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Charting Our Progress is CVL’s annual review, with archives available

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Mentoring Program Helps Kids Design Brain-Controlled Wheelchair

Apr. 14, 2016

Starting with some off-the-shelf transistors, motors and gyros, several seniors at Hillcrest High School are feverishly working in robotics teacher Tige Brown’s classroom long after most everyone else has gone home. They are racing to complete a wheelchair controlled by brain waves — a device that has been months in the making and will finally be featured Saturday at the Dallas Arboretum’s Earth Day celebration.

The students are part of UT Dallas’ Young Women in Science and Engineering Investigators program, which offers research and engineering experience to high school students with the aim of increasing their interest in science, technology, engineering and math. In its fourth year, the program is providing mentoring and support for more than 50 high school students from eight high schools across Dallas.

While holding the headset that directs the machine, Dr. Chandramallika Basak explains how the chair works: Brains emit electrical waves, and some of those waves, such as “alpha” and “beta” waves, are associated with cognition. The headset registers the waves and, through a computer program that the team has designed, classifies them and transmits signals via Bluetooth to steer the wheelchair.

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