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Researchers Eric Rombokas and Jeremiah Wander and industry liaison officer Rad Roberts at the UW booth at CES.

The giant Consumer Electronics Show is known for glitzy, multi-story booths, showing off the next big products from some of the world’s largest technology companies.

But GeekWire’s adventures at the show in Las Vegas last week included a visit to a much more modest booth — staffed by researchers whose work could have much more profound implications for humanity, albeit much further in the future than the next holiday season.

The booth showcased the work of the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering, a National Science Foundation research center housed at the University of Washington in Seattle. The center used its NSF connection to land the booth in the CES “Eureka Park” section for startups and emerging technologies.

A big part of the goal was to promote the center’s Industry Affiliate Program, which brings in extra funding while giving companies a chance to work with the center’s researchers and gain access to its projects. But the CES booth was also designed to help boost the profile of the center and its students.

“It’s an experiment, like many things we do,” explained Rad Roberts, the center’s industry liaison officer.

The center focuses on the intersection of mind and machine — blurring the lines between computers and humans. Researchers from the center made headlines last year for establishing a human-to-human brain interface over the Internet, but that’s just one of the projects the center supports.

For example, one of the researchers staffing the booth, Eric Rombokas, has been working on new areas of gesture computing — systems that can detect the nuances of muscle movement to determine how a user is trying to interact with a device. The approach, using electromyography, goes beyond what existing camera-based gesture input systems can do today. Rombokas also just started a new job at the VA Hospital in Seattle, working on new ways of incorporating sensors into prosthetics.

Another researcher who was staffing the booth, Jeremiah Wander, is involved in the center’s work on brain-computer interfaces for control of electronic devices — such as running a prosthetic limb directly from brain activity. He focuses in part on how the brain learns to use these devices.

It may be years before these types of approaches make it to the larger booths at CES, but in the meantime they provide clues for where the tech world is headed in the long run.

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