Our Electrical Engineer - Gerard Baquer

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I obtained my bachelor degree in Electronics Engineering by Universitat Rovira i Virgili (Spain). Captivated by the high potential underlying biologically inspired solutions and intrigued by the human brain as one of the most powerful computational machines, I focused my bachelor thesis on Artificial Neural Networks. Continuing that line of work, I am now pursuing my MSc in Electrical Engineering (Biomedical Microelectronics track) at TU Delft with a clear research interest on neuromorphic and neural-interface electronic circuits.

 

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Probably, one of the main reasons I decided to collaborate with Project March was its strongly biomedical and humanitarian long term vision: “To give back full mobility to paraplegics”. In addition, the great deal of enthusiasm of all its members, the multidisciplinary of the team and the great facilities available at the Dream Hall make working in Project March a perfect way of applying all the knowledge obtained throughout my years at university.

Within Project March, I am a member of the Human Machine Interaction (HMI) department which deals with any aspect regarding the interaction between the pilot and the exoskeleton. The HMI department encompasses a wide range of sides of the development of the exoskeleton including design, ergonomics, human-like motion, feedback system... As an electrical engineer, the aspect of the HMI department I am involved the most in is the input device.

The input device is the system that allows the pilot to control the exoskeleton by translating his or her intent into actions. Initially, we proposed many solutions ranging from a smart-watch to voice control; from a simple joystick to an electroencephalography (EEG) cap measuring the electrical activity of the pilot’s brain. Later we narrowed the large list down to three input devices: buttons on a crutch associated with different actions in the exoskeleton, a Segway-like control system where the exoskeleton is driven by tilting the upper body and an “arm cross control” where the movement of the arms is mirrored to the legs.

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Currently we are in the process of developing functional prototypes working closely together with experts and potential users. The development of such prototypes requires me to put into practice several things learnt throughout my bachelor and the first semester of my master. We use the micro-controller platform MBED (programmed in C++) for signal processing, control and communication purposes. We also have to deal with several sensors such as Inertial Measurement Units (IMU) and pressure sensors to capture the intent of the user. Furthermore, we use Matlab models of the exoskeleton to quickly pre-test the functionality of our systems.

In conclusion, Project March is a project with a clear biomedical and humanitarian goal and a great opportunity for an Electrical Engineer to get some hands-on experience in a vivid and inspiring environment.

Introducing the Software & Control Department - by Ike Mulder

Hi! My name is Ike Mulder, and I joined Project MARCH as a part-time member in October. I am currently almost finished with my Bachelor Applied Mathematics. This is actually my second extracurricular activity: I was treasurer of the board of a fraternity (DSV Sint Jansbrug) last year. I acquired a lot of financial and business related knowledge and I was able to use my programming experience to automate some of the more tedious and hard tasks.

As the year came to an end I wanted to continue and expand my programming skill in a more technical environment. A friend of mine introduced me to Project March and my enthusiasm was sparked. The software that needs to be designed and implemented is complex and big, so this was a real challenge. So, after a few months of sorting all of Project March’s financial matters out, I have now switched to the Software & Control department.

Let me tell you a bit more about the Software & Control department. Our job is to make sure the exoskeleton moves in the right way; that the joints move in the correct direction with the correct speed without overshooting the desired destination, and that the total movement of individual joints simulates the regular walking movement (‘gait’) of a human. This Control is however not possible without Software running on the exoskeleton. In the backpack of the exoskeleton, a small computer is mounted who is in control of all the joints. This computer has to handle lots of communication between the individual parts and also has to compute complicated trajectories.

At the moment I’m working on the very first steps of setting up the computer for the new exoskeleton. While one would regularly install Windows or iOS on a computer, this one will probably run on Simulink Real-time. Simulink and its cousin Matlab are both great tools for engineers: they can perform complex matrix calculations and modelling while retaining an intuitive interface. During my studies I learned to use both of these, but to apply them in a real machine is something else.  Next up is implementing and running some tests: we have already designed most of the software architecture, but our design relies somewhat on parallel processing. Before we implement everything, we should test whether what we want is viable in the first place – so I’ll return to the test bank now. Bye!

Meet our Chief Electrical Engineer - Tim Hosman

Exciting times for the new team of Project MARCH! It’s already 4 months ago since I joined the team, and it’s just as long ago since I wrote my last blog. A lot has happened in the team since then, we’ve grown immensely in both size and knowledge. However, before I dive too much into my excitement of what’s happening now, I’d like to take you back to October, when the ball of the new team started rolling.

October was a great month for both the first and second team because it was the month of the Cybathlon. The Cybathlon is the first bionic games in the world, held in Zürich, where engineering teams compete to build the best bionic machine. Categories included arm and leg prostheses, powered wheelchairs, tricycles for paraplegics and, most importantly, exoskeletons. It was an amazing event full of high-tech that enabled a lot of disabled people to regain what they once lost. I was amazed at the enthusiasm of both the engineers and all the visitors, However what really surprised me during the event was the immense joy that I saw in all the participating athletes. It did not matter how well they were preforming, they all had an overwhelming support of the crowd which helped them enormously in their effort to try and overcome an obstacle. It caused them to keep trying, go beyond their expectations and even cry tears of joy when they managed to complete something that they were unable to do for years.

The Cybathlon was a real boost for me to start working on Project MARCH, because it was no longer just a paraplegic that I was going to help the coming year, it was an actual human being to which I can help regain their abilities, even if it was only momentarily, and give great mental support in daily life.

The second team was on its own after the Cybathlon, but we haven’t taken it easy so far. We’ve tripled in size from 10 members to 30, which really accelerated the progress of our project. The result over the last couple of months is clearly evident, we’ve made most of the big design choices and are currently doing a lot of prototyping. Within the electrical department we’ve focussed on a detailed architecture and feature set of both the power and communication systems. One of the devices that we are developing is a general purpose communication node. This device is designed to connect to the “nerve system” of the exoskeleton and is able to connect to numerous sensors, displays, etc. Multiple of these devices can be placed anywhere in the exoskeleton, which makes it very flexible. It also uses a communication protocol similar to internet which enables us to daisy-chain each of these devices (connecting in series instead of a separate cable per device), so there is hardly any cabling too.

Meanwhile, the focus for me as Chief Electrical Engineer has clearly shifted from a purely technical function to a more diverse role. I still do a lot of practical engineering and make big electrical decisions like I did at the start, however since the electrical team has increased in size I now also have more responsibilities regarding management, including planning, contact with

companies and team management. This combined work is something I enjoy greatly so far, and it is going very well for me due to experience that I gained during projects of my bachelor.