Q&A with NeurotechUofT
This NeuroTechX Student Club is eager to grow in Fall 2017
In this week’s Q&A we talk to Alisa, Sayan and Oishe from the NeuroTechX affiliated student group NeurotechUofT. They discuss their work on a fascinating biofeedback project and share the challenges they face with this technology.
NTX: Could you please introduce yourself, your team and NeurotechUofT?
Sayan: I am the president of NeurotechUofT, and we have here Alisa, our Technical Project Manager, MingZhi, our Workshop Leader and Oishe and Albert, our Biosignal Board co-leaders. Actually, we just came from a group picture so we were all here together.
At NeurotechUofT, we are trying to push neurotech innovation at UofT by involving design teams and project teams, and trying to take all ideas the club members have and bringing them into reality. We would like to make great products that are applicable to academia or industry. To support that, we have a wide series of initiatives to make sure students can get the skills that they need to make these projects. We try to create connections and ideas exchanges between students and with academia and industry.
NTX: How do you work with academia and industry?
Sayan: We are working on a few projects. For example, we have a project with the Human Biology department, trying to see how we can expose neurosciences student at UofT to neurotechnology and neuroimaging, broadening their horizons. Right now, we are also trying to collaborate with the Biomedical and Biomaterial department because they actually do a lot of neurotech stuff and we don’t have access to them. So we are trying to have a collaboration with their design studio so we can collaborate and utilize the resources they have for our members. Concerning industry, we are trying to do more work with the Muse headset and the OpenBCI board, and we hope to get more in touch with the guys there soon.
NTX: What kind of project have you been working on?
Sayan: Last year we developed an eye-tracking device for augmented and virtual reality using EOG. We learned a lot from this experience in terms of circuit design. This project is actually open-source and was presented to the NTX competition last year. We attempted a few projects that did not necessarily turn into life, but it was a good learning experience. The first one was a mindfulness research study to see, from a cognitive neuroscience perspective, if we could design a biofeedback-based meditation program that would work well with the neuroscience and neurpsychology theories we have right now. It did not work out, probably because of the vast complexity of the project, but we did learn a lot. We also tried to develop another project called EmotionLearn, trying to see if we could predict emotional states that occur during learning among people with mental disabilities. That would have allowed teachers to know what is going in on in a student’s brain during learning.
NTX: What was the difficulties on these projects?
Alisa: What we’ve learned about research projects is that you need a large amount of data, you need hardware, and ideally you need to work with different labs. It was very difficult for a young student club to get that. Hopefully, within the next two years, we will try other research projects. But you know, we are a very technology-based organization, and we are trying to get some neuroscience students on board, and the best way to do that is through research. So we hope that we will work more on research projects to attract more neuroscience students.
NTX: Summer is almost finished. How do you get ready for going back to school and get NeurotechUofT back on track?
Sayan: We are actually at the point where a lot of our executive members are going on internship leave, and leaving university soon. So we have started building a series of workshop that are perfect to solve this because new members are able to get the skills required to get started with the projects and to take the lead afterwards.
Our main roadblock at NeurotechUofT is having projects to continue by themselves, without having our core members putting too much time on them. The workshops can help us with that. And we take a lot of the inspiration from NeurotechEDU, and we hope to contribute to it with our workshop content.
NTX: Can you tell me more about the content of the workshops?
Alisa: During the workshop, the students have to build their own EMG-based BCI for the first time. At each stage of the workshop, they will be given a presentation, learn the basics of code and electronics, and progressively and iteratively work on building blocks of a kit, that will at the end be a full EMG-based circuit. The goal is that students that do not have any experience in neurotech or science can build their own circuit board.
Sayan: And at the end of the workshop, we hold a small competition to see what people can do with their new biosignal acquisition board and the skills they have learned so far.
NTX: Why did you choose EMG over EEG?
Sayan: We choose electromyography (EMG) over electroencephalography (EEG) because we wanted something easy to manipulate, and that would easily provide a feedback. You can consciously control the EMG signal because you control your muscles, but there are still interesting processing steps you need to learn and master to use it efficiently in an application.
Alisa: We also choose EMG because it is more cost-effective compared to EEG. For the workshop, we want to reduce the cost for participants, with a maximum of $15 per participants. And EMG, as it is easier that EEG to extract from the body, requires cheaper electronic elements.
NTX: How do you see 2017–18 going?
Alisa: I think our main focus is to … win the competition (laugh). One of the goal for this year would be to have a presence on campus. We want to be sure our legacy continue after the founding members graduate, and we would like to build some kind of framework they can rely on and continue developing more innovation in neurotech.
Oishe: We are planning to work on a new partnership with professors and have new projects to bring new people on board. You know, we are kind of short in equipment, because we are a young club, so more connections and projects with professors and research labs would be a good idea.
Sayan: We believe this is our big year, because we have been growing slowly in the past, building things for our present members. But this year, we think we can grow more, actively recruiting, start more complex and ambitious projects and reach our full potential.
NeurotechUofT is a NeuroTechX affiliated student club at the University of Toronto. You can learn more about their club on their website: http://neurotechuoft.github.io/
If you’re interested in starting your own student club or want to learn more about the NeuroTechX Student Clubs Initiative check us out! https://neurotechx.github.io/studentclubs/
Interview conducted by Benjamin De Leener