UH Engineer Receives NSF CAREER Award

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An engineer with the University of Houston (UH) has received a $500,000 Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award from the National Science Foundation to develop artificial muscle and tendons for dexterous, compliant, and affordable prostheses.

Zheng Chen, PhD, the Bill D. Cook Assistant Professor of mechanical engineering, said the resulting prostheses would be more comfortable and work more efficiently than current models.

Chen, director of the Bio-inspired Robotics and Controls Lab at the UH Cullen College of Engineering, works with smart materials to improve prosthetic devices. The smart materials—dielectric elastomers—have built-in actuation and sensing capabilities, allowing them to more closely mimic human muscles.

The project involves bio-inspired design, fabricating the device, and developing a mechanism to control movement of prosthetic hands, using a material that can be activated by an electrical voltage.

Chen and his colleagues have developed a prototype of artificial muscle and tendon structure. "It achieves some performance, but we need to improve the performance," he said. "It is an integrated sensor and actuator, so the person can sense objects, grasp and participate in other activities."

This story was adapted from materials provided by the University of Houston.