NSF CAREER Award bolsters wearable technology research

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Ganapati Bhat, assistant professor in Washington State University’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, has received a National Science Foundation CAREER Award for work to improve flexible, self-sustainable wearable technology.

The five-year $577,202 award supports early-career faculty who have potential to become role models in research and education through innovative exploration, community involvement and STEM equity. 

Wearable technology is increasingly important, particularly for help in supporting the country’s aging population, according to the White House National Science and Technology Council. Most wearable devices on the market are made from steel, titanium, or other rigid materials that limit their usefulness and comfort. Bhat aims to use new materials to create more flexible, versatile devices, so that a person might wear regular clothes or a simple patch that would include 3D-printed bendable materials and rigid computer chips.

Focusing on three potential applications, Bhat will develop designs for wearable devices that will consider the needs of the user and the clinician. 

In the first application, he and his clinical collaborators will work to monitor the health of individuals with movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s Disease or post-stroke disorders.

Ganapati Bhat

General human activity monitoring, the device’s second showcased application, provides a foundation for additional health applications through daily activity data collection. Analyzing a user’s actions provides health practitioners with a comprehensive view of an individual’s walking, sitting and fitness activity, which can generate tailored courses of healthcare. 

A third application explores ADHD monitoring and emotion detection. Such a system could lead to enhanced learning environments for students with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

Self-sustainability is an important pillar of the research, as Bhat’s devices are intended to operate without being plugged in. Energy harvested from light and movement will power the devices, through small solar panels, as well as sensors that generate energy when bent. 

Bhat is collaborating with Pullman High School on the project, and students will have opportunities to test the device prototypes as participants. Doctors specializing in Parkinson’s Disease are also assisting with the research. Bhat will also work with community colleges to support learning in computer science and engineering for underrepresented communities.

With WSU since 2020, Bhat holds a PhD in computer engineering from Arizona State University and a bachelor’s degree from the Indian Institute of Technology in Dhanbad. 

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