You are here

SPUR intern works on prosthetic limbs at APL

Whiting’s Farhan Damani gets an “arm up” in his career through internship
Posted February 10, 2015

SPUR-ring on student research at APL

Hundreds of thousands of Americans lack functioning upper limbs due to spinal cord injuries, amputations, and other causes, and next-generation prosthetic limbs and robotic devices offer some solutions to these individuals in terms of regaining independence and improving their quality of life.
The opportunity to work on the further development of these upgraded prosthetic limbs – in particular improving their grasping capabilities – drew Farhan Damani, Engr '16, to apply to be an intern through SPUR (the Summer Program in Undergraduate Research).
This new program pairs mentor engineers from the Applied Physics Lab with Whiting School of Engineering students and is funded through the generosity of Johns Hopkins University Trustee Heather Murren, A&S ’88, and her husband Jim Murren. Heather Murren is also a co-chair of Rising to the Challenge: The Campaign for Johns Hopkins.
“The idea here is to restore human‑like dexterity,” says APL Project Manager and Senior Engineer Kapil Katyal, who works on the HARMONIE project (Hybrid Augmented Reality Multimodal Operation Neural Integration Environment).
“HARMONIE  is a collaboration between robotics and neuroscience. The basic idea is 'can you use robotic technologies, such as computer vision, autonomous controls, and sensors in a robotic hand, to help or augment capabilities for people who otherwise have difficulty',” he says.

“We’ve done direct neural control of a prosthetic device, and the results have been revolutionary. Our next step is to reduce the cognitive load associated with performing everyday tasks, such as picking up and manipulating an object,” adds Katyal, who was the mentor to Damani after he was accepted into SPUR.
“The problem becomes exponentially more difficult when you’re working with a robotic arm that has a very high number of degrees of freedom or joints,” says Damani, who explains that his first task was to evaluate existing open-source software for grasping and then to write code, “modifying that algorithm to fit what we thought would work best for the Modular Prosthetic Limb.”

“There were multiple occasions where I was stuck,” Damani says about his particular tasks, “But I kept working on it, in addition to getting help from a lot of very talented engineers at the Applied Physics Lab.”

Katyal acknowledges that working with interns requires an investment of time from the mentors, but adds that the SPUR interns are very high-caliber students, and “Farhan’s contributions were great.” In fact, having concluded the internship, Damani has been hired to stay on at APL as a temp on call.

While the newest developments – including Damani’s work – are being scheduled for clinical trials, Damani also credits the SPUR program with kick-starting his career. And that his work could one day improve the quality of life for others “is a very powerful feeling,” he says.