Don’t underestimate the wrist, the most complex and taken-for-granted joint in the human body.
“Watch your wrist some time when you’re picking up something and moving it around. It’s amazing. And then think of people who have lost the use of their wrist. Think how difficult that would be,” said Claudia Kann, a senior in mechanical engineering (MECH) at Rice University.
Kann works as a research assistant to Marcia O’Malley, professor of MECH and director of the Mechatronic and Haptic Interfaces Lab. Much of her recent research, done in collaboration with Chad Rose, a fifth-year graduate student in MECH, has focused on the role played by the wrist in the development of robotic rehabilitation exoskeletons.
Claudia Kann“We use passive reflectors sensors. What we’re trying to do is quantify the movements of the wrist. It’s complicated because there are more than just two intersecting planes. A rehabilitation robot must be very precise. We want to leverage the robotic device’s ability to ensure accurate and repeatable movements,” Kann said.
“Claudia has a maturity and tenacity in her approach to research, is not deterred when things don’t go directly from A to B (research can take a meandering path), and she is able to understand both the larger objectives of the project, and the specific role of her research project,” O’Malley said of Kann. “All this while really being part of the team and a contributing member of my lab alongside the graduate students.”
Born and raised in Connecticut, Kann felt an early attraction to numbers and, she said, “Legos, the usual stuff.” In eighth grade she joined her school’s robotics club, and came to Rice considering electrical engineering as a major. That changed after the summer of 2015, when she had a robotics internship with NASA at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. “We did work on human joint position-sensing technology, related to what I ended up doing at Rice. This experience had a big impact on me,” Kann said.
At the start of her junior year, after the NASA internship, Kann declared mechanical engineering her major and joined O’Malley’s lab. “It feels more like a math problem than lots of other kinds of engineering. It feels as though I can actually calculate the outcome of something I have done,” Kann said.
In graduate school, Kann has resolved to pursue robotics as the focus of her research. “I’m interested in using robotics and control systems to improve the quality of life for people,” she said.