Yan is studying advanced wireless power transfer techniques under Smith and has advanced knowledge and expertise in electromagnetic, microwave, and radio-frequency technologies as well as printed circuit board, or PCB, design, and 3D printing. His abilities as a teacher and as a mentor are admired by students and faculty alike. “In short, of all the educators I’ve known and taught with, Kedi is by far the most determined to make certain that students understand intuitively a body of challenging formal material all the way down deep,” said UW ECE Affiliate Professor Evan Goldstein. “He greatly inconveniences himself to achieve this. He is among the very most urgently earnest people I have known. And he’s by far the most beloved TA I have seen.”   [caption id="attachment_34649" align="alignright" width="350"]Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award recipient Kevin Shao (right) standing next to UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins (left) Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award recipient Kevin Shao (right) standing next to UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins (left)[/caption]

Kevin Shao

Kevin Shao graduated this year from UW ECE with his master’s degree in electrical engineering. He was nominated by several people and was praised for his ability to create rapport and connect students with the classroom material and the instructor. “Kevin’s exemplary dedication, adaptability, and commitment to student welfare have left a positive mark on my educational experience, and I’m sure, has also positively influenced many others,” said UW ECE undergraduate student Perry Chien. “Kevin’s passion for teaching, coupled with his proactive approach and genuine care for student success, make him a worthy candidate for the Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award.”  

Chair’s Award

The Chair’s Award this year went to two outstanding UW ECE doctoral students, who among their many achievements and contributions to the Department, have supported greater diversity, equity, and inclusion through leadership and by co-chairing special events, such as WomXn at the Forefront of ECE Research, which is known as WAFER. This day-long event showcases research by women and nonbinary people in electrical and computer engineering and related fields and discusses their experiences in academia and the workplace. “Ph.D. students Amber Chou and Shanti Garman displayed exceptional leadership in conceptualizing and realizing WAFER, drawing in many of our students, staff, and faculty to not only focus on these important issues, but also build community within our Department,” said UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins. “Their efforts exemplify the role of doctoral students in our Department, excelling not only in research, but also in creating a positive setting for others to succeed.” [caption id="attachment_34651" align="alignright" width="350"]Chair's Award recipient Shanti Garman (right) standing next to UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins (left) Chair's Award recipient Shanti Garman (right) standing next to UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins (left)[/caption]

Shanti Garman

Shanti Garman is a UW ECE doctoral student who works in the Sensor Systems Lab and is advised by Joshua Smith, a professor in UW ECE and in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. Garman’s research projects include wireless power transfer for lunar and planetary missions, radio-frequency energy harvesting from high-power sources on Earth, and modulated noise communication. She uses established electromagnetics and antenna theory to investigate new systems and methodologies for Earth- and space-based wireless power transmission and ultra-low-power wireless communications. Garman also teaches a course about antennas in the Department’s Professional Master’s Program.  

Amber Chou

[caption id="attachment_34678" align="alignright" width="350"]Amber Chou headshot Chair's Award recipient Amber Chou[/caption] Amber Chou is a UW ECE doctoral student studying human-machine interaction. She is advised by UW ECE Associate Professor Sam Burden. Chou’s research is at the intersection of neural engineering and human-computer interaction. She is interested in integrating physiological sensing, including peripheral neural signals, eye movements, and gestures, to understand motor control in human-machine interaction. She leverages control theory, data-driven algorithms, and insights from experiments to enhance the usability of multimodal interfaces for applications in assistive technology and rehabilitation. UW ECE congratulates all award nominees and recipients. Thanks for your outstanding efforts and contributions to the Department and to the University!   [post_title] => Congratulations to the 2024 UW ECE Awards recipients! [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => 2024-uwece-awards [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2024-06-27 09:51:36 [post_modified_gmt] => 2024-06-27 16:51:36 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.ece.uw.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=34627 [menu_order] => 2 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 34557 [post_author] => 27 [post_date] => 2024-06-18 09:27:01 [post_date_gmt] => 2024-06-18 16:27:01 [post_content] => Article by Wayne Gillam / UW ECE News [caption id="attachment_34559" align="alignright" width="575"]Headshot of UW ECE and BioE Assistant Professor Amy Orsborn Amy Orsborn, a Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor in Electrical & Computer Engineering and Bioengineering at the UW, was recently named a recipient of a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER award, one of the most prestigious awards in the nation for early-career faculty. Photo by Ryan Hoover / UW ECE[/caption] Amy Orsborn, a Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor in Electrical & Computer Engineering and Bioengineering at the UW, was recently named a recipient of a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER award, one of the most prestigious awards in the nation for early-career faculty. The award will support Orsborn’s research investigating how the brain and nervous system respond to using sensorimotor neural interfaces, which show promise for treating a wide range of neurological disorders and conditions, such as paralysis caused by spinal cord injury or stroke. The grant also supports educational initiatives that will benefit underrepresented students in STEM. Orsborn’s work will help to lay a foundation for creating advanced computer algorithms in sensorimotor neural interfaces that can better adapt to the user. Her research is inspired by a fundamental challenge in neural engineering, where neural interfaces engage with the brain and nervous system in what is called a “closed loop” — the user influences the device while operating it, but the device also influences the user. This closed loop creates dynamic, ever-changing interactions between the brain, nervous system, and the device that can impact the user’s ability to control the neural interface as well as its therapeutic potential. “Most of the existing tools that we have to design neural interfaces today ignore this interplay between the user and the device,” Orsborn said. “The goal of our research will be to build new, computational frameworks for studying these inherent interactions, so we can design our interfaces in a smarter way.” The NSF selects award recipients who are faculty members at the beginning of their careers to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization. The intent of the NSF CAREER program is to provide stable support, enabling awardees to develop not only as outstanding researchers but also as educators demonstrating commitment to teaching, learning and dissemination of knowledge. The award spans five years, and it will enable Orsborn and her research team to advance foundational knowledge for neural engineers working at the intersection of neuroscience and device development.

Engineering a smarter neural interface

The research funded by this award is building off earlier, collaborative work Orsborn has done with UW ECE Associate Professor Sam Burden. In this NSF-funded research, Orsborn will be applying mathematical techniques Burden developed using control theory, which are relevant to modeling feedback interactions between a sensorimotor neural interface and its user. With these techniques, Orsborn plans to identify principles that explain how a user learns to control a closed-loop neural interface and then apply those insights to methods for computation that takes place inside the device. “This idea of taking control theory-based methods and applying them to neural interfaces to study the sensorimotor system spans many different areas of expertise,” Orsborn said. “It’s really exciting to have a fantastic colleague like Sam, who is interested in this research and translating his work to new applications and new questions.” Orsborn and her team in the aoLab will conduct experiments using two different types of neural interfaces: muscle/nervous system interfaces applied to humans on the surface of the skin and brain-computer interfaces applied to the sensorimotor cortex of non-human primates. By comparing results from these two different types of neural interfaces, the team aims to better understand computations performed by the brain and nervous system while the user learns to control a neural interface as well as how the device itself might influence those computations.
Orsborn's research is inspired by a fundamental challenge in neural engineering, where neural interfaces engage with the brain and nervous system in what is called a “closed loop” — the user influences the device while operating it, but the device also influences the user.
The primary goal of this research is to contribute to developing assistive devices and therapeutic neural interfaces for people who have neurological injuries or impairments. However, Orsborn said that this work also might enable scientists and engineers to design technological interfaces that work better for everyone, no matter their health condition. For example, a deeper understanding of the interactions between a user and a neural interface could be applicable to engineering almost any technology that includes human-computer interaction, such as computer screens activated by touch, virtual reality headsets tracking eye movements, or smartphones that can recognize speech patterns. Over the long term, the principles discovered, and mathematical algorithms developed as a result of this research could underpin computation taking place in a vast array of devices, ensuring that these technologies work well and can adapt to any person. “The biggest takeaway is the importance of that dynamic interaction between the brain, the nervous system and the neural interface,” Orsborn said. “By more fully understanding the complexities of that interaction, we’ll be better able to engineer these devices.”

Educational outreach

Education and outreach are also an important part of the work supported by the award. Orsborn will be partnering with A Vision for Literacy & Access, or AVELA, to develop neural engineering lessons for secondary school students in the Seattle area. AVELA is a recognized student organization at the UW that creates and teaches original STEM-content courses to K–14 youth from underrepresented minority groups. After these lessons have been implemented in local classrooms, Orsborn plans to work with AVELA to develop ways to extend the outreach effort. “We’re going to work with our local graduate students in AVELA to develop and offer these lessons. Then, we plan to work with grad students at a different university to help them modify and customize the lessons for their local communities,” Orsborn said. “The overarching idea is that this could become a scalable model for how our neural engineering lesson plans and outreach could go far beyond the University of Washington.” To do this, Orsborn anticipates partnering with Women in Neural Engineering, or WINE, which is a network of neural engineers co-founded by Orsborn. WINE provides vital peer-to-peer mentorship and networking opportunities for women in neural engineering. The group has members at universities across the country, including the University of Colorado, which has a graduate student organization that is part of WINE and plans to help translate these neural engineering lessons for students in their local area. Orsborn said that she was looking forward to working with AVELA and WINE on curriculum development and distribution, and she noted the value these organizations would bring. “Neural engineering is a really interesting field that benefits from interdisciplinary approaches and many different perspectives,” Orsborn said. “If we want to build therapies that work well and meet the needs of diverse communities, then we need diverse contributions.” More information about the NSF CAREER award described in this article is available on the NSF website. For more information about Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor Amy Orsborn and her research work, visit her UW ECE bio page. [post_title] => Amy Orsborn receives NSF CAREER award to study how the brain responds to using neural interfaces [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => amy-orsborn-nsf-career-award [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2024-06-18 09:28:16 [post_modified_gmt] => 2024-06-18 16:28:16 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.ece.uw.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=34557 [menu_order] => 3 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [3] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 34473 [post_author] => 36 [post_date] => 2024-06-13 08:31:34 [post_date_gmt] => 2024-06-13 15:31:34 [post_content] => Adapted from an article by Kristin Osborne | Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering [caption id="attachment_34474" align="alignright" width="586"] Shwetak Patel, the Washington Research Foundation Entrepreneurship Endowed Professor at the Allen School and UW ECE, was recently inducted into the SIGCHI Academy for his contributions in health, sustainability and interaction research. Patel explores how technology can be incorporated with medicine that utilizes sustainable resources. Photo by Ryan Hoover / UW ECE[/caption] When it comes to the field of human-computer interaction, University of Washington professor Shwetak Patel aims, in his own words, “to think outside the box and challenge existing assumptions.” Patel, who holds the Washington Research Foundation Entrepreneurship Endowed Professorship in the Allen School and the UW Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, has repeatedly put that philosophy into practice, inventing entirely new areas of research — and even new industries — in the process. Last week, the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Computer Human Interaction inducted Patel into the SIGCHI Academy in honor of his trailblazing contributions in health, sustainability and interaction research. Patel joined the UW faculty in 2008, when he established the Ubicomp Lab to explore novel sensing and interaction technologies. In parallel with his work on projects such as smart paper and on-body sensing using ultrasound, Patel began playing with his phone. But rather than obsessing over Candy Crush or Sudoku, he fixated on the potential to repurpose this nearly ubiquitous device that combined sensing, data processing and communication to expand access to health care — particularly for people in low-resource settings. The lab’s release of SpiroSmart, the first mobile app for measuring lung function by having a patient exhale into the phone’s microphone, proved to be a game changer. “Instead of having to travel to a clinic with a spirometry device, people with chronic lung disease could use SpiroSmart to measure their lung function in their own home,” Patel said. “We showed how these inexpensive built-in sensors could be used to augment patient care by supporting routine screening and monitoring.” As the sensors in phones got more sophisticated, so, too, did the ways in which Patel sought to use them. Case in point: the camera, which Patel and his collaborators used to prototype new screening methods for infant jaundice, anemia, adult jaundice — an early indicator of pancreatic cancer — and brain injury, along with measuring vital signs such as heart and respiration rate via video. With these and other projects, Patel and his colleagues helped to establish the new field of mobile health sensing. They formed a startup, Senosis, to commercialize this work that was subsequently acquired by Google. He now divides his time between that company, where he is a Distinguished Scientist and Head of Health Technologies, and UW, where he serves as the Allen School’s Associate Director for Development & Entrepreneurship. [caption id="attachment_34532" align="alignleft" width="461"]cell phone The SpiroSmart app for smartphone-based spirometry. UW Ubicomp Lab[/caption] That body of work only scratched the surface of what smartphones can do when it comes to monitoring and managing our health. Last year, Patel and his collaborators touched on a new way to use the capacitive sensing capabilities of the phone’s screen to measure blood glucose. Using a modified version of widely available test strips that incorporates an inexpensive biosensor and draws power from the flash, they created a tool called GlucoScreen that communicates test data via simulated taps on the phone’s screen. The app then processes the results right on the phone, producing a blood glucose reading with an accuracy comparable to commercial glucometers. Their proof of concept showed promise for mass screening for prediabetes — and potentially much more. “Now that we’ve shown we can build electrochemical assays that can work with a smartphone instead of a dedicated reader, you can imagine extending this approach to expand screening for other conditions,” Patel remarked at the time. Capacitive sensing came in handy for another recent project, FeverPhone, that used a combination of the touchscreen and the thermistors, typically used to monitor battery temperature, to instead measure a person’s body temperature. Patel and his team subsequently put the phone down in favor of another popular accessory that could do double duty as a temperature sensor: the Thermal Earring. More than a fashion statement, this piece of wearable and rechargeable bling can measure changes in earlobe temperature throughout the day, rather than reporting a daily average like other wearables, with potential applications for monitoring fever, stress, ovulation and more. [caption id="attachment_34531" align="alignright" width="563"] GlucoScreen pairs a smartphone app with a modified glucose test strip to screen for prediabetes. Raymond Smith / University of Washington[/caption] While Patel enjoys the technical challenge of expanding how and what sensors can measure, it’s the human side of research that he finds most compelling — and most rewarding. “HCI research has always been critical to our work in health in terms of really understanding user needs,” said Patel. “It’s how we ensure what we are building has the best chance for the biggest impact across the world.” But Patel is keen to ensure that impact does not come at the expense of the environment by making sensors themselves more sustainable. For example, he recently contributed to the development of a printed circuit board made of a type of polymer called vitrimer that can be repeatedly recycled. Both the polymer and the electronic components in vPCBs can be reused without degrading their performance, thus reducing a significant source of e-waste. The project is the latest in a long line of research supporting sustainability that Patel has pursued during his career. Other contributions include a method for measuring residential power and water usage at the device or fixture level using a single sensor and an ultra-low power, whole-home sensing system to monitor for potential hazards. [caption id="attachment_34533" align="alignleft" width="567"] The Thermal Earring offers a new way to accessorize with continuous body temperature sensing. Raymond Smith / University of Washington[/caption] Patel is joined in this year’s class of SIGCHI Academy inductees by Allen School adjunct faculty member Julie Kientz, professor and chair of the UW Human Centered Design & Engineering Department, who was honored for work to advance interaction technologies that support child development, accessibility, education and health. Another HCDE faculty member and Allen School adjunct, Kate Starbird, received the SIGCHI Societal Impact Award for her research into the use of communications technologies during crisis events and techniques for addressing the spread of misinformation and disinformation online. Former Allen School professor James Landay, now a faculty member at Stanford University and associate director of Stanford’s Institute for Human-centered Artificial Intelligence (HAI), earned a Lifetime Research Award for his contributions to mobile and ubiquitous computing, technologies for supporting education and behavior change, user interface design and more. Patel and his fellow SIGCHI honorees were recognized at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2024) in Honolulu, Hawai’i. Learn more about the honorees in the SIGCHI announcement here and a related HCDE story here. [post_title] => ‘The best chance for the biggest impact’: Shwetak Patel inducted into SIGCHI Academy for advancing health, sustainability and interaction research [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => shwetak-patel-inducted-into-sigchi-academy [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2024-06-13 09:27:43 [post_modified_gmt] => 2024-06-13 16:27:43 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.ece.uw.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=34473 [menu_order] => 4 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 34416 [post_author] => 26 [post_date] => 2024-06-06 08:47:56 [post_date_gmt] => 2024-06-06 15:47:56 [post_content] => Research described in this article builds on earlier work by Chet Moritz, who is a C.J. and Elizabeth Hwang Endowed Professor in Electrical & Computer Engineering with joint appointments in rehabilitation medicine, physiology, and biophysics, and Dr. Fatma Inanici, who is a medical doctor and research assistant professor in rehabilitation medicine at the UW. Inanici and Moritz worked together on this and prior work when she was a senior postdoctoral researcher at UW ECE and a doctoral student of rehabilitation medicine in the UW School of Medicine. Learn more in this UW News article.   [caption id="attachment_34420" align="aligncenter" width="780"]Jon Schlueter plays guitar in the lab of UW Medicine professor Chet Moritz. Jon Schlueter plays guitar in the lab of UW ECE professor Chet Moritz. Photo courtesy of UW Medicine[/caption] Adapted from an article by Chris Talbott, UW Medicine After half a decade of tirelessly working to reverse the effects of a 2005 spinal-cord injury, Jon Schlueter remembers finally lowering his expectations. Schlueter had dedicated himself to an exercise-based rehabilitation after a shallow-diving accident left him with an incomplete C5-C7 spine injury. He needed to make the most of the limited window those with spinal-cord injuries have to regain significant function. But his gains had leveled off. He acknowledged to himself it was time to move on from the idea he might have more than limited use of his arms and hands. “Conventional wisdom with a spinal cord injury then was you had up till five years for the spinal cord swelling to go away and for any returns to come,” Schlueter said. “I spent those first five, seven years really doing nothing else but rehabilitation just five days a week at the UW and private facilities, then doing it at home by myself, becoming obsessed. But the gains leveled off. I’d all but forgotten about the right side of my body.” [caption id="attachment_34433" align="alignright" width="511"]Chet Moritz, a C.J. and Elizabeth Hwang Endowed Professor in Electrical & Computer Engineering with joint appointments in rehabilitation medicine, physiology, and biophysics Chet Moritz, a C.J. and Elizabeth Hwang Endowed Professor in Electrical & Computer Engineering with joint appointments in rehabilitation medicine, physiology, and biophysics. Photo by Ryan Hoover / UW ECE[/caption] Fifteen years later, Schlueter has a renewed outlook on recovery after participating in a University of Washington School of Medicine study of an electrical-stimulation device that shows great promise for patients with loss of function and other side effects of spinal cord injury. The 49-year-old Seattle resident now plays the guitar for hours each week and continues to improve. He’s regained use of his right hand and arm, has newly regulated blood pressure and other systemic issues and is excited about the prospects for continued recovery. The international clinical trial used a device that provides electrical current to the spinal cord through electrodes on the skin. The patches are designed to numb the contact point to allow for five times more current to be delivered compared to standard treatments. A study published May 20 in Nature Medicine describes the gains Schlueter and others experienced in the trial of more than 60 patients with tetraplegia, a loss of some or all function in all four limbs. A research team led by Chet Moritz, a C.J. and Elizabeth Hwang Endowed Professor in Electrical & Computer Engineering with joint appointments in rehabilitation medicine, physiology, and biophysics, found that 72% of participants significantly improved strength and function by using the treatment for two months. Further, the participants in the initial studies kept those gains even after discontinuing use of the electrical-impulse device. “We've seen people that have no functional use of their hands at all go from not being able to pick up an object or manipulate an object all the way to being able to play an electric guitar or use a paint brush on canvas,” Moritz said. “We've also seen some people who had no movement of their fingers at all start moving them for the first time in more than a year since their injury.” Twenty-eight percent of study participants did not meet the criteria that signaled improvement, possibly due to the severity of their injuries. The range of outcomes reflects the uniqueness of each spinal cord injury. Most often the spine is crushed or bruised, Moritz said, but not severed completely. Some study participants like Schlueter have seen powerful results, but his gains are still uneven. He can play most chords with his left hand pressing the strings to the fretboard confidently up and down the guitar neck. He has more limited use of his right hand, using a thumb pick to strike individual notes and strum the strings. “We used to essentially give up significant recovery after about a year post-injury,” Moritz said. “The chances of recovering were in the single-digit percentages, 2% to 8%. The fact that we're seeing 72% of people recover, all more than a year after their injury — and even 10, 15, up to 35 years after their injury — is extremely exciting.” [caption id="attachment_34421" align="alignright" width="511"]A patch covers the electrode delivering pulses to each patient's area of injured spine. A patch covers the electrode delivering pulses to each patient's area of injured spine. Photo courtesy of UW Medicine[/caption] Onward Medical, the maker of the ARC EX device, has applied to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval to take it to market. The clinical use of the machine, invented at UCLA, was refined by Moritz and colleagues through multiple collaborative studies. The device is a small, nondescript black box that nevertheless delivers big results. Participants at Moritz’s lab began the study by spending two months going through rehabilitation exercises without the device. These tasks included picking up ping pong balls and putting them into containers, then moving to progressively smaller items down to tiny beads. They also pulled toothpicks out of a container of stiff putty and reinserted them into a different container.  And they stacked small blocks to build towers. While the exercises may sound simple, each takes extreme patience and concentration for people who have lost function from spinal cord injury. Study participants had the electrodes applied over the injured area of their spine. A therapist worked with each participant to correct technique while a technician recorded results. Participants can be seen gaining proficiency over the course of a single use of the device. The electrical current primes the user’s nervous system, though it does not directly cause the muscles to move, Moritz said. The user is choosing when and how much to move.
“We tried it for over a week without stimulation and I was just flatlined,” Schlueter said. “Then we put the power on my neck, for lack of a better way to put it, and it was immediate. As soon as they turned it on, I could pick up that little ball. It was really exciting. I mean, everybody in the room was as excited as I was.” [caption id="attachment_34422" align="alignright" width="511"]A study participant performs a dexterity exercise in the study. A small panel lights up green when electrical impulses are delivered to the electrode at the patient's spinal injury site. A study participant performs a dexterity exercise in the study. A small panel lights up green when electrical impulses are delivered to the electrode at the patient's spinal injury site. Photo courtesy of UW Medicine[/caption] Schlueter and his cohort have seen other benefits as well. People with spine injuries often struggle with low heart rate, blood flow and blood pressure. Researchers saw improvement in those areas, as well. Some even reported improved function in their lower extremities during use of the device. That finding led to several new studies examining leg function and walking. Schlueter has pushed the bounds of what’s possible, perhaps more than any other study participant, Moritz said. “Jon definitely received benefit from the stimulation,” he said, “but he also did a lot of hard work on his own. He surprised us that he was able to go home and play his electric guitar after each stimulation session.” “It has taken hours and hours and hours and hours and hours to be able to fret chords, run scales and play songs,” said Schlueter, who is currently learning the solo from The Eagles’ “Hotel California.” “This guitar has become its own form of therapy.” Initial work was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation and Wings for Life. The clinical trial was funded by the company Onward. Learn more about Chet Moritz on his UW ECE bio page and more about this research on the Restorative Technologies Laboratory website. Related stories have been published in USA TodayFox NewsKUOW, Axios Seattle, The GuardianMIT Technology Review and IEEE Spectrum.
[post_title] => Device restores hand function for some with spinal injury [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => moritz-spinal-stimulation [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2024-06-06 08:52:07 [post_modified_gmt] => 2024-06-06 15:52:07 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.ece.uw.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=34416 [menu_order] => 5 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 34229 [post_author] => 27 [post_date] => 2024-05-02 11:20:19 [post_date_gmt] => 2024-05-02 18:20:19 [post_content] => By Wayne Gillam / UW ECE News [caption id="attachment_34231" align="alignright" width="575"]Two wooden artist's models placed in running motion, side-by-side in front of a dark background UW ECE Associate Professor Sam Burden is part of a multi-institutional research team that examined why walking, running, and jumping are challenging tasks for robots while the same activities appear to be relatively easy for humans and other animals. The team published their findings in a recent issue of the journal Science Robotics. Photo by Nicolas Thomas / Unsplash[/caption] Over the last few years, millions of people have watched videos of robots walking, running, and jumping with breathtaking power, agility, and speed. However, what many people don’t realize is that these videos are carefully choreographed and take place in tightly controlled environments. In the real world, outside of those controls, legged robots still have a long way to go to match what humans and other animals can do. It turns out that walking, running, and jumping, or “legged locomotion,” as it’s known in engineering circles, is surprisingly difficult for robots, especially when it comes to achieving dynamic mobility in an uncontrolled environment. Digital, programmable robots have been around for decades now, but compared to animals, their skill at legged locomotion in the real world is barely out of its infancy. That’s not so bad when one considers that animals have had millions of years to evolve and perfect their moves. It even takes a human toddler several years to learn how to walk, run, and jump. So, with those points in mind, perhaps it’s not quite as surprising that it’s taking scientists and engineers a long time to master this difficult skill set on behalf of robots. But why are walking, running, and jumping such challenging tasks for robots, when the same activities seem to be relatively easy for animals? In a new paper titled, “Why animals can outrun robots,” which was recently published in the journal Science Robotics, a multidisciplinary, multi-institutional research team that included UW ECE Associate Professor Sam Burden examines in depth why this might be. “If you look at a squirrel, for example, it’s amazing what they can do. And there’s just no comparison at any scale or any kind of modality for legged robots,” Burden said. “The point of this paper is to synthesize across biology and engineering what we know about the components and the whole systems involved and try to answer the question of why animals are so much better at legged locomotion than robots.” [caption id="attachment_34233" align="alignright" width="350"]Headshot of UW ECE Associate Professor Sam Burden UW ECE Associate Professor Sam Burden. Photo by Ryan Hoover / UW ECE[/caption] Burden’s collaborators included Max Donelan, a professor at Simon Fraser University in biomedical physiology and kinesiology; Kaushik Jayaram, an assistant professor in the Paul M. Rady Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder; Simon Sponberg, the Dunn Family Associate Professor of Physics and Biological Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology; and Tom Libby, who was a Washington Research Foundation Fellow in Neuroengineering at UW ECE from 2017 to 2019 and is now a senior research engineer at SRI International. Each researcher in the group explored one of the five engineering subsystems that make up robotic legged locomotion. Together, they dug deep into the scientific literature, investigating and analyzing why animals outperform robots at walking, running, and jumping, and they quantified the differences they found. Before this research, many scientists and engineers believed the main reason animals had a significant advantage over robots was that biological components were superior to engineered parts. But what the team discovered because of their extensive review, was that the opposite was true, and that the whole was far greater than the sum of its parts. “The way things turned out is that, with only minor exceptions, the engineering subsystems outperform the biological equivalents — and sometimes radically outperform them,” Libby said in a recent press release from Simon Fraser University. “But also, what’s very, very clear is that, if you compare animals to robots at the whole system level, in terms of movement, animals are amazing. And robots have yet to catch up.” Based on these findings and their intensive examination of engineering subsystems, the team identified in their paper fundamental obstacles that roboticists must overcome to bring robot legged locomotion up to par with humans and other animals. The team also highlighted promising research directions that hold transformative potential to help legged robots achieve animal-level performance.

Engineering subsystems, overcoming obstacles, and promising research directions

The team’s paper was comprehensive in its review of the scientific literature available on this topic. Their research began in 2013 and lasted over a decade, as group members worked on investigation and analysis of legged locomotion in between their other responsibilities. “In the paper, we divide legged locomotion into five engineering subsystems and cover them all in depth,” Burden said. “Normally, analyzing any single one of these subsystems for either an animal or a robot could be an entire review paper by itself. It’s an ambitious and broad project.” The five engineering subsystems the team explored were the power system used to store and deliver energy, the frame that provides support and leverage, actuators to modulate mechanical energy, sensors to perceive self and environment, and the control system, which transmits and transforms sensor and actuator signals. For each subsystem, the team compared, contrasted, and quantified differences between legged robots and animals. Burden said that the group wrote this paper primarily for roboticists but that they also wanted their findings to be accessible to biologists to encourage collaboration when tackling the tough problem of improving robotic legged locomotion.
“This paper is rigorously researched, and basically, we’re saying that if you want high performance and want to approach the capabilities of animals, what we need in robotics is an integrative approach. It is not the quality of robotic components that explains this wide performance gap, but rather, how they are put together into a unified whole.” — UW ECE Associate Professor Sam Burden
To that end, the team identified four fundamental obstacles they believe must be overcome to successfully integrate engineered components into more effective robotic systems. Those obstacles are a lack of quantitative metrics for evaluating the many dimensions of legged locomotion; the tradeoffs that arise when subsystems combine and the performance of one component potentially constrains the performance of another; the phenomenon of emergence, where the behavior of the whole system is different from, and irreducible to, the behavior of its component parts; and the very Harry Potter-sounding curse of dimensionality, which means that there is a mind-boggling array of possible component configurations roboticists can choose from when designing legged robots and very little guidance as to which will be the most effective. To not leave scientists and engineers without paths to solutions, the researchers also identified several promising research directions. Those include systematic comparative studies of multiple animal species, which could reveal generalizable principles that could be applied to robotics; distributing energy, sensing, actuation, and control throughout robot frames, as animals do, which may enhance robustness and advance autonomy; bridging the “sim-to-real” gap with better computational models of robot interactions with the environment; continuing advances in materials used to build robotics, and systematically exploring tradeoffs with respect to multiple performance metrics at both component and system levels. Overall, the research team emphasized that although further improvements to robotic components are beneficial, the greatest opportunity to improve the performance of legged robots is to make better use of existing parts, much like biological systems do. They advocated in the paper for a more integrated approach to engineering legged robots, taking cues and guidance from biology along the way.

Downstream impacts, ethical considerations, and looking ahead

[caption id="attachment_34245" align="alignright" width="350"]A tiny bug stands next to a slightly larger robotic bug on a green leaf Burden and his colleagues are optimistic that over the long term, when it comes to developing robots that can walk, run, and jump as well as or better than humans and other animals, the benefits will far outweigh the risks. Photo courtesy of the Animal Inspired Movement and Robotics Lab / University of Colorado Boulder[/caption] By developing a better understanding of the principles involved in legged locomotion for both animals and robots, Burden and his colleagues have moved the field of robotics closer toward a longstanding goal for engineers — creating robots that can walk, run, and jump as well as (and perhaps even better than) humans and other animals. There are many reasons why this is an important, worthy goal. Legged robots with robust agility could perform many useful, and even life-saving, tasks in environments that are hazardous for humans, such as cleaning up after natural and nuclear disasters, disarming bombs, or helping astronauts explore outer space. Principles learned from this robotic development could also be applied to advanced, bio-inspired devices, such as smart prosthetic limbs and exoskeletons. And the potential everyday applications are endless, including developing legged robots to clean the house, do yard work, and even care for the elderly. The automation of various tasks by legged robots across a vast range of industries also promises to substantially enrich the world economy. But, of course, every powerful technology can be a double-edged sword, and there are some downsides to consider. Robotic automation could enrich the economy, but that will be at the cost of job loss for at least some humans. This could happen in large numbers and at such a rapid pace, it would be hard for society to adjust. The possible weaponization of legged robots also is a serious concern, and some manufacturers are calling on the robotics community and government leaders to take steps to ensure this doesn’t happen. Recently, some thought leaders have suggested that the fear of job loss from robotics is overblown; however, whether or not they are right still remains to be seen. In the meantime, roboticists, industry leaders, and government representatives are exploring different avenues for addressing these sorts of concerns, and that work is ongoing. Burden and his colleagues are optimistic that over the long term, when it comes to developing robots that can walk, run, and jump as well as or better than humans and other animals, the benefits will far outweigh the risks. “These are machines that could have a really big, positive impact on people’s lives, but they’re just not capable yet,” Burden said. “This paper is rigorously researched, and basically, we’re saying that if you want high performance and want to approach the capabilities of animals, what we need in robotics is an integrative approach. It is not the quality of robotic components that explains this wide performance gap, but rather, how they are put together into a unified whole.” Learn more about this research by reading “Why animals can outrun robots” in Science Robotics. More information about UW ECE Associate Professor Sam Burden is available on his bio page.   [post_title] => Walking, running, and jumping — a new approach to these surprising challenges for robots [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => why-animals-can-outrun-robots [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2024-05-06 09:41:20 [post_modified_gmt] => 2024-05-06 16:41:20 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.ece.uw.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=34229 [menu_order] => 6 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post_count] => 6 [current_post] => -1 [before_loop] => 1 [in_the_loop] => [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 34772 [post_author] => 27 [post_date] => 2024-07-11 08:40:53 [post_date_gmt] => 2024-07-11 15:40:53 [post_content] => By Wayne Gillam / UW ECE News [caption id="attachment_34777" align="alignright" width="600"]Headshot of UW ECE Assistant Professor June Lukuyu UW ECE Assistant Professor June Lukuyu has established the Interdisciplinary Energy Analytics for Society, or IDEAS, research group at the UW. IDEAS focuses on planning and developing sustainable, inclusive, and integrated energy systems and technologies for underserved communities around the world. Photo by Ryan Hoover / UW ECE[/caption] UW ECE Assistant Professor June Lukuyu was born and raised in a small community outside of Nairobi, Kenya, where both of her parents worked as agricultural research scientists. In school, she excelled in math and physics, and she knew early on that she wanted to pursue a career in engineering. She also was familiar with the frequent power outages and other electrical grid problems that are common throughout East Africa. Lukuyu realized at a young age that she wanted to do something with engineering that could address large-scale problems such as this, but at the time, she wasn’t sure how to turn that idea into a reality. While in high school, she applied as an international student to colleges and universities in the United States and was accepted into Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, on a full-ride scholarship. It was there, while pursuing her bachelor’s degree in engineering science, she was introduced to the concept of merging disciplines. “Energy systems were, for me, at the core of how society worked. It intertwined with so many different things. So, I knew I wanted to do something technical with engineering, something to do with power systems,” Lukuyu said. “But what was really surprising for me was how being in a liberal arts school shaped how I perceived energy systems because my coursework was not just from a technical perspective.” At Smith College, Lukuyu was encouraged to take courses in economics, psychology, and other social sciences, alongside her engineering studies. This blending of disciplines got her thinking about how energy systems relate to the social and cultural contexts in which they reside. After graduating from Smith College in 2013, she worked for a time at a software company doing cost estimation for power systems. She then studied renewable energy systems technologies through a distance-learning program at Loughborough University, where, in 2016, she received her master’s degree. In 2022, she earned a doctoral degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where her research was aimed at finding ways to create a more integrative approach to solving energy problems in underserved communities.
"We’re flipping the narrative, where instead of just bringing in a decentralized power system, undersizing or oversizing it, and then trying to get people to use it, we first attempt to understand the community and then build systems that are responsive to their needs.” — UW ECE Assistant Professor June Lukuyu
In January 2023, Lukuyu accepted a position at UW ECE as an assistant professor. She said that she had been looking for an environment that would value intellectual freedom as well as appreciate and support the interdisciplinary nature of her research. She also was interested in continuing field work she started while pursuing her doctoral degree that was mostly located in East African communities. “There is a really good group of people at the UW, even outside of ECE, who do international work. There's a global health school, a team in the Allen School that creates technologies for developing countries, and a public policy school that works in Africa,” Lukuyu said. “So, there’s several different groups here that I can collaborate with. I also wanted to develop courses that would be cross-cutting and multidisciplinary within the Department. The support for all of this was here, and by the time I finished interviewing at UW ECE, I knew that if I received an offer, it was a place I really wanted to be.” Lukuyu brings a strong technical background to the Department and has received recognition early in her academic career for the strength of her research work. Her awards and honors include a Grace Hopper Celebration Scholarship, a Microsoft Research PhD Fellowship (Finalist), a Link Foundation Energy Fellowship (Honorable Mention), and a Spaulding Smith Fellowship at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “Most people approach issues with electrical grids and sustainable energy from either a pure science and engineering perspective, an industrial point of view, or a community-based social science standpoint,” said UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins. “June blends all these approaches in an innovative way to find integrated, holistic, and long-lasting solutions. We are very impressed with her expertise and delighted to have her as a part of our Department.”

IDEAS for sustainable, inclusive and integrated energy systems

Lukuyu has established the Interdisciplinary Energy Analytics for Society, or IDEAS, research group at the UW. IDEAS focuses on planning and developing sustainable, inclusive, and integrated energy systems and technologies for underserved communities. The core of Lukuyu’s work with IDEAS is blending technological innovation and social development, pushing beyond the boundaries of conventional engineering practices, and emphasizing a mixed-methods approach. This work is interdisciplinary, incorporating students and faculty from several different units and departments across multiple universities, and transdisciplinary, including partnerships with startup companies, utilities, and the communities in which they serve. The IDEAS research group includes three UW ECE doctoral students, Eliane Nirere, Ahana Mukherjee, and Kwame Donkor. The group will expand soon and welcome two more incoming doctoral students, Miquilina Anagbah and Aya Alayli. IDEAS oversees collaborative projects in cities and communities around the world. The group has worked primarily in Africa, in countries such as Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, and Rwanda, but Lukuyu has also been involved in projects in the Fiji Islands and here in Washington state through Spark Northwest, a Seattle-based nonprofit organization that partners with communities to build an equitable, clean energy future. Because IDEAS is bringing engineers together with industry, government, and community organizations, the work is by nature highly collaborative. It is also aimed at creating long-term, customized solutions. “We’re flipping the narrative, where instead of just bringing in a decentralized power system, undersizing or oversizing it, and then trying to get people to use it, we first attempt to understand the community and then build systems that are responsive to their needs,” Lukuyu said.

Partnerships and grants

[caption id="attachment_34782" align="alignright" width="350"]Photo of high-voltage power lines In October 2023, Lukuyu received a Climate Change AI Innovation Grant. This grant program supports projects that address research and deployment challenges in climate change mitigation, adaptation, and climate science by leveraging AI and machine learning, while also creating publicly available datasets and tools to catalyze further work. Photo by Rose Galloway Green / Unsplash[/caption] At the UW, Lukuyu is affiliated with the Clean Energy Institute, the Evans School Policy Analysis & Research Group, and the Information and Communication Technology for Development Lab in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. Outside of the UW, she serves on the board of Spark Northwest, is a co-principal investigator with the Electricity Growth and Use in Developing Economies initiative, and is a fellow with the Energy for Growth Hub. She also collaborates with faculty in the Department. For example, she recently wrote a paper with UW ECE Professor and former Chair Radha Poovendran, describing the design of pricing mechanisms for microgrids. Their work will be presented at the 2024 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Power & Energy Society (PES) General Meeting, which will be held this month in Seattle, Washington. Lukuyu has been the recipient of a growing number of grants during her time at UW ECE. She was awarded a Collaborative Seed Grant from the Clean Energy Institute, along with UW ECE Associate Professor Baosen Zhang, to study climate and equity considerations for community-based electricity demand response strategies in the Pacific Northwest. She also has received a grant from the UW’s Royalty Research Fund, which is supporting work Lukuyu is doing blending qualitative and quantitative methods for energy needs assessment. In October 2023, Lukuyu received a Climate Change AI Innovation Grant. This grant is enabling Lukuyu and her research team to collaborate with the tech startup nLine, local government, and community partners in Accra, Ghana, to produce a low-cost, flexible sensor network that will monitor and strengthen the city’s electrical grid while helping to lower costs and associated greenhouse gas emissions. “We are gathering data about power reliability and quality from granular voltage measurements across the city and pairing it with an AI or machine learning approach to be able to predict where the topology of the grid is and where the grid interconnections are,” Lukuyu said. “I think that having this data is power. It can reveal and highlight inequities in how an infrastructure is managed and help us get at those questions of how we could provide better quality power and infrastructure for the community.”

Educating the next generation

In her work as an educator at UW ECE, Lukuyu instructs a mix of undergraduate and graduate students. She teaches a course on wind energy development that last quarter included a field trip to the Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility and Renewable Energy Center in Ellensburg, Washington. She has also designed a special topic course for graduate students focused on sustainable energy and global development. This course introduces the challenge of energy poverty in underserved communities around the world and explores the relationship between current and future energy needs and achieving sustainable energy systems. “We are taking a global perspective on energy poverty, on how energy interplays with sustainable development goals, security, government policy, and rural development. The course contains many different pieces that rely heavily on students being willing to explore and engage,” Lukuyu said. “I’ve been amazed at the quality of students at UW ECE and their perspectives. It has really enriched the course.” Lukuyu has found much enthusiasm for this special topic course, and it has proven to be popular both inside and outside the Department. Students from mechanical engineering, civil engineering, and even chemical engineering have taken the course. As a relatively new instructor, Lukuyu said that she was pleasantly surprised how much she has enjoyed teaching at UW ECE, and she often learns new information and ways of looking at things from her students. Lukuyu enjoys novelty outside of the classroom as well, including traveling to places she has never been to before and meeting new people. She also holds a deep belief in the value of learning and passing on knowledge to the next generation. “I think we often underestimate the power of education,” Lukuyu said. “The UW is an intensive research institution, but it is also shaping the minds of young people. Even in our role as researchers, we are educating and mentoring. We have a responsibility for the platform we have, and the things we enforce in the classroom are going to have repercussions. I think it’s important for all of us to remember that our students are going to be the future of engineering.” For more information about UW ECE Assistant Professor June Lukuyu and her research work, visit her bio page or the IDEAS website. 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IDEAS focuses on planning and developing sustainable, inclusive, and integrated energy systems and technologies for underserved communities around the world. Photo by Ryan Hoover / UW ECE[/caption] UW ECE Assistant Professor June Lukuyu was born and raised in a small community outside of Nairobi, Kenya, where both of her parents worked as agricultural research scientists. In school, she excelled in math and physics, and she knew early on that she wanted to pursue a career in engineering. She also was familiar with the frequent power outages and other electrical grid problems that are common throughout East Africa. Lukuyu realized at a young age that she wanted to do something with engineering that could address large-scale problems such as this, but at the time, she wasn’t sure how to turn that idea into a reality. While in high school, she applied as an international student to colleges and universities in the United States and was accepted into Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, on a full-ride scholarship. It was there, while pursuing her bachelor’s degree in engineering science, she was introduced to the concept of merging disciplines. “Energy systems were, for me, at the core of how society worked. It intertwined with so many different things. So, I knew I wanted to do something technical with engineering, something to do with power systems,” Lukuyu said. “But what was really surprising for me was how being in a liberal arts school shaped how I perceived energy systems because my coursework was not just from a technical perspective.” At Smith College, Lukuyu was encouraged to take courses in economics, psychology, and other social sciences, alongside her engineering studies. This blending of disciplines got her thinking about how energy systems relate to the social and cultural contexts in which they reside. After graduating from Smith College in 2013, she worked for a time at a software company doing cost estimation for power systems. She then studied renewable energy systems technologies through a distance-learning program at Loughborough University, where, in 2016, she received her master’s degree. In 2022, she earned a doctoral degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where her research was aimed at finding ways to create a more integrative approach to solving energy problems in underserved communities.
"We’re flipping the narrative, where instead of just bringing in a decentralized power system, undersizing or oversizing it, and then trying to get people to use it, we first attempt to understand the community and then build systems that are responsive to their needs.” — UW ECE Assistant Professor June Lukuyu
In January 2023, Lukuyu accepted a position at UW ECE as an assistant professor. She said that she had been looking for an environment that would value intellectual freedom as well as appreciate and support the interdisciplinary nature of her research. She also was interested in continuing field work she started while pursuing her doctoral degree that was mostly located in East African communities. “There is a really good group of people at the UW, even outside of ECE, who do international work. There's a global health school, a team in the Allen School that creates technologies for developing countries, and a public policy school that works in Africa,” Lukuyu said. “So, there’s several different groups here that I can collaborate with. I also wanted to develop courses that would be cross-cutting and multidisciplinary within the Department. The support for all of this was here, and by the time I finished interviewing at UW ECE, I knew that if I received an offer, it was a place I really wanted to be.” Lukuyu brings a strong technical background to the Department and has received recognition early in her academic career for the strength of her research work. Her awards and honors include a Grace Hopper Celebration Scholarship, a Microsoft Research PhD Fellowship (Finalist), a Link Foundation Energy Fellowship (Honorable Mention), and a Spaulding Smith Fellowship at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “Most people approach issues with electrical grids and sustainable energy from either a pure science and engineering perspective, an industrial point of view, or a community-based social science standpoint,” said UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins. “June blends all these approaches in an innovative way to find integrated, holistic, and long-lasting solutions. We are very impressed with her expertise and delighted to have her as a part of our Department.”

IDEAS for sustainable, inclusive and integrated energy systems

Lukuyu has established the Interdisciplinary Energy Analytics for Society, or IDEAS, research group at the UW. IDEAS focuses on planning and developing sustainable, inclusive, and integrated energy systems and technologies for underserved communities. The core of Lukuyu’s work with IDEAS is blending technological innovation and social development, pushing beyond the boundaries of conventional engineering practices, and emphasizing a mixed-methods approach. This work is interdisciplinary, incorporating students and faculty from several different units and departments across multiple universities, and transdisciplinary, including partnerships with startup companies, utilities, and the communities in which they serve. The IDEAS research group includes three UW ECE doctoral students, Eliane Nirere, Ahana Mukherjee, and Kwame Donkor. The group will expand soon and welcome two more incoming doctoral students, Miquilina Anagbah and Aya Alayli. IDEAS oversees collaborative projects in cities and communities around the world. The group has worked primarily in Africa, in countries such as Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, and Rwanda, but Lukuyu has also been involved in projects in the Fiji Islands and here in Washington state through Spark Northwest, a Seattle-based nonprofit organization that partners with communities to build an equitable, clean energy future. Because IDEAS is bringing engineers together with industry, government, and community organizations, the work is by nature highly collaborative. It is also aimed at creating long-term, customized solutions. “We’re flipping the narrative, where instead of just bringing in a decentralized power system, undersizing or oversizing it, and then trying to get people to use it, we first attempt to understand the community and then build systems that are responsive to their needs,” Lukuyu said.

Partnerships and grants

[caption id="attachment_34782" align="alignright" width="350"]Photo of high-voltage power lines In October 2023, Lukuyu received a Climate Change AI Innovation Grant. This grant program supports projects that address research and deployment challenges in climate change mitigation, adaptation, and climate science by leveraging AI and machine learning, while also creating publicly available datasets and tools to catalyze further work. Photo by Rose Galloway Green / Unsplash[/caption] At the UW, Lukuyu is affiliated with the Clean Energy Institute, the Evans School Policy Analysis & Research Group, and the Information and Communication Technology for Development Lab in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. Outside of the UW, she serves on the board of Spark Northwest, is a co-principal investigator with the Electricity Growth and Use in Developing Economies initiative, and is a fellow with the Energy for Growth Hub. She also collaborates with faculty in the Department. For example, she recently wrote a paper with UW ECE Professor and former Chair Radha Poovendran, describing the design of pricing mechanisms for microgrids. Their work will be presented at the 2024 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Power & Energy Society (PES) General Meeting, which will be held this month in Seattle, Washington. Lukuyu has been the recipient of a growing number of grants during her time at UW ECE. She was awarded a Collaborative Seed Grant from the Clean Energy Institute, along with UW ECE Associate Professor Baosen Zhang, to study climate and equity considerations for community-based electricity demand response strategies in the Pacific Northwest. She also has received a grant from the UW’s Royalty Research Fund, which is supporting work Lukuyu is doing blending qualitative and quantitative methods for energy needs assessment. In October 2023, Lukuyu received a Climate Change AI Innovation Grant. This grant is enabling Lukuyu and her research team to collaborate with the tech startup nLine, local government, and community partners in Accra, Ghana, to produce a low-cost, flexible sensor network that will monitor and strengthen the city’s electrical grid while helping to lower costs and associated greenhouse gas emissions. “We are gathering data about power reliability and quality from granular voltage measurements across the city and pairing it with an AI or machine learning approach to be able to predict where the topology of the grid is and where the grid interconnections are,” Lukuyu said. “I think that having this data is power. It can reveal and highlight inequities in how an infrastructure is managed and help us get at those questions of how we could provide better quality power and infrastructure for the community.”

Educating the next generation

In her work as an educator at UW ECE, Lukuyu instructs a mix of undergraduate and graduate students. She teaches a course on wind energy development that last quarter included a field trip to the Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility and Renewable Energy Center in Ellensburg, Washington. She has also designed a special topic course for graduate students focused on sustainable energy and global development. This course introduces the challenge of energy poverty in underserved communities around the world and explores the relationship between current and future energy needs and achieving sustainable energy systems. “We are taking a global perspective on energy poverty, on how energy interplays with sustainable development goals, security, government policy, and rural development. The course contains many different pieces that rely heavily on students being willing to explore and engage,” Lukuyu said. “I’ve been amazed at the quality of students at UW ECE and their perspectives. It has really enriched the course.” Lukuyu has found much enthusiasm for this special topic course, and it has proven to be popular both inside and outside the Department. Students from mechanical engineering, civil engineering, and even chemical engineering have taken the course. As a relatively new instructor, Lukuyu said that she was pleasantly surprised how much she has enjoyed teaching at UW ECE, and she often learns new information and ways of looking at things from her students. Lukuyu enjoys novelty outside of the classroom as well, including traveling to places she has never been to before and meeting new people. She also holds a deep belief in the value of learning and passing on knowledge to the next generation. “I think we often underestimate the power of education,” Lukuyu said. “The UW is an intensive research institution, but it is also shaping the minds of young people. Even in our role as researchers, we are educating and mentoring. We have a responsibility for the platform we have, and the things we enforce in the classroom are going to have repercussions. I think it’s important for all of us to remember that our students are going to be the future of engineering.” For more information about UW ECE Assistant Professor June Lukuyu and her research work, visit her bio page or the IDEAS website. [post_title] => June Lukuyu — pushing engineering boundaries to improve energy systems in underserved communities [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => june-lukuyu [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2024-07-11 08:49:40 [post_modified_gmt] => 2024-07-11 15:49:40 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.ece.uw.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=34772 [menu_order] => 1 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 34627 [post_author] => 27 [post_date] => 2024-06-27 09:51:36 [post_date_gmt] => 2024-06-27 16:51:36 [post_content] => Article by UW ECE staff, photos by Ryan Hoover [caption id="attachment_34630" align="alignright" width="600"]The 2024 UW ECE Awards recipients, standing in a group with their award certificates, next to UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins (left) with the 2024 UW ECE Awards recipients. From top left, clockwise: Shanti Garman — Chair's Award, Niveditha (Nivii) Kalavakonda — Yang Award for Outstanding Doctoral Student, Kevin Shao — Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award, Assistant Professor Matt Reynolds — Outstanding Teaching Award, Felix Schwock and Professor Chet Moritz — Outstanding Mentorship Award, Jean Ishac — Outstanding Staff Award, Kedi Yan — Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award.[/caption] Each year, UW ECE holds an awards ceremony that honors students, faculty, and staff for their exceptional achievements and outstanding contributions to the Department. This year, the annual event was held on Tuesday, May 14, during a luncheon in the ECE building. The luncheon and awards ceremony were hosted by UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins. “I am continually impressed by the high caliber of the students, faculty, and staff at UW ECE, and this year’s award recipients are standouts,” Klavins said. “I would like to thank all UW ECE Awards nominees and recipients on behalf of the Department for their amazing contributions and accomplishments. They represent the best of the best at UW ECE.” The UW ECE Awards recognize exceptional teaching, research, and entrepreneurship efforts in the Department as well as outstanding mentorship, student impact, and collaborative work. Award recipients are considered by the Department to be high achievers and embody UW ECE core values, such as leadership, collaboration, and teamwork. Learn more below about this year’s award recipients.

Yang Award for Outstanding Doctoral Student

[caption id="attachment_34632" align="alignright" width="350"]Niveditha (Nivii) Kalavakonda standing with her award certificate in between UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins (left) and Professor Blake Hannaford (right) Yang Award recipient Niveditha (Nivii) Kalavakonda (center) standing between UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins (left) and her adviser, Professor Blake Hannaford (right)[/caption]

Niveditha (Nivii) Kalavakonda

This award recognizes a UW ECE doctoral student in their final year of study who has conducted outstanding research in electrical and computer engineering, as evidenced by their publications or recognized by outside researchers in their field. This year’s award recipient was Niveditha (Nivii) Kalavakonda, who received her master’s degree in electrical engineering from the Department in 2017 and is now a doctoral student advised by UW ECE Professor Blake Hannaford. Kalavakonda received the Yang Award for researching human-robot interaction designed for healthcare environments and for building community at UW ECE through various leadership initiatives. In her research, Kalavakonda spearheaded the development of an intelligent robotic surgical assistant that can respond to voice commands and collaborate with a human surgeon. This work was supported in part by the Amazon Catalyst program. She also was named this year as one of the Husky 100 — a group of the top students at the UW. Kalavakonda is part of the UW BioRobotics Lab, which is co-led by Hannaford. “Nivii came to the UW with an exciting background in virtual reality programming. She very quickly dove into a medical application of augmented reality, and her dissertation represents her ambitious vision of an autonomous robotic assistant for neurosurgery,” Hannaford said. “I fully expect that Nivii’s work will actually launch a new subfield, surgical human-robot interaction, as a new community within both the HRI and surgical robotics communities.”

Outstanding Mentorship Award in UW ECE

This award recognizes any member of the UW ECE community whose exemplary mentoring and advising activities made important contributions toward building a supportive culture in the Department. In 2024, there were two recipients of the award: [caption id="attachment_34636" align="alignright" width="350"]Felix Schwock standing with his award certificate in between UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins (left) and UW ECE and BioE Associate Professor Azadeh Yazdan (right) Outstanding Mentorship Award recipient Felix Schwock standing between UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins (left) and Schwock's adviser, Associate Professor Azadeh Yazdan (right)[/caption]

Felix Schwock

Felix Schwock is a UW ECE doctoral student and research assistant in the lab of his adviser, Azadeh Yazdan, who is an associate professor in UW ECE and in the UW Department of Bioengineering. Schwock’s research interests are in the fields of signal processing and machine learning for network data, with a focus on developing new tools for processing and analyzing signals recorded from brain networks. Since June 2021, he has been working with Yazdan on the development of a new framework for studying neural communication in the brain, which is part of his doctoral research. Schwock received his master’s degree from UW ECE and was advised by UW ECE Professor Les Atlas and Shima Abadhi, who is an associate professor of oceanography at the UW and an adjunct associate professor at UW ECE. At the end of his master’s degree, Schwock received the UW Graduate School Distinguished Thesis Award. “Felix’s exceptional research achievements, leadership qualities, and dedication to mentorship and service make him an exemplary candidate for the Outstanding Mentorship Award in the ECE Department,” Yazdan said. “His contributions have significantly enriched our academic community, and I am confident that he will continue to inspire and empower future generations of scholars in the field.” [caption id="attachment_34639" align="alignright" width="350"]Outstanding Mentorship Award recipient Professor Chet Moritz (right) standing with his award certificate next to UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins (left) Outstanding Mentorship Award recipient Professor Chet Moritz (right) standing next to UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins (left)[/caption]

Professor Chet Moritz

Chet Moritz is a C.J. and Elizabeth Hwang Endowed Professor in Electrical & Computer Engineering at the UW with joint appointments in rehabilitation medicine, physiology, and biophysics. He is also co-director of the Center for Neurotechnology. Moritz is well-known as an international leader in the field of neural engineering. At the UW, he directs the Restorative Technologies Laboratory, which focuses on developing technologies to address symptoms of spinal cord injury, stroke, and cerebral palsy. Current research in Moritz’ lab includes multiple studies of electrical stimulation to restore hand function for people with spinal cord injury and stroke, improving walking for children with cerebral palsy, and optogenetic stimulation to guide neuroplasticity and recovery in an injured spinal cord. “Dr. Chet Moritz’s mentorship has been pivotal in our professional development, significantly contributing to our success in securing funding, refining teaching methodologies, and managing our research laboratories,” wrote professors Azadeh Yazdan and Amy Orsborn, who both hold joint appointments between UW ECE and the UW Department of Bioengineering. “We wholeheartedly endorse his nomination for the Outstanding Mentorship Award, recognizing the transformative impact of his mentorship not only on our careers but also as a beacon of inspiration for future generations of female academics and underrepresented individuals in academia.”

Outstanding Staff Award

[caption id="attachment_34641" align="alignright" width="350"]Outstanding Staff Award recipient Jean Ishac (right) standing next to UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins Outstanding Staff Award recipient Jean Ishac (right) next to UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins[/caption]

Jean Ishac

This award recognizes a staff member who demonstrates exceptional commitment to UW ECE and whose service has made a lasting impact on the Department. The 2024 recipient was Jean Ishac, who is a finance manager in the research management division of the Department. “Jean’s management of post-award procedures has been exemplary, handling numerous proposals and awards with precision and care. His leadership ensures that timely support and assistance are consistently available, significantly advancing our ability to secure and manage funding,” said UW ECE Associate Teaching Professor Rania Hussein. “In my opinion, this level of dedication is critical and has had a tangible, positive impact on our ability to secure and manage funding effectively.”

Outstanding Teaching Award

[caption id="attachment_34643" align="alignright" width="350"]Oustanding Teaching Award recipient Matt Reynolds (right) standing next to UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins (left) Oustanding Teaching Award recipient Matt Reynolds (right) next to UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins (left)[/caption]

Professor Matt Reynolds

This award recognizes a UW ECE faculty member who has demonstrated exceptional, positive impact on students and in the Department. The 2024 recipient is UW ECE Associate Professor Matt Reynolds. His research interests include millimeter-wave sensing and imaging, radio-frequency identification (RFID), energy efficiency at the physical layer of wireless communication, and the physics of sensing and actuation. Reynolds has also co-founded several startup companies, including, most recently, ThruWave, which uses innovative, human-safe millimeter-wave imaging technology to see inside closed boxes and packages to scan for contraband, such as illegal drugs. Reynolds holds 76 issued U.S. patents and has over 88 pending patent applications. “Professor Reynold’s commitment to student success extends beyond the classroom. His well-organized course materials on Canvas, comprehensive office hours, and additional review sessions are just a few examples of how he supports his students’ academic journeys,” said UW ECE Associate Teaching Professor Rania Hussein. “His dedication is evident in the meticulous care with which he plans and executes all aspects of his course. The positive impact of his teaching approach is clearly reflected in the attentive and engaging demeanor of his students. I enjoy listening to his lectures, and I walk away learning tips to implement in my own teaching.”

Outstanding Teaching Assistant

This award recognizes a student who demonstrates an outstanding contribution to teaching at UW ECE. This year, there were many nominations and two award recipients: [caption id="attachment_34647" align="alignright" width="350"]Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award recipient Kedi Yan (right) standing next to UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award recipient Kedi Yan (right) next to UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins[/caption]

Kedi Yan

Kedi Yan is a UW ECE doctoral student advised by Joshua Smith, who is a professor in UW ECE and in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. Yan is studying advanced wireless power transfer techniques under Smith and has advanced knowledge and expertise in electromagnetic, microwave, and radio-frequency technologies as well as printed circuit board, or PCB, design, and 3D printing. His abilities as a teacher and as a mentor are admired by students and faculty alike. “In short, of all the educators I’ve known and taught with, Kedi is by far the most determined to make certain that students understand intuitively a body of challenging formal material all the way down deep,” said UW ECE Affiliate Professor Evan Goldstein. “He greatly inconveniences himself to achieve this. He is among the very most urgently earnest people I have known. And he’s by far the most beloved TA I have seen.”   [caption id="attachment_34649" align="alignright" width="350"]Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award recipient Kevin Shao (right) standing next to UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins (left) Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award recipient Kevin Shao (right) standing next to UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins (left)[/caption]

Kevin Shao

Kevin Shao graduated this year from UW ECE with his master’s degree in electrical engineering. He was nominated by several people and was praised for his ability to create rapport and connect students with the classroom material and the instructor. “Kevin’s exemplary dedication, adaptability, and commitment to student welfare have left a positive mark on my educational experience, and I’m sure, has also positively influenced many others,” said UW ECE undergraduate student Perry Chien. “Kevin’s passion for teaching, coupled with his proactive approach and genuine care for student success, make him a worthy candidate for the Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award.”  

Chair’s Award

The Chair’s Award this year went to two outstanding UW ECE doctoral students, who among their many achievements and contributions to the Department, have supported greater diversity, equity, and inclusion through leadership and by co-chairing special events, such as WomXn at the Forefront of ECE Research, which is known as WAFER. This day-long event showcases research by women and nonbinary people in electrical and computer engineering and related fields and discusses their experiences in academia and the workplace. “Ph.D. students Amber Chou and Shanti Garman displayed exceptional leadership in conceptualizing and realizing WAFER, drawing in many of our students, staff, and faculty to not only focus on these important issues, but also build community within our Department,” said UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins. “Their efforts exemplify the role of doctoral students in our Department, excelling not only in research, but also in creating a positive setting for others to succeed.” [caption id="attachment_34651" align="alignright" width="350"]Chair's Award recipient Shanti Garman (right) standing next to UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins (left) Chair's Award recipient Shanti Garman (right) standing next to UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins (left)[/caption]

Shanti Garman

Shanti Garman is a UW ECE doctoral student who works in the Sensor Systems Lab and is advised by Joshua Smith, a professor in UW ECE and in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. Garman’s research projects include wireless power transfer for lunar and planetary missions, radio-frequency energy harvesting from high-power sources on Earth, and modulated noise communication. She uses established electromagnetics and antenna theory to investigate new systems and methodologies for Earth- and space-based wireless power transmission and ultra-low-power wireless communications. Garman also teaches a course about antennas in the Department’s Professional Master’s Program.  

Amber Chou

[caption id="attachment_34678" align="alignright" width="350"]Amber Chou headshot Chair's Award recipient Amber Chou[/caption] Amber Chou is a UW ECE doctoral student studying human-machine interaction. She is advised by UW ECE Associate Professor Sam Burden. Chou’s research is at the intersection of neural engineering and human-computer interaction. She is interested in integrating physiological sensing, including peripheral neural signals, eye movements, and gestures, to understand motor control in human-machine interaction. She leverages control theory, data-driven algorithms, and insights from experiments to enhance the usability of multimodal interfaces for applications in assistive technology and rehabilitation. UW ECE congratulates all award nominees and recipients. Thanks for your outstanding efforts and contributions to the Department and to the University!   [post_title] => Congratulations to the 2024 UW ECE Awards recipients! [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => 2024-uwece-awards [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2024-06-27 09:51:36 [post_modified_gmt] => 2024-06-27 16:51:36 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.ece.uw.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=34627 [menu_order] => 2 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 34557 [post_author] => 27 [post_date] => 2024-06-18 09:27:01 [post_date_gmt] => 2024-06-18 16:27:01 [post_content] => Article by Wayne Gillam / UW ECE News [caption id="attachment_34559" align="alignright" width="575"]Headshot of UW ECE and BioE Assistant Professor Amy Orsborn Amy Orsborn, a Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor in Electrical & Computer Engineering and Bioengineering at the UW, was recently named a recipient of a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER award, one of the most prestigious awards in the nation for early-career faculty. Photo by Ryan Hoover / UW ECE[/caption] Amy Orsborn, a Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor in Electrical & Computer Engineering and Bioengineering at the UW, was recently named a recipient of a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER award, one of the most prestigious awards in the nation for early-career faculty. The award will support Orsborn’s research investigating how the brain and nervous system respond to using sensorimotor neural interfaces, which show promise for treating a wide range of neurological disorders and conditions, such as paralysis caused by spinal cord injury or stroke. The grant also supports educational initiatives that will benefit underrepresented students in STEM. Orsborn’s work will help to lay a foundation for creating advanced computer algorithms in sensorimotor neural interfaces that can better adapt to the user. Her research is inspired by a fundamental challenge in neural engineering, where neural interfaces engage with the brain and nervous system in what is called a “closed loop” — the user influences the device while operating it, but the device also influences the user. This closed loop creates dynamic, ever-changing interactions between the brain, nervous system, and the device that can impact the user’s ability to control the neural interface as well as its therapeutic potential. “Most of the existing tools that we have to design neural interfaces today ignore this interplay between the user and the device,” Orsborn said. “The goal of our research will be to build new, computational frameworks for studying these inherent interactions, so we can design our interfaces in a smarter way.” The NSF selects award recipients who are faculty members at the beginning of their careers to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization. The intent of the NSF CAREER program is to provide stable support, enabling awardees to develop not only as outstanding researchers but also as educators demonstrating commitment to teaching, learning and dissemination of knowledge. The award spans five years, and it will enable Orsborn and her research team to advance foundational knowledge for neural engineers working at the intersection of neuroscience and device development.

Engineering a smarter neural interface

The research funded by this award is building off earlier, collaborative work Orsborn has done with UW ECE Associate Professor Sam Burden. In this NSF-funded research, Orsborn will be applying mathematical techniques Burden developed using control theory, which are relevant to modeling feedback interactions between a sensorimotor neural interface and its user. With these techniques, Orsborn plans to identify principles that explain how a user learns to control a closed-loop neural interface and then apply those insights to methods for computation that takes place inside the device. “This idea of taking control theory-based methods and applying them to neural interfaces to study the sensorimotor system spans many different areas of expertise,” Orsborn said. “It’s really exciting to have a fantastic colleague like Sam, who is interested in this research and translating his work to new applications and new questions.” Orsborn and her team in the aoLab will conduct experiments using two different types of neural interfaces: muscle/nervous system interfaces applied to humans on the surface of the skin and brain-computer interfaces applied to the sensorimotor cortex of non-human primates. By comparing results from these two different types of neural interfaces, the team aims to better understand computations performed by the brain and nervous system while the user learns to control a neural interface as well as how the device itself might influence those computations.
Orsborn's research is inspired by a fundamental challenge in neural engineering, where neural interfaces engage with the brain and nervous system in what is called a “closed loop” — the user influences the device while operating it, but the device also influences the user.
The primary goal of this research is to contribute to developing assistive devices and therapeutic neural interfaces for people who have neurological injuries or impairments. However, Orsborn said that this work also might enable scientists and engineers to design technological interfaces that work better for everyone, no matter their health condition. For example, a deeper understanding of the interactions between a user and a neural interface could be applicable to engineering almost any technology that includes human-computer interaction, such as computer screens activated by touch, virtual reality headsets tracking eye movements, or smartphones that can recognize speech patterns. Over the long term, the principles discovered, and mathematical algorithms developed as a result of this research could underpin computation taking place in a vast array of devices, ensuring that these technologies work well and can adapt to any person. “The biggest takeaway is the importance of that dynamic interaction between the brain, the nervous system and the neural interface,” Orsborn said. “By more fully understanding the complexities of that interaction, we’ll be better able to engineer these devices.”

Educational outreach

Education and outreach are also an important part of the work supported by the award. Orsborn will be partnering with A Vision for Literacy & Access, or AVELA, to develop neural engineering lessons for secondary school students in the Seattle area. AVELA is a recognized student organization at the UW that creates and teaches original STEM-content courses to K–14 youth from underrepresented minority groups. After these lessons have been implemented in local classrooms, Orsborn plans to work with AVELA to develop ways to extend the outreach effort. “We’re going to work with our local graduate students in AVELA to develop and offer these lessons. Then, we plan to work with grad students at a different university to help them modify and customize the lessons for their local communities,” Orsborn said. “The overarching idea is that this could become a scalable model for how our neural engineering lesson plans and outreach could go far beyond the University of Washington.” To do this, Orsborn anticipates partnering with Women in Neural Engineering, or WINE, which is a network of neural engineers co-founded by Orsborn. WINE provides vital peer-to-peer mentorship and networking opportunities for women in neural engineering. The group has members at universities across the country, including the University of Colorado, which has a graduate student organization that is part of WINE and plans to help translate these neural engineering lessons for students in their local area. Orsborn said that she was looking forward to working with AVELA and WINE on curriculum development and distribution, and she noted the value these organizations would bring. “Neural engineering is a really interesting field that benefits from interdisciplinary approaches and many different perspectives,” Orsborn said. “If we want to build therapies that work well and meet the needs of diverse communities, then we need diverse contributions.” More information about the NSF CAREER award described in this article is available on the NSF website. For more information about Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor Amy Orsborn and her research work, visit her UW ECE bio page. [post_title] => Amy Orsborn receives NSF CAREER award to study how the brain responds to using neural interfaces [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => amy-orsborn-nsf-career-award [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2024-06-18 09:28:16 [post_modified_gmt] => 2024-06-18 16:28:16 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.ece.uw.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=34557 [menu_order] => 3 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [3] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 34473 [post_author] => 36 [post_date] => 2024-06-13 08:31:34 [post_date_gmt] => 2024-06-13 15:31:34 [post_content] => Adapted from an article by Kristin Osborne | Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering [caption id="attachment_34474" align="alignright" width="586"] Shwetak Patel, the Washington Research Foundation Entrepreneurship Endowed Professor at the Allen School and UW ECE, was recently inducted into the SIGCHI Academy for his contributions in health, sustainability and interaction research. Patel explores how technology can be incorporated with medicine that utilizes sustainable resources. Photo by Ryan Hoover / UW ECE[/caption] When it comes to the field of human-computer interaction, University of Washington professor Shwetak Patel aims, in his own words, “to think outside the box and challenge existing assumptions.” Patel, who holds the Washington Research Foundation Entrepreneurship Endowed Professorship in the Allen School and the UW Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, has repeatedly put that philosophy into practice, inventing entirely new areas of research — and even new industries — in the process. Last week, the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Computer Human Interaction inducted Patel into the SIGCHI Academy in honor of his trailblazing contributions in health, sustainability and interaction research. Patel joined the UW faculty in 2008, when he established the Ubicomp Lab to explore novel sensing and interaction technologies. In parallel with his work on projects such as smart paper and on-body sensing using ultrasound, Patel began playing with his phone. But rather than obsessing over Candy Crush or Sudoku, he fixated on the potential to repurpose this nearly ubiquitous device that combined sensing, data processing and communication to expand access to health care — particularly for people in low-resource settings. The lab’s release of SpiroSmart, the first mobile app for measuring lung function by having a patient exhale into the phone’s microphone, proved to be a game changer. “Instead of having to travel to a clinic with a spirometry device, people with chronic lung disease could use SpiroSmart to measure their lung function in their own home,” Patel said. “We showed how these inexpensive built-in sensors could be used to augment patient care by supporting routine screening and monitoring.” As the sensors in phones got more sophisticated, so, too, did the ways in which Patel sought to use them. Case in point: the camera, which Patel and his collaborators used to prototype new screening methods for infant jaundice, anemia, adult jaundice — an early indicator of pancreatic cancer — and brain injury, along with measuring vital signs such as heart and respiration rate via video. With these and other projects, Patel and his colleagues helped to establish the new field of mobile health sensing. They formed a startup, Senosis, to commercialize this work that was subsequently acquired by Google. He now divides his time between that company, where he is a Distinguished Scientist and Head of Health Technologies, and UW, where he serves as the Allen School’s Associate Director for Development & Entrepreneurship. [caption id="attachment_34532" align="alignleft" width="461"]cell phone The SpiroSmart app for smartphone-based spirometry. UW Ubicomp Lab[/caption] That body of work only scratched the surface of what smartphones can do when it comes to monitoring and managing our health. Last year, Patel and his collaborators touched on a new way to use the capacitive sensing capabilities of the phone’s screen to measure blood glucose. Using a modified version of widely available test strips that incorporates an inexpensive biosensor and draws power from the flash, they created a tool called GlucoScreen that communicates test data via simulated taps on the phone’s screen. The app then processes the results right on the phone, producing a blood glucose reading with an accuracy comparable to commercial glucometers. Their proof of concept showed promise for mass screening for prediabetes — and potentially much more. “Now that we’ve shown we can build electrochemical assays that can work with a smartphone instead of a dedicated reader, you can imagine extending this approach to expand screening for other conditions,” Patel remarked at the time. Capacitive sensing came in handy for another recent project, FeverPhone, that used a combination of the touchscreen and the thermistors, typically used to monitor battery temperature, to instead measure a person’s body temperature. Patel and his team subsequently put the phone down in favor of another popular accessory that could do double duty as a temperature sensor: the Thermal Earring. More than a fashion statement, this piece of wearable and rechargeable bling can measure changes in earlobe temperature throughout the day, rather than reporting a daily average like other wearables, with potential applications for monitoring fever, stress, ovulation and more. [caption id="attachment_34531" align="alignright" width="563"] GlucoScreen pairs a smartphone app with a modified glucose test strip to screen for prediabetes. Raymond Smith / University of Washington[/caption] While Patel enjoys the technical challenge of expanding how and what sensors can measure, it’s the human side of research that he finds most compelling — and most rewarding. “HCI research has always been critical to our work in health in terms of really understanding user needs,” said Patel. “It’s how we ensure what we are building has the best chance for the biggest impact across the world.” But Patel is keen to ensure that impact does not come at the expense of the environment by making sensors themselves more sustainable. For example, he recently contributed to the development of a printed circuit board made of a type of polymer called vitrimer that can be repeatedly recycled. Both the polymer and the electronic components in vPCBs can be reused without degrading their performance, thus reducing a significant source of e-waste. The project is the latest in a long line of research supporting sustainability that Patel has pursued during his career. Other contributions include a method for measuring residential power and water usage at the device or fixture level using a single sensor and an ultra-low power, whole-home sensing system to monitor for potential hazards. [caption id="attachment_34533" align="alignleft" width="567"] The Thermal Earring offers a new way to accessorize with continuous body temperature sensing. Raymond Smith / University of Washington[/caption] Patel is joined in this year’s class of SIGCHI Academy inductees by Allen School adjunct faculty member Julie Kientz, professor and chair of the UW Human Centered Design & Engineering Department, who was honored for work to advance interaction technologies that support child development, accessibility, education and health. Another HCDE faculty member and Allen School adjunct, Kate Starbird, received the SIGCHI Societal Impact Award for her research into the use of communications technologies during crisis events and techniques for addressing the spread of misinformation and disinformation online. Former Allen School professor James Landay, now a faculty member at Stanford University and associate director of Stanford’s Institute for Human-centered Artificial Intelligence (HAI), earned a Lifetime Research Award for his contributions to mobile and ubiquitous computing, technologies for supporting education and behavior change, user interface design and more. Patel and his fellow SIGCHI honorees were recognized at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2024) in Honolulu, Hawai’i. Learn more about the honorees in the SIGCHI announcement here and a related HCDE story here. [post_title] => ‘The best chance for the biggest impact’: Shwetak Patel inducted into SIGCHI Academy for advancing health, sustainability and interaction research [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => shwetak-patel-inducted-into-sigchi-academy [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2024-06-13 09:27:43 [post_modified_gmt] => 2024-06-13 16:27:43 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.ece.uw.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=34473 [menu_order] => 4 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 34416 [post_author] => 26 [post_date] => 2024-06-06 08:47:56 [post_date_gmt] => 2024-06-06 15:47:56 [post_content] => Research described in this article builds on earlier work by Chet Moritz, who is a C.J. and Elizabeth Hwang Endowed Professor in Electrical & Computer Engineering with joint appointments in rehabilitation medicine, physiology, and biophysics, and Dr. Fatma Inanici, who is a medical doctor and research assistant professor in rehabilitation medicine at the UW. Inanici and Moritz worked together on this and prior work when she was a senior postdoctoral researcher at UW ECE and a doctoral student of rehabilitation medicine in the UW School of Medicine. Learn more in this UW News article.   [caption id="attachment_34420" align="aligncenter" width="780"]Jon Schlueter plays guitar in the lab of UW Medicine professor Chet Moritz. Jon Schlueter plays guitar in the lab of UW ECE professor Chet Moritz. Photo courtesy of UW Medicine[/caption] Adapted from an article by Chris Talbott, UW Medicine After half a decade of tirelessly working to reverse the effects of a 2005 spinal-cord injury, Jon Schlueter remembers finally lowering his expectations. Schlueter had dedicated himself to an exercise-based rehabilitation after a shallow-diving accident left him with an incomplete C5-C7 spine injury. He needed to make the most of the limited window those with spinal-cord injuries have to regain significant function. But his gains had leveled off. He acknowledged to himself it was time to move on from the idea he might have more than limited use of his arms and hands. “Conventional wisdom with a spinal cord injury then was you had up till five years for the spinal cord swelling to go away and for any returns to come,” Schlueter said. “I spent those first five, seven years really doing nothing else but rehabilitation just five days a week at the UW and private facilities, then doing it at home by myself, becoming obsessed. But the gains leveled off. I’d all but forgotten about the right side of my body.” [caption id="attachment_34433" align="alignright" width="511"]Chet Moritz, a C.J. and Elizabeth Hwang Endowed Professor in Electrical & Computer Engineering with joint appointments in rehabilitation medicine, physiology, and biophysics Chet Moritz, a C.J. and Elizabeth Hwang Endowed Professor in Electrical & Computer Engineering with joint appointments in rehabilitation medicine, physiology, and biophysics. Photo by Ryan Hoover / UW ECE[/caption] Fifteen years later, Schlueter has a renewed outlook on recovery after participating in a University of Washington School of Medicine study of an electrical-stimulation device that shows great promise for patients with loss of function and other side effects of spinal cord injury. The 49-year-old Seattle resident now plays the guitar for hours each week and continues to improve. He’s regained use of his right hand and arm, has newly regulated blood pressure and other systemic issues and is excited about the prospects for continued recovery. The international clinical trial used a device that provides electrical current to the spinal cord through electrodes on the skin. The patches are designed to numb the contact point to allow for five times more current to be delivered compared to standard treatments. A study published May 20 in Nature Medicine describes the gains Schlueter and others experienced in the trial of more than 60 patients with tetraplegia, a loss of some or all function in all four limbs. A research team led by Chet Moritz, a C.J. and Elizabeth Hwang Endowed Professor in Electrical & Computer Engineering with joint appointments in rehabilitation medicine, physiology, and biophysics, found that 72% of participants significantly improved strength and function by using the treatment for two months. Further, the participants in the initial studies kept those gains even after discontinuing use of the electrical-impulse device. “We've seen people that have no functional use of their hands at all go from not being able to pick up an object or manipulate an object all the way to being able to play an electric guitar or use a paint brush on canvas,” Moritz said. “We've also seen some people who had no movement of their fingers at all start moving them for the first time in more than a year since their injury.” Twenty-eight percent of study participants did not meet the criteria that signaled improvement, possibly due to the severity of their injuries. The range of outcomes reflects the uniqueness of each spinal cord injury. Most often the spine is crushed or bruised, Moritz said, but not severed completely. Some study participants like Schlueter have seen powerful results, but his gains are still uneven. He can play most chords with his left hand pressing the strings to the fretboard confidently up and down the guitar neck. He has more limited use of his right hand, using a thumb pick to strike individual notes and strum the strings. “We used to essentially give up significant recovery after about a year post-injury,” Moritz said. “The chances of recovering were in the single-digit percentages, 2% to 8%. The fact that we're seeing 72% of people recover, all more than a year after their injury — and even 10, 15, up to 35 years after their injury — is extremely exciting.” [caption id="attachment_34421" align="alignright" width="511"]A patch covers the electrode delivering pulses to each patient's area of injured spine. A patch covers the electrode delivering pulses to each patient's area of injured spine. Photo courtesy of UW Medicine[/caption] Onward Medical, the maker of the ARC EX device, has applied to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval to take it to market. The clinical use of the machine, invented at UCLA, was refined by Moritz and colleagues through multiple collaborative studies. The device is a small, nondescript black box that nevertheless delivers big results. Participants at Moritz’s lab began the study by spending two months going through rehabilitation exercises without the device. These tasks included picking up ping pong balls and putting them into containers, then moving to progressively smaller items down to tiny beads. They also pulled toothpicks out of a container of stiff putty and reinserted them into a different container.  And they stacked small blocks to build towers. While the exercises may sound simple, each takes extreme patience and concentration for people who have lost function from spinal cord injury. Study participants had the electrodes applied over the injured area of their spine. A therapist worked with each participant to correct technique while a technician recorded results. Participants can be seen gaining proficiency over the course of a single use of the device. The electrical current primes the user’s nervous system, though it does not directly cause the muscles to move, Moritz said. The user is choosing when and how much to move.
“We tried it for over a week without stimulation and I was just flatlined,” Schlueter said. “Then we put the power on my neck, for lack of a better way to put it, and it was immediate. As soon as they turned it on, I could pick up that little ball. It was really exciting. I mean, everybody in the room was as excited as I was.” [caption id="attachment_34422" align="alignright" width="511"]A study participant performs a dexterity exercise in the study. A small panel lights up green when electrical impulses are delivered to the electrode at the patient's spinal injury site. A study participant performs a dexterity exercise in the study. A small panel lights up green when electrical impulses are delivered to the electrode at the patient's spinal injury site. Photo courtesy of UW Medicine[/caption] Schlueter and his cohort have seen other benefits as well. People with spine injuries often struggle with low heart rate, blood flow and blood pressure. Researchers saw improvement in those areas, as well. Some even reported improved function in their lower extremities during use of the device. That finding led to several new studies examining leg function and walking. Schlueter has pushed the bounds of what’s possible, perhaps more than any other study participant, Moritz said. “Jon definitely received benefit from the stimulation,” he said, “but he also did a lot of hard work on his own. He surprised us that he was able to go home and play his electric guitar after each stimulation session.” “It has taken hours and hours and hours and hours and hours to be able to fret chords, run scales and play songs,” said Schlueter, who is currently learning the solo from The Eagles’ “Hotel California.” “This guitar has become its own form of therapy.” Initial work was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation and Wings for Life. The clinical trial was funded by the company Onward. Learn more about Chet Moritz on his UW ECE bio page and more about this research on the Restorative Technologies Laboratory website. Related stories have been published in USA TodayFox NewsKUOW, Axios Seattle, The GuardianMIT Technology Review and IEEE Spectrum.
[post_title] => Device restores hand function for some with spinal injury [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => moritz-spinal-stimulation [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2024-06-06 08:52:07 [post_modified_gmt] => 2024-06-06 15:52:07 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.ece.uw.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=34416 [menu_order] => 5 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 34229 [post_author] => 27 [post_date] => 2024-05-02 11:20:19 [post_date_gmt] => 2024-05-02 18:20:19 [post_content] => By Wayne Gillam / UW ECE News [caption id="attachment_34231" align="alignright" width="575"]Two wooden artist's models placed in running motion, side-by-side in front of a dark background UW ECE Associate Professor Sam Burden is part of a multi-institutional research team that examined why walking, running, and jumping are challenging tasks for robots while the same activities appear to be relatively easy for humans and other animals. The team published their findings in a recent issue of the journal Science Robotics. Photo by Nicolas Thomas / Unsplash[/caption] Over the last few years, millions of people have watched videos of robots walking, running, and jumping with breathtaking power, agility, and speed. However, what many people don’t realize is that these videos are carefully choreographed and take place in tightly controlled environments. In the real world, outside of those controls, legged robots still have a long way to go to match what humans and other animals can do. It turns out that walking, running, and jumping, or “legged locomotion,” as it’s known in engineering circles, is surprisingly difficult for robots, especially when it comes to achieving dynamic mobility in an uncontrolled environment. Digital, programmable robots have been around for decades now, but compared to animals, their skill at legged locomotion in the real world is barely out of its infancy. That’s not so bad when one considers that animals have had millions of years to evolve and perfect their moves. It even takes a human toddler several years to learn how to walk, run, and jump. So, with those points in mind, perhaps it’s not quite as surprising that it’s taking scientists and engineers a long time to master this difficult skill set on behalf of robots. But why are walking, running, and jumping such challenging tasks for robots, when the same activities seem to be relatively easy for animals? In a new paper titled, “Why animals can outrun robots,” which was recently published in the journal Science Robotics, a multidisciplinary, multi-institutional research team that included UW ECE Associate Professor Sam Burden examines in depth why this might be. “If you look at a squirrel, for example, it’s amazing what they can do. And there’s just no comparison at any scale or any kind of modality for legged robots,” Burden said. “The point of this paper is to synthesize across biology and engineering what we know about the components and the whole systems involved and try to answer the question of why animals are so much better at legged locomotion than robots.” [caption id="attachment_34233" align="alignright" width="350"]Headshot of UW ECE Associate Professor Sam Burden UW ECE Associate Professor Sam Burden. Photo by Ryan Hoover / UW ECE[/caption] Burden’s collaborators included Max Donelan, a professor at Simon Fraser University in biomedical physiology and kinesiology; Kaushik Jayaram, an assistant professor in the Paul M. Rady Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder; Simon Sponberg, the Dunn Family Associate Professor of Physics and Biological Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology; and Tom Libby, who was a Washington Research Foundation Fellow in Neuroengineering at UW ECE from 2017 to 2019 and is now a senior research engineer at SRI International. Each researcher in the group explored one of the five engineering subsystems that make up robotic legged locomotion. Together, they dug deep into the scientific literature, investigating and analyzing why animals outperform robots at walking, running, and jumping, and they quantified the differences they found. Before this research, many scientists and engineers believed the main reason animals had a significant advantage over robots was that biological components were superior to engineered parts. But what the team discovered because of their extensive review, was that the opposite was true, and that the whole was far greater than the sum of its parts. “The way things turned out is that, with only minor exceptions, the engineering subsystems outperform the biological equivalents — and sometimes radically outperform them,” Libby said in a recent press release from Simon Fraser University. “But also, what’s very, very clear is that, if you compare animals to robots at the whole system level, in terms of movement, animals are amazing. And robots have yet to catch up.” Based on these findings and their intensive examination of engineering subsystems, the team identified in their paper fundamental obstacles that roboticists must overcome to bring robot legged locomotion up to par with humans and other animals. The team also highlighted promising research directions that hold transformative potential to help legged robots achieve animal-level performance.

Engineering subsystems, overcoming obstacles, and promising research directions

The team’s paper was comprehensive in its review of the scientific literature available on this topic. Their research began in 2013 and lasted over a decade, as group members worked on investigation and analysis of legged locomotion in between their other responsibilities. “In the paper, we divide legged locomotion into five engineering subsystems and cover them all in depth,” Burden said. “Normally, analyzing any single one of these subsystems for either an animal or a robot could be an entire review paper by itself. It’s an ambitious and broad project.” The five engineering subsystems the team explored were the power system used to store and deliver energy, the frame that provides support and leverage, actuators to modulate mechanical energy, sensors to perceive self and environment, and the control system, which transmits and transforms sensor and actuator signals. For each subsystem, the team compared, contrasted, and quantified differences between legged robots and animals. Burden said that the group wrote this paper primarily for roboticists but that they also wanted their findings to be accessible to biologists to encourage collaboration when tackling the tough problem of improving robotic legged locomotion.
“This paper is rigorously researched, and basically, we’re saying that if you want high performance and want to approach the capabilities of animals, what we need in robotics is an integrative approach. It is not the quality of robotic components that explains this wide performance gap, but rather, how they are put together into a unified whole.” — UW ECE Associate Professor Sam Burden
To that end, the team identified four fundamental obstacles they believe must be overcome to successfully integrate engineered components into more effective robotic systems. Those obstacles are a lack of quantitative metrics for evaluating the many dimensions of legged locomotion; the tradeoffs that arise when subsystems combine and the performance of one component potentially constrains the performance of another; the phenomenon of emergence, where the behavior of the whole system is different from, and irreducible to, the behavior of its component parts; and the very Harry Potter-sounding curse of dimensionality, which means that there is a mind-boggling array of possible component configurations roboticists can choose from when designing legged robots and very little guidance as to which will be the most effective. To not leave scientists and engineers without paths to solutions, the researchers also identified several promising research directions. Those include systematic comparative studies of multiple animal species, which could reveal generalizable principles that could be applied to robotics; distributing energy, sensing, actuation, and control throughout robot frames, as animals do, which may enhance robustness and advance autonomy; bridging the “sim-to-real” gap with better computational models of robot interactions with the environment; continuing advances in materials used to build robotics, and systematically exploring tradeoffs with respect to multiple performance metrics at both component and system levels. Overall, the research team emphasized that although further improvements to robotic components are beneficial, the greatest opportunity to improve the performance of legged robots is to make better use of existing parts, much like biological systems do. They advocated in the paper for a more integrated approach to engineering legged robots, taking cues and guidance from biology along the way.

Downstream impacts, ethical considerations, and looking ahead

[caption id="attachment_34245" align="alignright" width="350"]A tiny bug stands next to a slightly larger robotic bug on a green leaf Burden and his colleagues are optimistic that over the long term, when it comes to developing robots that can walk, run, and jump as well as or better than humans and other animals, the benefits will far outweigh the risks. Photo courtesy of the Animal Inspired Movement and Robotics Lab / University of Colorado Boulder[/caption] By developing a better understanding of the principles involved in legged locomotion for both animals and robots, Burden and his colleagues have moved the field of robotics closer toward a longstanding goal for engineers — creating robots that can walk, run, and jump as well as (and perhaps even better than) humans and other animals. There are many reasons why this is an important, worthy goal. Legged robots with robust agility could perform many useful, and even life-saving, tasks in environments that are hazardous for humans, such as cleaning up after natural and nuclear disasters, disarming bombs, or helping astronauts explore outer space. Principles learned from this robotic development could also be applied to advanced, bio-inspired devices, such as smart prosthetic limbs and exoskeletons. And the potential everyday applications are endless, including developing legged robots to clean the house, do yard work, and even care for the elderly. The automation of various tasks by legged robots across a vast range of industries also promises to substantially enrich the world economy. But, of course, every powerful technology can be a double-edged sword, and there are some downsides to consider. Robotic automation could enrich the economy, but that will be at the cost of job loss for at least some humans. This could happen in large numbers and at such a rapid pace, it would be hard for society to adjust. The possible weaponization of legged robots also is a serious concern, and some manufacturers are calling on the robotics community and government leaders to take steps to ensure this doesn’t happen. Recently, some thought leaders have suggested that the fear of job loss from robotics is overblown; however, whether or not they are right still remains to be seen. In the meantime, roboticists, industry leaders, and government representatives are exploring different avenues for addressing these sorts of concerns, and that work is ongoing. Burden and his colleagues are optimistic that over the long term, when it comes to developing robots that can walk, run, and jump as well as or better than humans and other animals, the benefits will far outweigh the risks. “These are machines that could have a really big, positive impact on people’s lives, but they’re just not capable yet,” Burden said. “This paper is rigorously researched, and basically, we’re saying that if you want high performance and want to approach the capabilities of animals, what we need in robotics is an integrative approach. It is not the quality of robotic components that explains this wide performance gap, but rather, how they are put together into a unified whole.” Learn more about this research by reading “Why animals can outrun robots” in Science Robotics. More information about UW ECE Associate Professor Sam Burden is available on his bio page.   [post_title] => Walking, running, and jumping — a new approach to these surprising challenges for robots [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => why-animals-can-outrun-robots [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2024-05-06 09:41:20 [post_modified_gmt] => 2024-05-06 16:41:20 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.ece.uw.edu/?post_type=spotlight&p=34229 [menu_order] => 6 [post_type] => spotlight [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [_numposts:protected] => 6 [_showAnnouncements:protected] => [_showTitle:protected] => [showMore] => )
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