The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded an $18.5 million, five-year grant to establish the Engineering Research Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering based at the University of Washington (UW), Seattle. The center will allow researchers to combine advances in robotics, neuroscience, electromechanical devices, and computer science for the development of new technologies that will restore or augment the body’s ability for sensation and movement for people with amputations, spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s disease, or age-related neurological disorders. The center launches this month.
The majority of the funding will support undergraduate and graduate student research. Scientists at UW and partner institutions will work to perform mathematical analysis of the body’s neural signals; design and test implanted and wearable prosthetic devices; and build new robotic systems. Early systems might involve remote or wearable devices that help guide rehabilitation exercises to remap brain signals and restore motor control. Ultimately, researchers hope to develop implantable brain-controlled prostheses that are truly integrated with the body’s nervous system.
“We already see chips that interface with neural systems and then stimulate the right muscles based on that information, and we have purely mechanical lower-limb prostheses that are fast enough to compete in the Olympics,” said Yoky Matsuoka, PhD, UW Torode Family Endowed Career Development Professor, Computer Science & Engineering, and Engineering Research Center’s co-director. “Our center will use sensory and neural feedback to give these devices much more flexibility and control.”
Faculty from the UW College of Engineering, UW College of Arts and Sciences, and the UW Medical Center will be involved in the new center.
Partner institutions include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge; San Diego State University (SDSU), California; Spelman College and Morehouse College, both in Atlanta, Georgia; and Southwestern College, Chula Vista, California. International partners include the University of British Columbia (UBC), Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and the University of Tokyo, Japan. The center also includes 23 industry partners, as well as industry organizations, venture capitalists, nonacademic research institutions, and hospitals in Seattle and San Diego.
Editor’s note: This story has been adapted from materials provided by the University of Washington.