Robotics research is making quite an impact at University of Wisconsin-Stout.

The first summer of a three-year, federally supported research project to develop assistive technology using robotics just ended. For eight weeks, students worked on a variety of projects intended to help people integrate better into society and perform useful tasks in the home and elsewhere.

The director of the Robotics for Assistive Technology Research Experience for Undergraduates program is Wei Shi, associate professor of engineering. The co-director is Devin Berg, associate professor of engineering.

Senior personnel involved with the research program included Cheng Liu, associate professor of engineering, and Cayte Anderson, executive director of the Stout Vocational Rehabilitation Institute.

The eight students were on campus from June 20 through Aug. 12. Each student received a $4,000 stipend and had their room and board covered by the $230,400 grant from the National Science Foundation.

The goal is to help prepare students for graduate school, and the target audience is first generation, underrepresented minorities, women and persons with disabilities, as well as students from schools with limited research opportunities.

“Our goal is to encourage undergraduate students to apply to graduate school,” Shi said.

Berg said he has been very impressed by the pool of applicants from all across the country, as well as the variety of the research projects that cut across many disciplines on campus.

Unifying theme

The research projects included:

A semiautonomous meal assistance robot: Using the Kinova JACO robotic arm and Microsoft Kinect, researchers built a system that allows users to feed themselves using facial expressions to control the robot.

Wheelchair navigation system: Student researchers developed a navigation system for powered wheelchair users that provides an automated path using an on-board camera.

Design visualization method: To enable faster production of 3D models of early design concepts, the project developed a method to convert design sketches to 3D printed models.

Indoor navigation to assist sight impaired: Using an iRobot development platform, a student research team developed a smartphone application and robotic guide to navigate an indoor environment.

Catheter insertion aid: The project aimed to develop a device to help men and women perform self-catheterization when they have limited dexterity.

“Our efforts at synthesizing different research projects centered on a unifying theme that will improve our effectiveness in collaborative problem solving and in teaching undergraduates an interdisciplinary approach to research,” Shi said. “Furthermore, it will encourage them to continue their pursuit in engineering and science, technology and mathematics fields.

“Through the projects, we hope to apply robots in enhancing the autonomy and independence of people with injuries and disabilities and minimizing at the same time the necessity for a caregiver,” Shi added.

The eight students and their home schools are:

Jason Dekarske, UW-Madison

Bryan Ehlers, University of Iowa

Jared Kiel, UW-Milwaukee

Haiming Lou, North Dakota State University

Erin Louwagie, University of Minnesota

Vanessa Martin-Wegryn, Marquette University

Robert Munoz, University of North Dakota

Meng Vue, UW-Stout

Vue, of La Crosse, is majoring in computer engineering.

Berg said assistive technology “is such an important field for engineers to be involved with. It is using our knowledge and expertise to help people live fuller and richer lives.

“I hope that through the work conducted as part of this grant we not only develop useful assistive technologies but also inspire the future generation of engineers to pursue careers using their skills to help,” Berg added.

Students in the program benefited from workshops provided by UW-Stout’s McNair Scholars Program and the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs. They learned about graduate school applications and preparedness and received research training.

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Dunn County News editor

Barbara Lyon is the editor of The Dunn County News in Menomonie, WI.

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