Rice: Unconventional Wisdom
Electrical and Computer Engineering
Speaker: Dr. Wolfgang Fink
Associate Professor
Edward and Maria Keonjian Endowed Chair of Microelectronics

The University of Arizona

  ECE Neuroengineering Seminar Series
From Artificial Vision to Autonomous Missions
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
4:00 PM  to 5:00 PM
1064  Duncan Hall
Rice University
6100 Main St
Houston, Texas, USA

Vision is the primary sense used in daily life. How do we see the world? How do people with eye defects perceive the world? Can normally sighted people partake in their experience? If you are blind or become blind, are you blind forever? The talk will address simulation techniques for optical eye disorders as well as discuss remedies for severe eye disorders such as blindness due to macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa.

Blindness occurs either by birth or is acquired. In the latter case, a variety of remedies have been devised that, depending on the disease or condition, range from surgeries on the optical parts of the eye (e.g., cataract surgery) to retinal implants, optic nerve implants, cortical implants, as well as non-invasive remedies such as tongue- and back-stimulators. All these remedies “restore” vision in many different ways and to varying degrees of success. The talk will focus on real-time image processing and electric stimulation optimization for artificial vision implants using retinal electrode arrays.

To investigate the performance potential of visual prosthesis carriers, robotic platforms have been devised to act as a surrogate for the blind. Equipped with cameras similar to the ones used in visual prostheses, and provided with visual input adjusted to what a visual prosthesis would offer, these platforms can approximate the visual performance of visual prosthesis carriers. Since these robotic platforms are already equipped with cameras, it is only a short leap of imagination – and of hardware and software – to adapt them for autonomous planetary exploration.

Robotic reconnaissance missions are called for in extreme space environments, including planetary atmospheres, surfaces, and subsurfaces, as well as in potentially hazardous or inaccessible operational areas on Earth. Such future missions will require increasing degrees of operational autonomy: (1) Automatic characterization of operational areas from different vantages; (2) automatic sensor deployment and data gathering; (3) automatic feature extraction and region-of-interest identification; (4) automatic target prediction and prioritization; and (5) subsequent automatic (re-)deployment and navigation of robotic agents. The talk reports on the development of a robotic test bed for a NASA award-winning mission paradigm, termed "Tier-scalable Reconnaissance", as the foundation for autonomous C4ISR systems of the future. In addition to aerial platforms, the test bed currently comprises several worldwide computer-controllable land and sea rovers equipped with a variety of sensors for autonomous operations in aerial, terrestrial, and riverine/maritime environments.

Host: Caleb Kemere

Biography of Dr. Wolfgang Fink:
Associate Professor Dr. Wolfgang Fink is the inaugural Edward & Maria Keonjian Endowed Chair of Microelectronics with joint appointments in the Departments of Electrical & Computer Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, Systems & Industrial Engineering, Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering, and Ophthalmology & Vision Science at the University of Arizona in Tucson. He is a Visiting Associate in Physics at the California Institute of Technology, and holds concurrent appointments as Visiting Research Associate Professor of Ophthalmology and Neurological Surgery at the University of Southern California. Dr. Fink is the founder and director of the Visual and Autonomous Exploration Systems Research Laboratory at Caltech (http://autonomy.caltech.edu) and at the University of Arizona (http://autonomy.arizona.edu). He was a Senior Researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory from 2000 till 2009. He obtained a B.S. and M.S. degree in Physics and Physical Chemistry from the University of Göttingen, Germany, and a Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics from the University of Tübingen, Germany in 1997.

Dr. Fink, pursuing an inter-disciplinary systems engineering approach in human-machine interfaces, evolutionary optimization, and autonomous/reasoning systems, has focused his research on biomimetic (implantable) systems, biomedical sensor development, artificial vision, computer-optimized design, cognitive systems, and autonomous robotic space exploration. Throughout his tenure at JPL and Caltech Dr. Fink received 6 NASA Patent Awards. In July 2009, Dr. Fink was named co-recipient of the R&D Magazine’s R&D 100 Award and subsequently in November 2009 he was also named co-recipient of the R&D Magazine’s R&D 100 Editors’ Choice Award (the highest of the R&D 100 Awards in 2009), both for the DOE-funded Artificial Retina Project. Furthermore, in November 2009 he received the NASA Board Award for his pioneering work on a novel autonomous space exploration paradigm. Dr. Fink has over 170 publications (including journal, book, and conference contributions) as well as 13 patents awarded to date in the areas of autonomous systems, biomedical devices, MEMS fabrication, and multi-dimensional optimization. In 2011 Dr. Fink was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE). Dr. Fink holds a Commercial Pilots License for Rotorcraft.

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