Put simply, a telepresence robot being created at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville functions like “walking Skype.” And, while the end goal is simplicity for users in a classroom setting, the critical thinking, and technological design and development involved in its creation are complex.
The Wailian Education Group, now WeEducation Group, Inc., supported the robot research and development with private funding totaling $56,304. SIUE School of Engineering’s Mingshao Zhang, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, directed the project.
Now, with an additional $26,146 from WeEducation Group, Inc. for phase two, Zhang and his student research team are adding advanced capabilities to their prototype, ensuring their telepresence robot outcompetes others on the market.
“This telepresence robot will be used in educational settings to allow instructors to teach remotely, with a robot assisting with the social interaction necessary to effectively lead a classroom,” Zhang explained.
“Instructors could use this technology to reach students in underdeveloped areas, for example, with just an iOS or Android application. The technology can bring powerful, effective teaching to areas that may be otherwise inaccessible.”
Three SIUE graduate students and two undergraduates are contributing to the research project and enhancing their academic knowledge and applied skills. Student researchers include junior mechanical engineering majors Alex Dinan and Bryan Kier, as well as electrical engineering graduate student Pengji Duan, and computer science graduate students Kai Li and Sherin John.
“It’s exceptional to be a part of this research project,” said Dinan, who aspires to work in automated manufacturing. “I have worked primarily on the structural elements, the shell manufacturing and the beta prototype’s various pieces. We built the acrylic stands and assembled the machine’s actual parts.”
In phase two, new functions are being added to the robot to minimize the effort of instructors by creating a fluid, natural interaction process with students. The advancements include speech recognition, classroom mapping and the ability to interact with existing classroom technology such as a projector.
“Added sensors will allow the robot to detect exactly where a noise is coming from and move efficiently to a particular student, so the instructor can directly interact,” explained Duan. “It’s one thing to design a product, but another to do so in a manufacture-oriented way as we’ve done. This will be a commercial product.”
“We’re excited that this project is moving on to a more experimental phase where we can now enhance its functions and manufacture a product that will positively impact teaching and learning,” Dinan added.
According to Zhang, the platform offers an innovative way to fulfill instructional needs in a way that supports positive learning outcomes.
Photos: SIUE School of Engineering student researchers test the telepresence robot they’ve created for use in educational settings.
The SIUE School of Engineering research team working on the telepresence robot includes (L-R) Alex Dinan, Sherin John, Bryan Kier, Kai Li and Pengji Duan. Dr. Mingshao Zhang is seen on the robot’s screen via remote access.
When retired U.S. Army Sgt. Garrett Anderson lost his right hand after a roadside bomb exploded in October 2005 in Iraq, he didn’t think he’d ever be able to feel it being held by his wife or child again.
Not until Aadeel Akhtar, a Loyola graduate, founded Psyonic in 2015, a company making advances in prosthetic technology for amputees worldwide. The company doesn’t have a product on the market yet, but it’s working on developing a marketable prototype to have out by early 2020.
Psyonic creates prosthetic hands that have the ability to make movements through a machine learning algorithm. The algorithm learns the user’s muscle patterns when making various hand movements such as an open hand, fist, key grasp, pinch or wrist rotation. The company is based out of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s technology incubator, a division of the university which helps launch startup tech companies.
Psyonic intends to be the first commercially available hand that gives sensory feedback to the user through pressure sensors located in the fingertips which stimulate the skin and nerves in the arm electrically when the user touches an object. This sensory feedback allows the user to feel how much pressure they are putting on an object.
Anderson, 41, is a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and is a resident of the small village of Gifford, Illinois. Because he’s one of only a few amputees on campus, he was willing to help test Psyonic’s device. Anderson said the device was different from other prosthetics he’s tried.
“Aadeel is doing sensory feedback option on the fingertips to give sensory feedback of holding something, or grabbing something, holding your child or wife’s hand or even something as simple as knowing how much pressure you’re putting [on an object],” Anderson said. “That’s a game-changer when it comes to sensory feedback, only because I haven’t had that for ten-plus years.”
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in biology from Loyola in 2007, Akhtar, 31, earned a master’s degree in computer science in 2008 from Loyola. Although Akhtar earned his doctorate’s degree in neuroscience and a master’s in electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he said his passion for serving others was molded at Loyola.
“One of the cool things about Loyola, or at least when I was there, is that they were really big on service learning,” Akhtar said. “I feel like that really helped to bolster that the things that I work on, I want to make sure they have an impact in the world, and I think that Loyola really fosters that kind of environment, which is really unique.”
Akhtar said if the school’s engineering program, which opened in 2015, had existed in his time at Loyola, he would have taken advantage of it.
“I was really excited to hear about the engineering science program at Loyola, and I definitely would have taken advantage of that if it existed when I was a student,” Akhtar said. “That being said, the computer science program also has lots of great research in neuroengineering going on with professors like Mark Albert.”
Albert has been a professor in the computer science department at Loyola since 2013. In 2012, as a postdoc researcher in the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago’s Center for Bionic Medicine, he first met Akhtar. Albert was in charge of organizing Akhtar’s summer internship.
“I think having such capable and engaging people like Aadeel around just stirs the imagination,” Albert said. “There is so much we can do to help others, both through direct effort and through technological innovation, but there are barriers which turn away even the most well-intentioned people. To see students like Aadeel take their plans and follow through is inspiring.”
Akhtar began developing bionic hands with other students at the University of Illinois in 2014. The same year, the team got into contact with the Range of Motion Project, a nonprofit company which provides prosthetic and orthotic care for people without access to these resources. The team took a trip to Ecuador to test its hand on an amputee. It was after this trip that Akhtar knew he wanted to start a company based on the work the team had done.
Juan Suquillo, the Ecuadorian amputee, had lost his hand 35 years earlier in a machine gun blast from a helicopter in a border war between Ecuador and Peru.
“[Suquillo] made a pinch for the first time with our prosthetic hand in 35 years. This was just an incredibly moving moment for him and for us, and when we came back from this trip, I realized that I don’t want this work to just stay in research,” Akhtar said. “I wanted to make sure that this technology can really affect the lives of people everywhere. That’s how Psyonic really came to fruition.”
Akhtar was visiting Pakistan as a child with his family when he became familiar with amputees for the first time. He said he remembers meeting a little girl his age who was missing a leg.
“She was hobbling towards me, she was using a broken tree branch as a crutch,” Akhtar said. “At the time, I wondered how we have the same ethnic heritage but vastly different qualities of life. As I grew older, I began to realize that this was due to a lack of resources, be it healthcare resources, safety resources [or] financial resources.”
This experience ignited Akhtar’s interest in the study of prosthesis and his desire to make prosthetics affordable for amputees.
Psyonic is working to make a hand completely covered by health insurance by using cheaper materials and assembling the hands on-site. The hand is rubber bone with a silicone cover over it and is life-like and flexible, with the ability to withstand the impact of a hammer. Additionally, Akhtar said the hand is faster and lighter than the average human hand.
“When I work with Aadeel, he asks me what I want to see in a prosthetic, and I tell him that when I have a prosthetic I want a prosthetic that is durable,” Anderson said. “If it’s not a durable prosthetic or a functional prosthetic, it’s useless to wear.”
Most prosthetics are typically made out of molded plastic and steel, which Akhtar said can drive up the cost. Akhtar said many prosthetics on the market cost as much as $30,000, and they’re not durable.
“We have talked with hundreds of patients and clinicians and the number one thing that they complain about with their $30,000 prosthetic hands is that they break within a week of using it, just because [patients] are walking around and their hand bangs into something,” Akhtar said.
While Anderson gets prosthetics covered because he served in the military, he appreciates that Akhtar and his team at Psyonic are making prosthetics more accessible for people of different backgrounds.
“I think what they’re doing is pretty nice. Being able to offer [prosthetics] to individuals that could never have a prosthetic is pretty remarkable,” Anderson said. “For the individuals that don’t have the resources that I have or that others may have, this is a game-changer for them.”
Sells loose leaf tea by making it understandable, accessible, and affordable to mainstream American consumers.
Many co-founders meet at accelerators or networking events. Dan Klein and Patrick Tannous met in preschool, and have been close friends ever since. While studying abroad together in 2009, they stumbled onto an obsession in the Czech Republic: loose leaf tea. Unable to find American brands they could afford on college budgets, the friends started making their own. They co-founded Tiesta Tea in March 2010, just months before their graduations. Today, the Chicago-based company has products in 6,500 stores nationwide, including chains like Target, Whole Foods, and Costco; Klein and Tannous expect to reach $8 million in revenue by the end of 2018, up from $4.4 million in 2017. They also spearhead charitable works at the company. Among other things, the founders have donated portions of online orders to nonprofits, organized volunteers to help the homeless during frigid winters, and built a well in Nigeria to increase clean water access for hibiscus farmers. The social endeavors mean the company makes less money. The co-founders don’t care. “Every single employee of Tiesta Tea took a bonus in 2017 except for myself, Dan, and our COO,” Tannous says. Instead, he says, “we built a water well in Nigeria.” –Cameron Albert Deitch
We’re a tight knit crew that keeps it simple; all natural, loose leaf tea blends with real fruits and herbs. Today, our 50 flavorful & functional loose leaf teas can be found nationwide in over 6,500 specialty, natural and conventional grocery stores along with hundreds of cafes! We tell you what matters: what it does for you, what it tastes like, and how to make it. So what’s stopping you? Find your function, pick your flavor and get ready to Live Loose!
The Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Chicago is pleased to announce the winners of the 2018 College New Venture Challenge (CNVC). The CNVC is the undergraduate track of the University’s business launch program, the Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge (NVC). The NVC is the University of Chicago’s nationally ranked accelerator program that has graduated more than 180 startup companies still in operation today.
This year was the first time in the CNVC’s history that the program was held as a for-credit class for undergraduates.
Finalists presented in front of an esteemed panel of distinguished judges, including Immanuel Thangaraj, AB ’92, MBA ’93, managing director and president of Essex Woodlands, Jennifer Fried, MBA ’15, cofounder and CEO of ExplORer Surgical, Reese Schroeder, managing director of Tyson Ventures, and Ellen Rudnick, MBA ’73, senior advisor and adjunct professor for entrepreneurship at Chicago Booth.
The winners are:
First place ($15,000): Quevos, a high-protein chip that is free from the copious amounts of carbohydrates and fat that potato chips contain, but are still salty and crunchy. Team members include Nick Hamburger, Expected AB ’20; Chonghyun Ahn, Expected AB ’20; Benjamin Elias, Expected AB ’20; David West, Expected AB ’20; and Zack Schreier.
Second place ($10,000): Debate It Forward, a nonprofit that utilizes a collaborative, game-based curriculum to increase the cognitive skills, empathy, and self-efficacy of students overlooked by the traditional debate circuits. Team members include Leah Shapiro, Expected AB ’18; and Joshua Aaronson, Expected AB ’19.
Third place ($3,000): Pavan, a comprehensive, user-friendly air pollution application targeted at Indians in urban areas. Team members include Preethi Raju, Expected AB ’18; and Shaili Datta, Expected AB ’18.
Finalist ($1,000): Athena Ultraviolet, which designs a UV-LED device that helps hospitals protect ICU patients from deadly bacteria that live in sink drains. The team member is Ted Engels, Expected AB ’18.
Finalist ($1,000): PeerBoost, a peer-to-peer marketing platform that allows influential, early-adopters of mobile applications to recommend applications to their social connections in exchange for rewards that are redeemable as cash and prizes. Team members include JP Neenan, Expected AB ’20; and Yasoob Rasheed, Expected AB ’20.
About the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation
The Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation drives venture creation and technology commercialization within the University of Chicago and the surrounding community. Through education, partnerships, and new venture support, the Polsky Center advances the knowledge and practice of entrepreneurship and accelerates the commercialization of research. Among its offerings is the top-ranked accelerator program, the Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge, which is where companies like GrubHub and Braintree got their start. Since 1996, the New Venture Challenge has helped launch more than 180 companies worldwide that have gone on to achieve more than $5 billion in mergers and exits and raised over $575 million in funding. The Polsky Center helps students, faculty, staff, alumni, researchers and local entrepreneurs navigate the complex process of creating and growing a startup. Its resources include a 34,000 square-foot, multi-disciplinary co-working space called the Polsky Exchange; a multi-million dollar Innovation Fund that invests in early-stage ventures; and a state-of-the-art Fabrication Lab for prototyping new products. By leveraging the University’s distinctive strengths in research and a combined research budget of more than $1.5 billion from its three affiliates—Argonne National Laboratory, Fermilab and the Marine Biological Laboratory—the Polsky Center paves the way for more ideas to have a meaningful impact on society.