Kuchenbecker, the Skirkanich Assistant Professor of Innovation in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics, is the director of the Haptics Lab, an outpost of Penn’s General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception Lab. Her work blends innovative electromechanical design with modeling and user testing, proving that engineering can be practical and decidedly not boring.
Work in the Haptics Lab helps to steady the hand of an eye surgeon during delicate robotic surgery. It puts undersea and outer space repair work in remote hands and will make tomorrow’s video games even more immersive than they are today.
Haptics is the science of understanding and improving human interaction with the physical world through touch and Kuchenbecker’s research center designs the human/robotics interfaces. Most often, these tools are computer-controlled systems, such as a lightweight robotic arm that measures and responds to the motion of the human hand. Kuchenbecker’s VerroTouch System, for example, restores the sense of touch and vibration lost in robotic surgery, enabling the surgeon to feel the texture of rough surfaces or the start and end of contact with tissue.
In an example captured on video earlier this year, Kuchenbecker’s Tactile Gaming Vest used high-power solenoids to create the illusion that the wearer is being shot in the same way as their character in a first-person shooter video game.
Winner of a National Science Foundation CAREER Award in 2009, Kuchenbecker is a favorite of Penn Engineering students. Outside the lab, she promotes robotics education by working with Penn’s Advancing Women in Engineering, a program encouraging young women to embrace the sciences. An avid photographer and dancer, Kuchenbecker also played collegiate volleyball at Stanford, winning the NCAA National Championships in 1996 and 1997.
“I am deeply honored to be one of Popular Science’s Brilliant 10 in 2010,” says Kuchenbecker. “After all the long hours in the lab, it’s really exciting to have the work that we’ve been doing recognized in this way. As technology moves forward, I think there will be ample opportunities for us to engineer better human-computer and human-machine interfaces that involve the sense of touch.” Read the Popular Science article about Kuchenbecker beginning on page 70.
Originally published on October 12, 2010