E-Braille research gets prestigious National Science Foundation support

Award recognizes early career success, funds research of Engineering's Yantao Shen

5/28/2014 - By: Mike Wolterbeek
Yantao Shen Yantao Shen, assistant professor in the Electrical and Biomedical Department, in his Lab for Bioinstrumentation and Automation.

Adaptive technologies for blind and visually impaired people are the cornerstone of Yantao Shen's research, new technology that will allow blind and visually impaired people to conveniently perform tasks such as reading, typing in Braille, browsing the internet, engaging in online conversations and perceiving graphics.

Shen, assistant professor of electrical and biomedical engineering at the University of Nevada, Reno, has received  a prestigious and highly competitive National Science Foundation CAREER award in the amount of $418,802 for his project entitled "Adaptive Electro-Braille: A New Tactile Sensory Substitution and Assistive Technology for the Blind and Visually Impaired."

The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program award is given to junior faculty at the beginning of their academic careers who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars, placing focus on high-quality research and education activities. Shen joins a growing group of researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno who have received the NSF awards.

"This technology, which I've named E-Braille, will allow the blind and visually impaired to conveniently access more documents, books and libraries, anytime and anywhere," Shen said. "It's based on electrical stimulation with online skin bioimpedance sensing and tactile-preference rendering functions."

Shen's proposal to the NSF is to investigate a touch-sensitive device that is adaptable and convenient for use, is worn on the finger and features electronic scanning technology to scan a variety of objects, including Braille text.

"Equally important to my goal is the recruitment and training of the next generation of engineers who will emerge not only with a solid background in engineering and science disciplines but also have the passion and ability to contribute their expertise in multidisciplinary assistive and rehabilitative engineering areas," Shen said.

Shen is the latest of more than a dozen faculty members within the University's College of Engineering to receive the nationally competitive award.

"I feel very happy and excited about this award," Shen said. "This prestigious award is an important milestone in my career and will offer immeasurable help to my research and teaching in the biomedical engineering area."

Shen joined the Department of Electrical and Biomedical Engineering in 2008 and is director of the Lab for Bioinstrumentation and Automation. His research is in the areas of bioinstrumentation and automation, robotics, sensors and actuators, and tactile/haptic interfaces.

"An NSF CAREER award is a significant measure of national recognition and accomplishment, consistent with our college's vision and strategic priorities," College of Engineering Dean Manos Maragakis said. "I am particularly happy about this accomplishment, as it shows major progress of our biomedical engineering program, which is one of the College's priorities, and presents unique opportunities for interdisciplinary collaborations."

The NSF is an independent federal agency created to promote the progress of science. The agency funds basic research conducted by U.S. colleges and universities in the many fields of science and engineering, ensuring that research is fully integrated with education to prepare tomorrow's top scientists and engineers.


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