Dr. Eddie Grant
is a poster professor for multidisciplinary research. The list of his
specialties makes one stop
to rethink the meaning of its word combinations: evolutionary robotics,
computational fabrics, knowledge-based control systems, and biomechatronics.
With a disarming Scottish twinkle in his eye, Grant hustles among departments,
universities, hospitals, and military agencies, working with teams
of experts, students, and end-users on projects that save work and money,
safety, andabove allbring hope.
Grant thinks the new joint graduate program in biomedical engineering
is the most exciting thing thats ever happened on campus. In the next 30
years, engineers will make a huge impact on medicine. I came to America because
it was all happening here. And with our new biomedical engineering partnership
with the UNC School of Medicine, indeed tis.
As director of the Center for Robotics and Intelligent Machines,
he is guiding the development of innovative, artificial muscle
technology for stroke patients
and other people with muscular rehabilitation needs. As I watched my father-in-law
just vegetate away after a stroke, says Grant, I thought about what
could have been done to restore his mobility and function without hiring a full-time
therapist. Since Grant joined the NC State faculty in 1997, he has
established the Rehabilitation Engineering Group, a collection of NC State
Hill faculty and doctors working together to develop and test biorobotic
For the artificial muscles project, Grant is using his background in microcomputer
control of pneumatic systems, collaborating with Dr. Carol Giuliani, a professor
of human movement science at the UNC School of Medicine, and Dr. William Oxenham,
an NC State professor of textile technology. Doctoral students at both universities
combine their talents to round out
the project team.
Trilling his rs with a charming Scots burr, Grant enthusiastically
shows off his graduate students rehabilitative robotics research. In
an earlier project, they had collaborated with engineering professors John Muth,
Denis Cormier, and Ola Harrysson, to create a sensor-mounted, pipe-crawling,
artificial snake to search through the rubble of collapsed buildings for survivors.
For that undertaking, they developed artificial muscles that could imitate a
snakes sideways motion to propel itself forward and slither around
snake project soon led Grant and student researchers Carey Merritt
and Zheng Li back to stroke rehabilitation. With physical
therapy direction from Dr. Giuliani,
they knew that to mimic real muscle contraction, the artificial muscles must
twist and thicken as they shorten. Oxenham, a braiding expert in the College
of Textiles, figured that braided textile tubes pumped full of air would
have those capabilities, and worked with Merritt and Li to provide
the fabric muscle
tissue. Under Grants robotics guidance, the team has built a working
model of a wearable, pneumatically controlled musculature for the human arm and
handthe most complex set of muscles in the body.
At present, the test rig is cumbersome, Grant admits, but he believes
they will eventually be able to use microscale and nanoscale technology
a glovelike garment with embedded actuators to exercise a paralyzed arm and
well as give the patient, for example,
the dignity of feeding himself with a fork. The computer-controlled device
would enable researchers in the UNC Medical Schools Division of Physical
Therapy to obtain real, objective metrics for therapists to measure the
results of exercise, Grant explains. Some experiments have shown
that it may even be possible to regenerate the damaged part of the brain
through repeated exercise.
Ultimately, artificial muscles will be developed for other parts
of the body as well. The most difficult thing for a paraplegic
to do is to stand up from a sitting position. Thats something
Id like our group to work on, says
Grant. Then theres that inimitable twinkle in his eye again as he leans
in and whispers, Im gettin a bit older masel, yknow.
Ill be needin something thelp me down the road!
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