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A prosthetic hand that serves as a close replica of a human hand. (UW image)
Yoky Matsuoka

An $18.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation will fund a new Engineering Research Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering on the University of Washington campus — a place where researchers will figure out new ways for the human nervous system to work in conjunction with robotics and other mechanical devices.

The initiative will build on the work of researchers including Yoky Matsuoka, a UW associate professor of computer science and engineering who will serve as the center’s director.

“The center will work on robotic devices that interact with, assist and understand the nervous system,” Matsuoka said in a UW News article this morning. “It will combine advances in robotics, neuroscience, electromechanical devices and computer science to restore or augment the body’s ability for sensation and movement.”

Here’s how the UW News article explains how the money will be applied …

The majority of the funding will support undergraduate and graduate student research. 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 prosthetics that are controlled by brain signals and include sensors that shuttle information back to wearers so they can react to their environment – creating robotic systems that are truly integrated with the body’s nervous system.

UW’s partners in the project are MIT, San Diego State University, Spelman College, Morehouse College, Southwestern College, the University of British Columbia and the University of Tokyo.

The center will involve faculty from the UW College of Engineering, UW College of Arts and Sciences and the UW Medical Center. Industry partners include Microsoft, Intel, Lockheed Martin, Impinj, NeuroSky and Neurovista. The Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle is also one of the institutions involved.

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