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Work in Progress: Haptic Robotics in Biomedical Education

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Biomedical Division Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Anne Schmitz Gannon University

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I got my Mechanical Engineering undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. During my schooling, I explored many opportunities to apply my engineering degree. I was involved with the Formula One Racecar Team, did a semester long co-op working on fume hoods, did a summer internship at Kimberly Clark designing a HVAC system, and did another summer internship at General Electric designing anesthesia equipment. As a senior, I got involved in research doing finite element analyses of a prosthetic foot. This immediately got me hooked on applying engineering to medical applications.

I obtained my Biomedical Engineering PhD at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. My work focused on computational biomechanics. More specifically, developing musculoskeletal models of the body to simulate movement and see how surgery and soft tissue injury affects movement. During my graduate work, I was also a teaching assistant for Introduction to Biomechanics where I developed a love for teaching. I then did postdoctoral research at the University of Kentucky where I experimentally measured movements (e.g running form), which provides data that can be used to validate the models I build. Here at Gannon University, I will continue building computational models with a focus on the knee to optimize surgical techniques (e.g. ACL reconstruction) to restore normal function after injury. When I'm not doing research, I enjoy going swimming and playing my violin.

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Karinna M. Vernaza Gannon University

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Dr. Karinna Vernaza joined Gannon University in 2003, and she is currently a Professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department and Associate Dean of the College of Engineering and Business. She earned her Ph.D. and M.S. in mechanical engineering from the University of Notre Dame. Her B.S. is in Marine Systems Engineering from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. Her primary teaching responsibilities are in the solid mechanics and materials areas, including biomaterials. She was awarded the 2012 ASEE NCS Outstanding Teacher Award, 2013 Gannon University Distinguished Faculty Award and 2013-2014 Gannon University Faculty Award for Excellence in Service-Learning. Vernaza does research in the area of alternative fuels (biodiesel), engineering education (active learning techniques), and high-strain deformation of materials. She is currently the PI of an NSF S-STEM and ADVANCE-PAID grants.

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Davide Piovesan Gannon University

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Davide Piovesan was born in Venice, Italy on October 10 , 1978. He is currently Assistant Professor in the Mechanical Engineering department at Gannon University and the director of the Biomedical Engineering Program. He received his M.S.M.E in 2003 and D.Eng in Mechanical Measurement in 2007 at the University of Padova, Italy. His dissertation presented a set of experimental and analytical validation techniques for human upper limb models. From 2004 to 2008 he was a visiting scholar and post-doctoral fellow at the Ashton Graybiel Spatial Orientation Lab at Brandeis University. There, he worked on the mechanics of movement adaptation in non inertial environments as part of a NASA extramural funding program. He joined Northwestern University in 2008, working as a post-doc fellow at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago until 2013 in the field of rehabilitation robotics. Davide’s main research interest is to gain insights on the role of biomechanics in the neural control of movements, with applications to rehabilitation engineering.

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In biomedical engineering curricula, courses on brain function are common. Specifically, these courses cover how brain function affects coordination and how motor, sensory, and cognitive deficits affect the lives of individuals with neurological disorders. Yet, educators develop and deliver lectures using visual and auditory material. However, visual and auditory stimuli are not the only means for learning, especially when studying the control of human movements. Kinesthetic learning is the process of acquiring and processing information by physically interacting with the environment. Instruction that stimulates more than auditory and visual learning is more likely to enhance learning in a heterogeneous student population. Haptic robotic equipment is a valuable tool to present the students with kinesthetic learning opportunities. By means of a haptic manipulandum and a virtual reality system, we developed a laboratory experience for undergraduate biomedical engineering students.

First, the students completed an assignment before performing the laboratory experiment. Each student wrote a custom Matlab (MathWorksInc.,Natick,MA) code for post-processing of the data. Second, a robotic manipulator was utilized to measure sensorimotor function during a guided reaching task. To measure sensorimotor function, students used a Kinarm robot to move a handle from a central point to more distal points as they lit up on a virtual reality screen. The robotic device measured the trajectory of the hand as it moved from the central point to the indicated distal point. This test was done for each hand of each student. Then, students used the custom code from the pre-laboratory assignment to calculate the total length of the path the hand traveled. Finally, each student wrote a laboratory report in a journal article type format to present and interpret the findings of the experiment.

In conclusion, XX University is one of the few universities in the United States to develop a laboratory experience utilizing haptic robotics for biomedical engineering undergraduate students. The experience served two main purposes: (1) to introduce students to measurements of sensorimotor function via haptic robotic technology, and (2) to give them experience is presenting this data in a cohesive article type report. Both of which will help these students become successful engineers in academics and/or industry.

Schmitz, A., & Vernaza, K. M., & Piovesan, D. (2016, June), Work in Progress: Haptic Robotics in Biomedical Education Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.27013

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