Mentor Name:
Haohan Zhang

Mentor Position:
Assistant Professor

Mechanical Engineering



Project Description:

**This project is a part of the Summer Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR), which provides undergraduate students with an intensive 10-week research experience under the mentorship of a University of Utah faculty member. SPUR 2022 begins on May 25 and ends on August 4. If you are interested in this project, please review all program information on the SPUR site. If you wish to apply to this project, you must apply using the SPUR 2022 application.**

Continuum manipulators are uniquely suited for many tasks beyond the capabilities of traditional rigid link manipulators. They can operate in tight spaces where rigid link manipulators may not fit, and they can navigate around obstacles to reach distant objects. For example, continuum manipulators are able to safely navigate the complex environment of the human body; therefore, they have many applications in the medical field for minimally invasive procedures such as sinus surgery and ACL surgery.

We have previously prototyped a continuum manipulator. It consists of multiple segments and these segments are connected via springs and joints. To actuate the manipulator, i.e., changing its shape to adapt to an object, three cables are used, in a coordinated fashion, to pull the segments to the desired shape. Due to the underactuated nature of this manipulator, controlling its shape turns out to be a complex mathematical problem.

In this project, we propose to solve this problem by learning from how humans perform this task manually. This may help us design control algorithms to automatically perform this task by using electric motors. To this end, a manual control transmission is first needed to be carefully designed and tested. This manual transmission, possibly consists of pulleys, gears, and sensors, will allow a human user to interface with the cables of the soft manipulator. Experiments will then be performed to collect observational data from human subjects performing manipulation tasks, e.g., grasping an object or positioning the endpoint of the manipulator in space. Kinematic, kinetic, physiological, and vision data will be collected and analyzed.

Opportunity Type:

This is a paid research position

Student Role:

The undergraduate student is expected to work full-time (40 hours weekly) and will be responsible of three main tasks: Design a manual transmission system, Perform guided experiments with human subjects and collect data, Analyze visualize the data. In the first task, the student needs to first design a computer model of the system using software. After discussing with the PI, the student may proceed and physically build this system and test it with the continuum manipulator. The student will experience ample hands-on experience with both hardware and software. In the second task, the student will shadow a graduate mentor on the human data collection. The student will be responsible of helping the mentor running the experiment and learning how to use modern sensors to collect human data, such as surface electromyography (EMG) and gaze data through video images. The student will be trained and certified for conducting human research prior to helping the experiments. In the third task, the student will learn how to process data collected from human experiments, such as data filtering and conditioning. Then, the student will also be responsible to visualize the processed data and compute outcome measures as needed.

Student Benefits:

The student will have the opportunity to work in a multidisciplinary laboratory. The PI will provide needed research resources and mentorship throughout the program. A graduate student will be assigned to also mentor the student during his/her stay. The student is expected to learn skills that are relevant to robotics research, such as computer-aided design, manufacturing, mechatronics, and testing. Additionally, the student will gain opportunity to work with human experimentation, including movement sensors, data collection and processing, and analysis. This project will help the student learn how to conduct research, how to acquire skills as needed, and how to communicate and collaborate with others in a laboratory setting. The student may also gain opportunity to present and share his/her results from this novel project through manuscript preparation and conference presentations. The student will be encouraged to complete all programmatic aspects of SPUR, including attending orientation, bi-weekly meetings and weekly URES events, presenting at the Summer Symposium, and publishing an abstract in the University of Utah Undergraduate Research Journal.

Project Duration:

35-40 hours per week on research and program-related activities, begins May 25, 2022, and ends August 4, 2022

Minimum Requirements:

Admission to the program is competitive. Applicants must meet all of the following criteria: 1) be a matriculated, degree-seeking undergraduate student in the Fall 2022 semester (beginning or continuing college career in Fall 2022 and not graduating before December 2022; concurrent enrollment while in high school does not meet this eligibility requirement). Applicants do not need to be a University of Utah student. 2) eligible to work in the United States: If you are a University of Utah Dreamer (with or without DACA), you are eligible to participate. U Dreamers with DACA will be hired and paid through U payroll. U Dreamers without DACA who graduated from a Utah high school will be compensated via a different mechanism. If you are a Dreamer from a different institution: If you have DACA, you are eligible to participate and will be hired and paid though U payroll. If you do not have DACA, you are able to participate and gain research experience, but we do not currently have a mechanism that allows us to compensate you. For more information, please contact Megan Shannahan at megan.shannahan@utah.edu or 801-581-2478. If you are an international student or scholar, you must either a) be a degree-seeking undergraduate student at the University of Utah, OR b) possess documentation that establishes your eligibility to work in the United States (if you hold US citizenship, it is likely you have these documents). 3) able to commit to approximately 35-40 hours per week of employment at the University of Utah for the entire duration of the program (May 25-August 4, 2022). 4) at least 18 years old by May 23, 2022 (required if you wish to use on-campus housing; preferred if you will not be using on-campus housing).