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In the inaugural Analog Devices Real-Time Sensor Fusion Challenge, sponsored by MassRobotics, teams from Massachusetts and Rhode Island were invited to compete and submit projects that fuse at least two sensor inputs, using the Robot Operating System (ROS) to create a system that provides better context awareness in robots. Brown’s Actuated Robotics Guidance Systems team, which consisted of Brown undergrads Jung Yeop (Steve) Kim, Mckenna Cisler, and Howon Lee, advised by Professors George Konidaris and Stefanie Tellex, won First Place and were awarded $40,000. Their competition included not only fellow undergraduates but teams made up of graduate and post-graduate students.
The team explains that although falling is the leading cause of death for people over the age of 65, the aid and care devices used to support them have not improved over the past few decades. They designed an actuated walker that allows a user to walk naturally while the walker adjusts itself to the user's pace, keeping them safe and stable. Their approach uses multiple sensors to detect the center of mass of the user, as well as their intent (sitting down, going uphill or downhill, and so on) to autonomously brake/accelerate the walker to adjust its position relative to the user.
"Advising this team was a real privilege. When everything had to go virtual because of the pandemic, they simply accelerated their timeline. The resulting video really showed how the walker prevents falls," says Stefanie.
"It's really wonderful to see students being so creative, and working so hard, to design something that could really improve people's lives," adds George.
Although only the three students participated in the competition, the Actuated Walker team has grown into an interdepartmental effort across College Hill, consisting of professors, PhD and Master’s students, and undergraduates in Brown’s School of Public Health, Medical School, Department of Computer Science, and School of Engineering, as well as RISD’s Department of Industrial Design.
“We were able to get input from Brown’s School of Public Health from early on in the project, and we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for their continuous advice,” says Jung Yeop (Steve). “Brown’s culture of interdepartmental collaboration really pushed our project forward, and we’re not sure if we could have pulled this off anywhere else.”
“Our project is a unique combination of the hardware challenge of building a usable, sensor-equipped walker with the software and robotics challenge of intelligently actuating the walker to keep the user from falling,” says Mckenna. “Having team members and advisors from both these sides has really helped us build a well-integrated and capable walker system.”
Hannah Dunnigan is studying Industrial Design at RISD. “Our collaboration and breakthroughs on the walker project demonstrate a larger interdepartmental cooperation,” she says, “a strong partnership between Brown and RISD, and an ever-evolving connection between research and design.”
For more information, click the link that follows to contact Brown CS Communication Outreach Specialist Jesse C. Polhemus.