A few items of particular interest. First, there was a pretty cool talk from the folks at Case Western Reserve who study peripheral neural interfaces. I've always liked their work because it's a nice balance of theoretical and practical - their interfaces are a great way of helping amputees without requiring holes drilled in the skull or endless training sessions with finicky EEG systems. The particular talk I attended showed how they used nerve stimulation to simulate the sensation of touch for a couple of patients using myoelectrically controlled prosthetic hands. As the hand grasps down, information from pressure and proprioceptive sensors embedded in the prosthesis is translated into electrical stimuli presented to one of the peripheral nerves. The patient has a sensation of touch, and the ability to grasp and have fine motor control with the prosthesis is enhanced. Very cool. Here is a video of their work:
Another cool talk I attended was about some Rice University undergraduates who created a wheelchair-mounted robotic gripper for an incoming freshman with "brittle bone" disease. It was a nice example of a well-executed senior design project in that it was designed to spec with a lot of well reasoned design decisions. Plus, it really made a difference for the patient. A video of their work is here:
Finally, there was a highly amusing talk by my old grad school mate Joe Tranquillo at Bucknell University in which he discussed making his biomedical Signals and Systems course more broad-based by inviting an improv music group to work with his students. Their semester project was to create musical instruments driven by biomedical signals and then hold an improv concert using these new instruments. Creative in a way that only Joe could think up. Nice work!