Researcher profile: Naghmeh Garmsiri

Naghmeh Garmsiri is a PhD student and a research assistant at the University of Manitoba’s department of Mechanical & Manufacturing Engineering. She is presently working on pneumatic robots. Pneumatic robots use pressurized air to create mechanical motions.

Garmsiri was born and raised in Iran where she also completed her undergraduate degree majoring in Computer Engineering at Shiraz University.

“When I started university, I did not have much idea around engineering fields. I just had passion with building something like a machine, which can work properly. This dragged me to engineering,” Garmsiri told the Gradzette.

Garmsiri completed her undergrad and worked as a control engineer for two years before she felt like she missed the university, returning to pursue her MSc in Mechatronics Engineering, a field quite different from her first degree.

“Working as a control engineer, I developed interest for mechatronics engineering,” Garmsiri said.

Garmsiri started her MSc research on rehabilitation robots. These robots can work or act exactly like a physiotherapist and are able to help disabled people meet their daily needs.

“I was really motivated when I heard the testimony of a patient who has lost his motor functionality after a brain stroke. He said the rehabilitation robots worked softer and easier comparing to a human physiotherapist.”

Garmsiri started working to optimize the performance of these robots by improving the robots’ co-operation with patients. She used an intelligent controller, called BELEIC. BELEIC is a bio-inspired controller that mimics the emotional learning of a mammalian brain.

Garmsiri is now employed at the University of Manitoba where she works as a research assistant under Dr. Nariman Sepehri`s supervision. She hopes to build a rehabilitation system using the pneumatic robot originally built by her fellow research members.

“The most important decision to make when building a rehabilitation setup is the robot actuation method. Robots have different methods of actuation. Among them, the only one which provides gentle, stiff motion and also safety for humans is called pneumatic actuation. This is obtained by injecting air into a piston, which transfers the movement to the robot arm,” Garmsiri told the Gradzette.

The rehabilitation setup also consists of a haptic device and a control system. A haptic device is one that makes physical contact between the computer and the user through an input/output system such as a joystick. By using a haptic device, the user can not only feed information to the computer but can receive information from the computer in the form of a sensation on some part of his body.

In this system, the haptic device is manually operated by a doctor. The doctor moves the haptic device and the movement data is transmitted to the control system. The control system is the central processing unit of the setup which runs the control software. It communicates with the entire system through a data acquisition board and communication channels. It uses the transmitted data from the haptic device to move the pneumatic actuator accordingly. The pneumatic actuator is connected to patient depending on the desired application.

The pneumatic actuator moves the patient disabled part and measures the reaction force of patient’s body part. This force is sent back to the haptic device, which then reflects it to be felt by the doctor. The disabled body part of the patient could be the limbs or the hands.

Garmsiri experienced a lot of setbacks at the onset of her research. One of her biggest challenges was developing a controller for the setup.

“Air is compressible and nonlinear. It makes the control work really challenging,” Garmsiri explains.

Garmsiri has developed two control systems for this setup. Using them, the actuator can provide the desired position and desired force. Then she combined them to achieve a more human-like performance.

In the face of challenges, Garmsiri was motivated by her highly experienced supervisor who has always encouraged and stood by her side. She might never forget her wonderful lab mates who provided her with a welcoming and conducive atmosphere for her research.

“I can’t wait to get to school and see my lab mates; they are the best friends I have ever had.”

“My ultimate goal is to have a robotic system that can be efficiently applied to rehabilitation treatment. Furthermore, this robot can also be used inside MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) for rehabilitation assessment where a lot of existing robots are not capable of working,” said Garmsiri.

MRI of the brain is a safe and painless test that uses a magnetic field and radio waves to produce detailed images of the brain and the brain stem.

“The loveliest fact about my thesis is that it will be used to serve our society, our grandparents and sometimes ourselves.”

This article was originally published in the Gradzette.