Our Problem: When coming into this competition we wanted to solve an important problem. Because many of our friends and relatives are involved in the healthcare industry, we landed on the idea of coming up with a way for patients that are paralyzed from the neck down to control a wheelchair. Technology currently being used to accomplish can be drastically improved upon, and that's exactly what we set out to do.
Our Goal: The goal of our project is to use penetrating infrared light to identify brain activity. Infrared light of a wavelength between 700 and 900 nm is absorbed by blood and thus can provide information about where blood concentrations reside. Increases in activity of particular areas of the brain lead to higher blood flow which can be analyzed with this infrared technology. We plan on using this information to control the movement of a wheelchair or other vehicle. Based on the limitations from equipment our goal was to observe any change in brain activity and correlate this to movement forward. Left and right movement would be detected using an accelerometer.
Project Timeline: We started this project by modeling a human forehead in SolidWorks and using this to 3D print an encasement that would hold the IR emitters and detectors needed to detect brain activity. Simultaneously other team members developed a model wheel chair and began testing sensors, emitters, servos, and other equipment. After creating models we 3D printed them and began developing code to be used in the final configuration. These programs consisted of functions to turn left and right when head tilting is detected, algorithms to make sense of data retrieved by Infrared sensors, and programs to communicate with our model wheelchair via Bluetooth. This Bluetooth capability proved to be much harder than expected. Two teammates sunk 2-3 hours into getting the Bluetooth connection to work before eventually deciding it was no longer worth the time. To overcome this we figured out how to transmit serial data to the arduino and servos using a USB connection from Python. Although this was not what we were initially thinking, this allowed us to continue on with more important aspects of the project. Another extremely time consuming aspect of this project was attaching wires and their relevant connectors to the brain monitor. This was not anticipated, however our team was able to deal with this issue by working through the night to solder all the necessary connections. In total, there are 30 wires that connect just to the headset alone, in addition to the wires that connect to the wheel chair and its various components.
What we're Proud of: We are extremely proud of how we overcame adversity this weekend. Every time something seemed like it would be simple, the Arduino would not work or something else out of our control would happen. Even with a variety of setbacks, our team still managed to create a prototype and get farther than we thought was even possible. We were able to create a prototype with working Infrared emitters and transceivers that was able to store a data stream on a local computer.
What we learned: As engineering students, we already knew that anything that could go wrong, would go wrong. But regardless of that we learned that there is still an opportunity to create a demo prototype even short on time and materials.
What's next for Near Infrared Brain Spectroscopy Wheelchair Control: In the future we hope to get more reliable data from our infrared sensors and create a method for consistently testing the Brain Monitoring System. If our data is coherent, we would like to implement this on a full scale prototype as soon as possible so that this technology can help those who are paralyzed.