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Researcher Leads Quest For Robots That Take Orders From the Brain

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UW Researcher Yoky Matsuoka and neurobotic hand

MacArthur Foundation "genius award" winner Yoky Matsuoka in her University of Washington lab with the neurobotic hand she is developing.

John Lok / The Seattle Times

University of Washington (UW) researcher and MacArthur Foundation Fellow recipient Yoky Matsuoka specializes in the field of neurobotics, which focuses on the development of robotic devices driven by brain signals. Such devices are seen as a way to help disabled people live fuller lives by restoring their motor skills via sophisticated prostheses. One of her projects is the Anatomically Correct Testbed robotic hand, an artificial limb designed to closely mimic human anatomy by using a maze of wires and miniature motors as muscles and an elastic string webbing as tendons. Matsuoka is convinced that emulating human anatomy is the best method for localizing and plotting out the effects of neural commands, and she says the insights she has gained from her research can help enhance the function of currently available prosthetic hands and ultimately facilitate "seamless integration" with nervous signals.

UW professor Ed Lazowska calls Matsuoka a pioneer in the integration of multiple disciplines that include neuroscience, computer science, mechanical engineering, and biomedical engineering. "Our prostheses are primitive, so feeding them a lot of control signals is fruitless because they are not fully functional," Lazowska says. "But our ability to 'tap in' [to neural signals] is very limited, too, so even if we had a fully functional prosthesis, we wouldn't be able to get it the signals necessary to control it. You need to attack all aspects of the problem."

From The Seattle Times
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