Neural Security in the news

Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 6.54.49 AM

When VICE Motherboard visited us last month to talk about surgical hacking, they also took some time to learn about the lab’s work on neural security and brain hacking.  Several articles are now available:

VICE Motherboard: How Hackers Could Get Inside Your Head With ‘Brain Malware’

Daily Mail UK: Hackers could get inside your BRAIN: Experts warn of growing threat from monitoring and controlling neural signals

Naked Security by Sophos: How hacking brainwaves could reveal our deeply guarded secrets

This research is by Tamara Bonaci, Katherine Pratt, and Howard Chizeck.

Spring and Summer Quarter announcements

Now that we’re in the full swing of summer quarter we’re looking back and highlighting some of the accomplishments of spring quarter and welcoming our summer research students.


C. Matlack; H. Chizeck; C. T. Moritz, “Empirical Movement Models for Brain Computer Interfaces,” in IEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering , vol.PP, no.99, pp.1-1 doi: 10.1109/TNSRE.2016.2584101


Katherine Pratt was awarded as a member of the inaugural Husky 100 class.  This award recognizes 100 individuals from across the UW campuses for work in and out of the classroom.  Read more from the department here.

Summer Students:

We are super excited to have high school and college students from UW and beyond working with us in the lab this summer:

Hannah is a rising sophomore here at the University of Washington.  She’s worked in the lab previously, and is spending the summer working with Andrew Haddock on haptic diagnostic tools for patients with Parkinson’s Disease.







Matt Ehlert is going to be a junior this fall at the University of New Mexico.  He’s working with Katherine Pratt and Howard Chizeck on BCI security.







Gabriel Solia is a visiting masters student from Brazil.  His work includes the Microsoft Hololens, and he’s working with Sam Burden and Ryan Robinson.





File Jul 25, 11 42 39 AM


Jane Yi is a high school student working with Gabriel, Sam, and Ryan on the Microsoft Hololens project.







Anisha Uppugonduri is a sophomore here at the University of Washington, and is working with Maggie Thompson.





File Jul 25, 11 42 15 AM


Nishi Kaza is a rising junior at Skyline High School.  He’s working on the touchless touchscreen project.’





Magena Fura (not pictured) is working with us through the CSNE Research Experience for Undergraduates program.  She’s working with Maggie Thompson.

Alex Franke (not pictured) is working with us through the CSNE Research Experience for Undergraduates program.  He’s working on neuroethics with Tim Brown.

BRL Graduate Student Timothy Brown Wins CSNE Hackathon

Last weekend, BRL graduate student Tim Brown competed in the NSF Engineering Research Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering‘s second-annual Hackathon. In this competition, fifteen students gathered from the University of Washington, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, San Diego State University, and Spelman College. The contestants formed teams of three; these teams were given 36 hours to develop an innovative technology that addresses some problem related to sensorimotor neural engineering. Tim and his teammates—Rin Yunis from MIT and Jaycee Holmes from Spelman—were awarded first place! Congratulations!

Click here to read more about the competition.




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!”

BioRobotics Lab and UW Medicine team up to test virtual ‘warm-ups’ for surgeons

lendvayThe UW Health Sciences news article announced our latest new project in collaboration with UW Medicine to test virtual-reality warm-ups for surgeons before they perform robotic surgery. The project will be lead by BRL-affiliate faculty member Thomas Lendvay, who is a UW associate professor of urology. Also leading the project is Timothy Brand from the Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma. The study will be performed in collaboration with the BRL’s Blake Hannaford.  For more information about the project, check out the full article here

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-


Congratulations BRL Graduates!

The BioRobotics lab is pleased to announce the graduation of four of our student researchers this spring! Three PhD students and one Bachelor’s degree were awarded to BRL students. Congratulations are in order for Dr. Tamara Bonaci, Dr. Levi Cheng, Dr. Iris Jiang, and Sharon Newman! For a brief description of each of the graduate’s work and future plans, please read on


TamaraGradTamara Bonaci, PhD in Electrical Engineering

Tamara has spent her time at UW EE researching security and privacy issues of cyberphysical systems. Specifically, her dissertation focused on the security and privacy problems posed by brain computer interfaces and teleoperated robotic systems. During her time at UW she was advised by Howard Chizeck, and she will be staying with the BioRobotics lab for the summer while she finalizes her theoretical work with these two cyberphysical systems. Congratulations Tamara!


Levi Cheng, PhD in Mechanical Engineering

Levi was advised by Blake Hannaford while he researched methods for identifying and preventing tissue damage from robotic surgery devices. His work included simulation of different mechanical grippers as well as analysis of tissue necrosis due to gripping force. Congratulations Levi!


Iris Jiang, PhD in Bioengineering

Iris, who was also advised by Blake Hannaford, researched how healthy subjects responded to various feedback methods in order to design higher-performance state feedback for lower-limb prosthetic users. The project was aimed at reducing falls in lower-limb amputees by warning a user of a trip or unstable surface in a short enough time such that the patient could react to correct before falling. Iris was interested in extending this work to patients who had undergone Targeted Muscle Reinnervation (TMR) surgery. Congratulations Iris!


Sharon Newman, B.S. in Bioengineering

Sharon worked with Iris to tackle the difficult and time-consuming problem of mapping sensations after a TMR surgery. She and Iris developed an approach to automating the mapping procedure using the Raven Surgical Robot, a Kinect depth-sensor, and a computer application for mapping patient responses. For one year starting in September 2015, Sharon will be funded by Fulbright and Whitaker fellowships to conduct research and attend classes in the BrainLinks-BrainTools department at the University of Freiburg, Germany. Congratulations Sharon!Iris_Sharon_Graduation

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-