Smart Use of Sensors – Conserving Energy and Treating Nerve Palsy

Student Name: 
Ben Hammer
Faculty Adviser: 
John Board
Academic Year: 
2009/2010

The central theme of Smart Home Fellow Ben Hamner’s project is signal processing: integrating information from sensors, appropriately processing this information, and then acting on this information.

“Signals are omnipresent,” he explains. “The power consumption of your TV is a signal. When you blink at the screen, the change in electric potential across your eye is a signal. The electrical pulses your keyboard sends to your computer is a signal, along with the minute electrical variations on the surface of your forearm as you type.”

Ben, a triple major in biomedical engineering, electrical and computer engineering and mathematics, is tackling three distinct problems in his project. First, he plans to track how much power is being used by all the devices through an inexpensive, reliable network of sensors that wirelessly monitor the power consumption at every outlet. These signals will be received, processed, and stored in an online database system. Then, signal analysis techniques and psychological feedback mechanisms will be used to display the information to the user and modify the user’s behavior to reduce power consumption.

His second project is to treat patients with facial nerve palsy. The most common treatment option is to implant an unsightly gold weight in the eyelid that restricts vision in order to prevent infection. To fix this, he is working with doctors and leading a team to prototype a device that detects a blink in the non-paralyzed eye via surface electromyography (sEMG) and stimulates a synchronous blink in the paralyzed eye.

In his third project, Ben hopes to use sEMG signals from the forearm to determine what key a person is pressing and enable people to type without a keyboard. This project has the potential to enable amputees to type and enhance how millions of users interact with their phones. Ben, originally from Charleston, S.C., is working with electrical and computer engineering professor John Board.