We're a little crazy, about science!

Weekend outreach

A few of the exoskeletons we have in the lab

It’s been a super busy week, but we’re not done yet. That’s right, my inability to say no to things has come back to haunt me! It’s not that bad though, two 15-minute talks to two different groups and that’s the extent of it. So you know not too bad, but I do enjoy doing some science outreach when I have the chance anyway, so not totally a bad deal.

I work for full time, but I’m still a student and as a grad student I have certain responsibilities. One of those responsibilities include doing outreach projects from time to time. The last big outreach event I did was back in October, right after my last surgery (oops). This one will be a bit different in that I will be demoing things in the lab this time, where last time I gave a talk about the work I did as a grad student. It will be enjoyable for the kids to see some of the things we do that way.

From what I’m told, we have two groups and I get 15 minutes per group to discuss the things we do in the lab. Projects like this are fun, so I’m not super stressed about doing it, even though I’m more exhausted than I had expected and just want to sleep. On the bright side having two short demos like this is better than having a long day’s worth of meetings/presentations. The only downside is having to drive to the school to do the demo.

Since it’s been months since I’ve done an outreach project and longer since I’ve done demos in the lab, I want to share a bit about the kinds of things I’ll be showing. Because there are a lot of very fun things that would be worth showing to kids and adults alike. The only difference between kids and adults when it comes to the demos is that the adults sometimes actually get to play with them, but in both cases kids and adults both get very excited about the demos.

Most of the things we show in the lab you can’t do much with. EEG equipment looks cool, but that’s pretty much the extent of it assuming we don’t do a lot of work prior and set up the equipment (actually put the EEG equipment on someone) for the demo. Even then signals from the brain look very much like fancy squiggles, not much else. There needs to be a lot of pre-processing to make those squiggles mean anything and even though we can do this in real-time to decode simple things like walk/don’t walk for a robot or even control of prosthetics, video game avatars, things of that nature, preparing for something like that is so time consuming it’s not a good use of the resources unless it’s a large all day event (three hours for setup for 30 total minutes of demos is not great).

So we don’t generally demo a lot of brain-machine interface type things. Instead we like to demo our robots. Technically exoskeletons, we have four self-balancing exoskeletons and two robots that are not self-balancing. Since the bulk of our exoskeletons are self-balancing, they are easy to demo without anyone inside. It’s a simple joystick control to make the exo move. They are pretty capable too, we can walk, turn, sit, stand and supposidy (even though I haven’t tried it or seen it done) walk up stairs. The exoskeletons cost upwards of 6 figures each, so I do not want to try that demo. Instead sit/stand and walk are usually what I like to show.

At that point we spend the next 10-20 minutes telling people they cannot ride it generally. Sometimes we let the adults ride in it (because it’s very much being walked and not walking yourself), but no matter the age, everyone wants to try it out, so it’s fun to watch people get excited about it.

So yeah, while it’s a little more work for me this long, long week, it’s not something bad. I do enjoy doing outreach generally speaking.


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