BRL graduate student Katherine Pratt wins CSNE Perfect Pitch Competition!

Last Friday, BRL-affiliated graduate students Katherine Pratt and Tim Brown competed in the NSF Engineering Research Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering Perfect Pitch competition. The competition challenges students to condense their research into a 90 second elevator pitch that succinctly conveys the goals and value of their work. Each pitch is then judged by a panel of CSNE-affiliated industry members and entrepreneurs on both the merit of the work and the presentation sytle. When the final results were tallied, Katherine was awarded with first place in the competition! A video of her pitch is included below. Congratulations Katherine!

Thank you Summer 2015 Researchers!

Over the last couple months the BRL has hosted some great summer researchers. We hosted several undergraduate and two local high school teachers who worked side-by-side BRL graduate students and faculty on advancing some of the lab’s ongoing projects. The topics that they worked on included from the neuroethics of DBS for depression, new password methods, and including haptic feedback into BCI tasks. They all produced excellent work over the summer and we wanted to take the opportunity to highlight their accomplishments here. A big thanks goes out to our summer researchers for dedicating so much time towards advancing the lab’s research!

Hale Soloff, an under2015_REU_Halegraduate neuroscience research student from Ursinus College, joined the Neuroethics thrust at the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program (more information here). He teamed up with the BioRobotics Laboratory to analyze ethical issues surrounding the use of new closed-loop deep brain stimulation (DBS) technology for the treatment of depression.

Acknowledging a gap in the literature of how deep brain stimulation affects moral understanding, Hale tackled questions of authority and responsibility; can someone with DBS be held accountable for all of their actions, or does the device exert undue influence on behavior, attitudes, and decision making? Does the device take away its user’s capacity for consent and free will, or does it restore that capacity which the depression took away? How much control should patients with depression have over their own DBS, and thereby their own emotions? Is there such a thing as the “correct” level of happiness, and does the patient, clinician, policy maker, DBS engineer, or somebody else get to make that decision? And finally, how does a closed-loop stimulator, which can record and analyze brain activity to adjust stimulation accordingly, change the answers to these questions? Hale was guided by mentor Tim Brown and PI Sara Goering in studying the moral discussions surrounding open-loop DBS, and by working closely with Dr. Howard Chizeck and the BioRobotics Lab to learn more about closed-loop DBS he raised new relevant questions as to how this technology affects its users and those around them.

Hale says about his research, “The way the public and media perceive new medical technologies like closed-loop DBS is very important. Exploring these questions is the first step to educating future patients, clinicians, and lawmakers about how these devices work and affect us.”

2015RET_LarryPaulTwo local high school teachers went back to school this summer in the BioRobotics Lab.  Larry Bencivengo, a veteran Biology teacher from Mercer Island High School, and Paul Zimmer, who teaches Chemistry at South Kitsap high school, spent 7 weeks in the BRL as part of CSNE’s Research Experience for Teachers (RET) program.  Bencivengo and Zimmer were part of a cohort of 6 teachers who worked part time in one of the labs associated with CSNE while also developing curriculum which they will pilot in their classrooms this school year. Read more about the CSNE RET Program here.

The task that these two “teacher-students” took on relates to ongoing research in the BRL, led by doctoral candidates Jeffrey Herron and Margaret Thompson, to train patients to gain greater control of BCIs such as Deep Brain Stimulators used to suppress Parkinsonian tremors.  Zimmer and Bencivengo attempted to incorporate haptic feedback into a BCI training program developed by Herron and Thompson by using the Phantom Omni haptic mouse.  They were successful in learning to incorporate haptic properties into Unity, the game development platform that Thompson and Herron used to develop the current version of the BCI training program.  The virtual sense of touch provided by the Phantom Omni promises to improve patient performance in BCI training.  Thanks to the research at BRL, these training programs may soon be used to help patients learn to control a computer mouse or other external device with  their BCIs, and may eventually allow patients to exert volitional control of their DBS devices.

Zimmer traveled two hours each way back and forth from his home in Port Orchard in order to participate in the RET program.  Bencivengo said, “The past 7 weeks working in the BRL have been among the most exiting and challenging of my teaching career – I can’t wait to get back into the classroom this fall to share all of the amazing things that I learned this summer!  I can’t express adequate  thanks to Dr. Chizeck and all of the amazing people at the CSNE and BRL for this incredible opportunity!” You can read more about our ongoing closed-loop DBS and BCI work here.

Jiwei_summer2015Jiwei Wang, a CoMotion Mary Gates Scholar from the University of Washington, worked in the BioRobotics Laboratory as an intern (more information here) .  He worked with Junjie Yan and Jiang Shayne on the Haptic Passwords project, in which they built an app using the haptic password system that can be applied to the Windows platform.

They realized that the security level of the interactions between human users and cyber systems is becoming more and more important in many areas. The traditional way of identifying a user is to utilize the alphanumerical passwords, which is easy to realize but hard to memorize and vulnerable to various kinds of attack. To enhance the security performance of corresponding systems, we take the advantage of the haptic interaction technique and apply it to the mobile app development. Previous studies show that how a person interacts with haptic interface is unique and can be used as identification and authentication purpose. We applied this technique to different platforms and found that the Surface Pro 3 was the best suitable device. One of the key reasons was that its pen, the N-trig digitizer, provided us with its API and made it easier to transfer data to the haptic password system. By developing an app on a writable windows tablet, we successfully capture ink data and pointer properties such as pressure and orientation. Then, we invited subjects to take specific tests, and after data analysis, we found that this system is solid and secure because of its good performance and forgery attack resistance. Additionally, this system is so user friendly that it not only is easy to learn, but also provides a complex but intuitive way of creating signature passwords. This haptic interaction technique can be applied to those pressure sensitive devices, such as tablets and signature touch screens in the public. This could provide a much safer way of authorizing credit card transaction permission and reducing transaction fraud.

As a full-time intern, Jiwei spent a lot of time in the BioRobotics Lab. Jiwei said, “This lab is amazing! People are all really professional on their projects and are always willing to help. Many many thanks to Dr. Chizeck’s patience and help! This is my best summer research experience and I’m looking forward to work with all of you in the future!”

Upcoming BRL Papers at IROS 2015

The BioRobotics Lab has had four papers accepted to the 2015 IEEE International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in Hamburg, Germany this coming Fall. We’re looking forward to presenting our recent research and contributions to the robotics field. The 2015 ICRA papers authored by BRL researchers are:

Improving Position Precision of a Servo-Controlled Elastic Cable Driven Surgical Robot Using Unscented Kalman Filter” by Mohammad Haghighipanah, Yangming Li, Muneaki Miyasaka, and Blake Hannaford.

Path Planning for Semi-automated Simulated Robotic Neurosurgery” by Danying Hu, Yuanzheng Gong, Blake Hannaford, and Eric J. Seibel.

Measurement of the Cable-Pulley Coulomb and Viscous Friction for a Cable-Driven Surgical Robotic System” by Muneaki Miyasaka, Joseph Matheson, Andrew Lewis, and Blake Hannaford.

Haptic Passwords” by Junjie Yan, Kevin Huang, Tamara Bonaci, and Howard J. Chizeck.


Additionally, incoming EE Professor Sam Burden, who will be joining the BRL, has also coauthored a paper to be presented at IROS:

Personalized Kinematics for Human–Robot Collaborative Manipulation” by Aaron M. Bestick, Samuel A. Burden, Giorgia Willits, Nikhil Naikal , S. Shankar Sastry, and Ruzena Bajcsy.

Howard Chizeck appointed 2015 Presidential Entrepreneurial Faculty Fellow

20150121pbp_H-Chizeck_1519BRL Faculty Howard Chizeck has been appointed as a 2015 UW CoMotion Presidential Innovation Fellow due to his involvement in the University’s program for affiliated start-ups and his past entrepreneurial experience.

From the UW EE Announcement:

Chizeck’s nomination materials highlight his entrepreneurial success translating research into products. Early in his career, Chizeck founded Controlsoft, Inc., in 1985, which for 30 years has provided control algorithms and software for industrial uses and municipal water systems. More recently, Chizeck cofounded BluHaptics in 2013, which enables precision control of robots and drones and anticipates major expansion in late 2015. Chizeck was also involved in the inception of the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering (CSNE) and has continued to be part of its leadership. Through the CSNE, Chizeck and his students have developed cutting-edge brain-computer interface technologies related to deep brain stimulation for the treatment of movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.

Read the full EE Announcement of his appointment here-


Tamara Bonaci to receive UW CIAC Rising Star Award

tamara_croppedBRL PhD Candidate Tamara Bonaci will be receiving the UW’s Center for Information Assurance and Cybersecurity (CIAC) Rising Star Award on Thursday, May 28th. The CIAC is recognizing her contributions for medical device security of both teleoperated surgical systems and brain-computer interfaces. Congratulations Tamara! Read more about the award and other honorees here-

BRL Students Receive NSF GRFP and NDSEG Fellowships!

We’ve received great news for three BioRobotics lab affiliated students who each received a new fellowship this week! Two students, EE graduate student Katherine Pratt and undergrad alum Andrew Hill, each received a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. Margaret Thompson, an EE graduate student, received the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship. Congratulations to all three of them!


mthompson_headshotCurrent BRL graduate student Margaret Thompson graduated in 2014 from Harvey Mudd College with a degree in engineering. Her current work with Professor Chizeck in the BioRobotics Lab is designing novel brain-computer interface (BCI) platforms using long-term, fully implanted deep brain stimulation (DBS) electrodes which were originally designed to treat movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and essential tremor. Read more about her work here.


kpratt_headshotKatherine Pratt graduated in 2008 from MIT with a degree in aerospace engineering.  She worked at Blue Origin in systems engineering prior to entering active duty as an officer in the US Air Force.  Most of her service was spent at Edwards AFB as a member of the operational test team for the F-35; she concentrated on pilot systems and cockpit integration.  After leaving the military, she worked with Adrian KC Lee at UW (LABS^N), running spatio-temporal behavioral, EEG, and M/EEG experiments.  For the past academic year she has been a participant in the NSF Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering’s program that facilitates veterans returning to academia.  Her current work with Professor Chizeck  is in the BioRobotics Lab is developing touchscreen control using EMG and other neural signals for individuals without sufficient finger dexterity to operate smart phones, tablets and similar devices.


andrew_hillAndrew Hill is a UW Bioengineering undergraduate alumni. He worked in the Biorobotics Lab from 2010 to 2012, where he did a year long senior capstone design project under the supervision of Professors Chizeck and Hannaford. After graduating in 2012, he then worked as an engineer at Tekscan, Inc. for one year followed by another year as a genomics researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital/Broad Institute in Boston, returning to UW in 2014 as a graduate student in Genome Sciences.


Read more about the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program here.

More information about the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship is available here.


BRL undergraduate researcher Sharon Newman receives Fulbright Student Award

sharon_newmanBRL’s undergraduate Bioengineering senior, Sharon Newman, has been awarded the Fulbright U.S Student Award! For one year starting in September 2015, Sharon will be funded to conduct research and attend classes in the BrainLinks-BrainTools department at the University of Freiburg, Germany. Her proposed project “Sensory Exploration of Acutely Implanted TIME in the Rat Sciatic Nerve” will continue her aspirations to conduct neuro-prosthetic research, and increase access to assistive technologies. We congratulate her on her accomplishments, and are excited for her to embark on this fellowship!


The BioEngineering Department recently posted an article highlighting her achievements and plans for the immediate future available here.