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New Technologies helping Children with Disabilities proven to be a Success

November 25th, 2014

One of the most rewarding aspects of the engineering field comes when the hard work of engineers helps humanity in some measure. Researchers at the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering recently released the findings from a study using humanoid robots to help autistic children, and even Alzheimer’s patients, learn autonomous tasks.

Needless to say, their work appears to be very promising. Let’s take a closer look.

Robots helping Autistic Children to Learn

The USC study, led by Maja Matarić, Vice Dean for Research at the Viterbi School, leveraged humanoid shaped robots performing specific cues or prompts to help patients learn — or relearn — a variety of skills. The study subjects essentially played a game of copycat with the robots. Matarić commented on the study’s hopes.

“There is a vast health care need that can be aided by intelligent machines capable of helping people of all ages to be less lonely, to do rehabilitative exercises, and to learn social behaviors,” Matarić said. “There’s so much that can be done that can complement human care as well as other emerging technologies.”

The robots give feedback by saying “Good Job!” when the children successfully imitate their cues. If they aren’t successful, the robot simply repeats the cue. The ultimate hope is that the autistic children would learn the right social skills to help them better interact with other kids during gameplay.

Children who received the robotic feedback tended to show improved performance as the tests continued. Those in a control group with no feedback, showed no marked improvement. “The idea is to eventually give every child a personalized robot dedicated to providing motivation and praise and nudges toward more integration,” Matarić said.

The promising early results from the USC study once again display how engineering innovations hold the potential to benefit humanity.

If the work at the USC Viterbi School inspires you to take your engineering career to the next level, talk to the experts at The Talley Group. As one of the top technical staffing agencies in Washington State, they are also a great source for Seattle engineering jobs. Schedule some time with The Talley Group today!

Sweet Power

July 29th, 2014

The carbohydrates found in sugar and other starchy foods are commonly known as an energy source for humans and other animals. What some researchers at Virginia Tech are working on utilizes sugar in a unique matter — as a material giving a battery its “juice.” It gives the term “sugar buzz” a totally new meaning.

Early Research reveals the Promise of Sugar

When compared to their lithium ion counterparts, these new sugar powered batteries developed in the lab are capable of storing 10 times as much energy. More importantly, sugar is much more environmentally friendly than the materials currently used in battery manufacturing. The nation’s landfills stand to benefit if and when these batteries become commercially available.

Improving the Extraction of Electrons from Glucose

Scientists have been aware of the promise of sugar and carbohydrates as a power source. Traditionally, the problem involved the inefficiency when extracting electrons from their glucose units. Previous researchers were happy to harvest one or two electrons from a glucose unit in the lab.

A Virginia Tech professor of biological systems engineering, Percival Zhang, created an enzyme path capable of extracting all 24 electrons from one unit of glucose. A series of chemical reactions using this enzyme path works its magic, producing energy. “We just put everything together, and they do everything by themselves—they are chemically selective catalysts,” said Zhang.

Maltodextrin: not just for Junk Food Anymore

Zhang noted that maltodextrin — a partially hydrolyzed starch normally used in junk food production — is cheaper than other forms of sugar. It also releases its energy in a more controlled fashion. Expect this technology, once it is successfully commercialized, to be used in mobile technology like smartphones, where users would “recharge” their phone by filling the device with a sugar-based solution.

Now instead of mobile phone users misplacing their chargers, they will forget to bring their flask of sugar water!

If the innovations of sweet power inspire you to take your engineering career to its next level, talk to the experts at The Talley Group. One of the top engineering staffing agencies in Washington State, they remain a great source of Seattle engineering jobs. Schedule some time with them today!

An App for Breathing Easier — Yes it Exists

June 20th, 2013

Sure there are a lot of apps for the iOS and Android platforms that involve breathing exercises, yoga, or meditation; but engineers from the University of Washington, Seattle Children’s Hospital, and UW Medicine, actually created an app called SpiroSmart The app helps to test lung function. It provides a mobile platform for spirometry, helping doctors detect any problems that could be hampering a person’s ability to breathe.

“One of the major causes of illness has to do with the lungs,” said Eric Larson, a lead author of the app. “If we can catch a problem early, it can make all the difference. Getting involved with pulmonologists the question became: ‘How do you make a low-cost barometer for lung health?’

Leveraging the Mobile Microphone

Larson’s team had to tweak their algorithms to properly interpret the data that comes from someone blowing into their mobile microphone. Much time was spent on the best ways to read what is essentially an audio signal. The SpiroSmart app offers accuracy within five percent of commercially available lung instruments.

The app also does a nice job guiding the user through performing the test at home. It makes sure the proper test is being run. The entire lung test system, including the app, is currently undergoing a clinical trial period before approval is sought from the FDA.

A Low Cost Option for Spirometry

The researchers hope that SpiroSmart provides a low-cost option for lung telemetry, allowing patients to test out their own lung function at home, and helping doctors check on the efficacy of any treatment plans. A professional spirometer can cost upwards of $3,000, so this app can hopefully bring a similar capability for a mere fraction of the cost.

The software developers working on the SpiroSmart project prove once again that engineering can impact humanity in so many positive ways. Does this kind of engineering work inspire you to take your career to the next level? If so, talk to the engineering staffing experts at The Talley Group, one of the leading engineering recruitment firms in the Northwestern United States. They have the staff on hand to help you improve your career.

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