Momentum 2016 Teams Tackle Assistive-Technology Design

Farimah Mapar, Momentum TA and Northeastern University Graduate Student

How can we leverage the brain-computer interface to create promising assistive technologies for people with movement and speech disabilities? That question was at the heart of IAP Course 16.682—better known as Momentum—this past January. While the theme of the course varies from year to year, the core concept is to prepare freshmen and sophomores to use the fundamentals of engineering design to tackle a real-world problem. This year, the class was offered through a partnership between the Office of Minority Education and Joel Voldman, Professor of Electrical Engineering and deputy director at the NSF Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering.

The Momentum course kicks off with one week of lectures and three weeks of design and prototyping a solution, culminating in a final competition and poster presentations. In addition to technical skills, Momentum students develop teamwork, resume building, communication, presentation, and interviewing skills to prepare them for their engineering careers. And instead of designing in a vacuum, students spend time debating the social, ethical, and economical impacts of potential solutions.                                                                                     

2016 Momentum student group photoThe challenge this year was to design assistive technology solutions for individuals who have limited motor movement. Momentum students were tasked to control a robotic arm using an Arduino microcontroller that converted electromyography signals from able body parts. The robotic arm had to perform a common task that was defined as picking up a cup filled with marbles, translocating it by at least 20 inches, and setting it down. For an added challenge, students were encouraged to complete the task as creatively as possible. Such creative additions included the use of pressure, infrared or ultrasound sensors, and cameras.

Lillian Muller '19 showcases her robotic arm prototype Winners of the 2016 Momentum competition

Momentum concluded with an eventful day packed with competitions, presentations, and networking with industry representatives from Apple, Google, Intel, and NASA, among others. After an enthusiastic welcome from Office of Minority Education Dean DiOnetta Jones Crayton, students and attendees gathered in Lobby 10 for the main competition and poster presentations. The winner of this year’s Momentum was the team “Cerebrum et Brachium” composed of Yevhenii Diomidov ’18, Beatriz Gonzalez ’18, Safa Jabri ’19, Kevin Rodriguez ’19, and Anthony Rolland ’19.