Skip to main content

Brian Lew

SFU Co-op Student
Applied Sciences › Engineering Science

empty
Exoskeleton
My time at MENVRA has been a dynamic encounter. Each day brings its own triumphs and failures, and accompanying joy and sorrow

Pleased to meet you. My name is Brian, and I’m in the biomedical engineering program. Yes, I neglected to mention my year, because I’m not quite sure myself. But since you’re so curious, I think it’s somewhere between 3rd and 4th year, maybe around 3.33 (no, that’s not my GPA). This summer I’m doing a Co-op work term with Dr. Carlo Menon and his lab MENVRA to work on an exoskeleton arm, hence the title of this article. The exoskeleton assists people who have lost control or functionality in their arms due to maladies such as stroke. No, we’re not trying to build a flying, weaponized suit a.k.a. Ironman.

Whereas the exoskeleton uses motors as actuators, my job is to try to replicate its functionality using the patient’s own muscles. Despite having sets of serviceable muscle, patients may be unable to control them due to varying degrees of paralysis. One method to restore functionality is by compelling muscle contraction using electrodes. The fancy technical term for this is functional electrical stimulation (FES).

To build our FES-exoskeletal system, I do my best Tony Stark impersonation. In other words, I design and build the hardware, and then program the software. And then act like a wealthy, genius, playboy philanthropist, but without the money. It sounds simple enough, though there are definitely a lot of technical challenges. Whenever I get really stuck, the grad students and the professor are always willing to provide some helpful input. At MENVRA, we assist and support each other. Like an exoskeleton.

Aside from support, what I’d really like for Christmas is a bunch of human test subjects. Without them, I’m forced to verify the system’s performance on MENVRA’s sole consenting member; i.e. myself. This consists of passing an extremely safe amount of current over a muscle to illicit a contraction. I shock myself everyday for the sake of science. Since I’m right-handed, I prefer to run tests on my left arm since FES induces fatigue. (For this reason, FES is sometimes used to tone muscle without the hassle of going to the gym.) Actually, since you’re reading this, I have to assume you have some  free time. If you’re willing to literally subject yourself to warm, fuzzy feelings for the sake of science, call me maybe. Safety is always our first priority, although there is arguably the danger of my left arm becoming better looking than the right.

My time at MENVRA has been a dynamic encounter. Each day brings its own triumphs and failures, and accompanying joy and sorrow; like writing this article for instance. Having gone through an entire iteration of research, design, fabrication, and testing, I’ve acquired a lot of valuable experience and enlightenment. The significance of this is currently proving difficult to articulate, so I’ll probably have to do some rephrasing for my resume (one of the many reasons I didn’t major in English). Among the successes, the FES project has progressed to the point of possible publication in a journal. So if you’re interested in re-reading this article but with bigger words and more confusing acronyms, look for MENVRA’s FES publication sometime in the future!

  • Brian Lew Sep 10, 2013
    Like to recommend this item
    visibility  16

About the Author

Brian Lew

SFU Co-op Student
Applied Sciences › Engineering Science

You Might Like These... Prospective, Professional Development, Career Exploration

Co-op students jumping in the air
The Co-op Connection Helps Retention

In this blog post, Heather shares with us why co-op is an important experience for all students, whether it be to further career aspirations or to gain future employment opportunities. 

author, courtney, smiling
A Second Term in Government: More of the Same?

Having completed my first work term for Health Canada as a Communications Officer Intern, I was eager to try something new, and the government was not where I believed that was going to happen. That is until I was offered a position at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada...

Hands holding a volunteer badge
Sana Siddiqui: Volunteerism Opens up Endless Possibilities | Part Two

She has been involved with SFU LEAD, Peer Programs and the SFU Muslim Students’ Association, just to name a few. Now, Sana Siddiqui, a Criminology student, reflects back and shares with us the invaluable academic, personal and professional skills and opportunities volunteering opened for her, read on to find out what she has to say about getting involved on campus and in the community.

Exoskeleton
library_books
Blog
Shocking Developments with Exoskeletons
Professional Development, Co-op Reflections, Tech and Innovation

Read about Brian's very cool experience at MENVRA designing and building an exoskeleton arm! 

You Might Like These... Career Exploration

picture of the theatre district in new york with lots of advertisements
Communication: So You Love Advertising, But Don’t Know How to Get in the Door

With a love for marketing and advertising, Communication student Lilian Sue discovers how to break into the industry and finds great online resources to improve one's creativity skills during her search.

A close-up of a t-shirt often worn at camp, outlining the steps to the camp song
Orientation and Training

In the first of a three-part series, Rachael begins her summer Co-op at a BC Easter Seals camp. Follow along as she goes through training and orientation, explaining the most strenuous, emotional and inspiring parts of her journey. 

Students dressed in business wear in a meeting
So, You Got a Big Girl Job — How to Navigate the World of Adults

You know when you go to another country on vacation and everyone is speaking a different language? That’s the way it kind of feels walking into a new job and you are by far the youngest in the room. Everyone seems so educated, knowledgeable and probably old enough to be your parents. But don’t worry - I’ve (kind of) successfully learned how to navigate this intimidating world of adults and I’m here to share my awkward experiences to minimize yours.