This week I officially started my work at BEAR laboratories at UC Davis! I have worked in labs before, but those were all with the intention of getting lab experience on my resume so that later I could get into even cooler labs. The BEAR lab is the lab I want to be in until I graduate, and this week I am a happy human!
BEAR labs, or the Bionic Engineering and Assistive Robotics Laboratory is run by Professor Jonathon Schofield, who is a professor in the Mechanical and Aerospace department. He specializes in machine-human interfaces, which is the technical term for cyborgs. Much of the research is centered around prosthetics for injured people, but some of the research is decidedly less utilitarian. I’m working on a project to design a third arm that would be part of a space suit extra so astronauts do things such as hold flashlights while using their other two arms. So essentially, I’ve gone from programming giant lasers for the military industrial complex to designing Doc Oc arms. If I could grow a moustache I would be twirling it right now.
A while back, a company called Thalmic Labs designed a device called a MyoBand. A MyoBand is a band that goes around your wrist, and senses ‘myoelectric’ signals from your arm. I’m a programmer and not a biologist so my understanding of myoelectric signals is very limited, but the gist of it is that your brain makes muscles flex by sending electrical impulses through them. The signals your body sends are strong enough that a sensor on your skin can pick them up. The MyoBand senses the electrical impulses and uses them to determine how the user moved their hand. The impulses vary enough depending on the individual wearing it and where they put it on that the device requires the user to move their hand a few different ways whenever they put the device on so it can calibrate itself, the result of this being that the band is very well equipped to have its purpose altered. The MyoBand was unfortunately designed to control powerpoint presentations, but our goal is to make it do something a bit more interesting. It will detect the hand movements of the user, and send them to a Raspberry Pi. I will program this behavior using the Thalmic Labs software development kit. Then, I will program the pi to send the data along to a robotic arm that the PhD students will be designing, and the arm will move based on the wearer’s hand motions.
The lab is brand new, and MUCH nicer than any of the other labs I have worked in. The whole place looks kind of like a hipster’s living room, complete with super snazzy white boards on every wall. There’s a 3D printer, a soldering iron, several breadboards, and many more tools for making prototypes. Predictably, there is significantly less physical equipment in graduate student labs than in undergraduate labs, because when you are skilled enough that you’re on a research team you typically outsource your building. It seems like an awesome place to design an evil cyborg suit!
To add to my supervillain repertoire, I’ve been learning how to use the Python hacking library, pwntools, to do SQL injections! The way it works is, computers often draw data from databases user Structured Query Language, or SQL. Sometimes it will search for things based on data the user inserts. However, if the user inserts something that looks like code to be executed, the computer might executed if the code is written poorly. In my hacking class, we have to hack this one server he made to get ‘flags’ which we turn in for points. Because hacking is essentially the art of writing terrible code, my results are always very messy, but sometimes they contain the flag!
Part of what I love about running an engineering team is that I get to work with people who know so much more than I do. I recently submitted a request to waterjet some electric steel into cylinders that will be placed in 3D printed plastic to create a linear induction motor. I can’t waterjet, I don’t know why electric steel is better than regular steel, I’m mediocre at best when it comes to designing stuff to 3D print, and I have only the most rudimentary knowledge of how a linear induction motor works. But it was what the team asked for, so I did it! We are currently designing a Kalman filter for our controls system. A Kalman filter is a program that takes in a large amount of data and filters out all the anomalous data to get the important bits. The controls team is small, but our members are very skilled and things are moving along!
May you be ever victorious in your endeavors!