SPUR 2022 Projects: Engineering

Electrical & Computer Engineering | College of Engineering
Neuroscience Program 


Jacob George, Assistant Professor

"Losing a limb is like losing a family member, except you are reminded of it every day." - Anonymous Amputee

Most of us have experienced the grief of losing a loved one, and we can understand how emotionally devastating loss can be. But, it's difficult to fully capture how much more debilitating it is to be constantly reminded of your loss by chronic pain, physical disability, and nonautonomy. For individuals suffering from paralysis, paresis, or limb-loss, life is chronic struggle with depression and endurance of life-long neuropathic pain. This is in addition to practical difficulties associated with activities of daily living and potential loss of employment. These challenges often result in long-term use of antidepressants and narcotics, as well as high medical costs associated with anxiety and other psychological struggles. Current treatments are costly and ineffective, leaving millions of people waiting for a better medical solution...

At the Utah NeuroRobotics Lab, we are working to turn science fiction into reality. Inspired by Luke Skywalker's Bionic Arm, we have developed state-of-the-art bionic arms that can restore dexterous control and provide a natural sense of touch. At a higher-level, our lab seeks to augment biological neural networks with artificial neural networks and bionic devices to treat neurological disorders and to further our understanding of neural processing. Working at the intersection of artificial intelligence, robotics, and neuroscience, we are developing biologically-inspired artificial intelligence and brain-machine interfaces to restore and/or enhance human function.

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Bioengineering | College of Engineering


Jan Kubanek, Assistant Professor

This project uses human brain organoids as a tool to study and treat the neural bases of neurological disorders, and epilepsy in particular. This is a cutting-edge project; the engaged student will be one of the few people in the world who will be working with these brains and record and manipulate their electrophysiological activity. The project is developed to the point where the student can begin to record from the organoids immediately.
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School of Computing | College of Engineering


Sameer Patil, Associate Professor

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With the pervasiveness of technology in every facet of life, cybersecurity has emerged as one of the most important societal challenges of recent times. Yet, people find it difficult to manage security and privacy when interacting with technology, creating potential risks for their online safety and well-being. To address this issue, this research will focus on understanding people’s preferences and practices pertaining to cybersecurity-related matters and designing user experiences (UX) that help users manage their security and privacy in a more informed way.

To this end, the research project will involve investigating a topic at the intersection of cybersecurity and Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). The specific research question addressed by the project can be chosen from a diversity of topics that hold real-world practical relevance to our daily lives, including but not limited to: social media, phishing, online misinformation (aka "fake news"), smartphone apps, smart home devices, smart cities, algorithmic transparency, ethical and explainable Artificial Intelligence (AI), ransomware, authentication and passwords, public policy and regulatory compliance, cybersecurity education, etc. The student will choose and shape a research project that appeals to the student within this broad space.

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School of Computing | college of Engineering


Jason Wiese, Assistant Professor

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Integrating smart home technology into hospital patient rooms should make hospitals more efficient, improve patient recovery and rehabilitation, and enhance the experience of being in the space for patients, their visitors, and employees. Yet, research on smart homes cannot achieve this vision: it does not investigate how the technology can support patient recovery, nor does it address the complexity of multiple stakeholders in a space that is both a workplace and a living space. Smart hospitals are beginning to be built, and Human-Computer Interaction research does not offer guidance for how their design can support (1) patient autonomy and recovery, or (2) the complex, interacting workflows of hospital employees from physicians to custodial staff. Hospital administrators and designers need guidance on what value this technology can provide in their hospital. The proposed work leverages the disjoint HCI literature on hospitals and smart homes to chart a research agenda for making smart hospitals useful. This timely work will fill the gap in the literature, providing guidance for developing the next generation of smart hospitals.

We are conducting observations, interviews, and log data analysis in a user-centered process to study how the diverse set of stakeholders at the newly-opened, fully-functioning 75-bed Craig H. Nielsen Rehabilitation hospital interact with the technology that is deployed in the smart hospital rooms. The lights, blinds, TV, speakers, thermostat, and door in these rooms can all be controlled through an iPad screen or by voice commands, similar to smart home technology. Many patients in this context have physical impairments that amplify the value of these technologies.

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Mechanical Engineering | college of Engineering


Haohan Zhang, Assistant Professor

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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.

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