From LEGO League to the Georgia Tech Healthcare Robotics Lab

SURE REU in Robotics Participant Kavya Puthuveetil in the lab of Professor Charles Kemp

SURE REU in Robotics Participant Kavya Puthuveetil in the lab of Professor Charles Kemp

Established as part of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Summer Undergraduate Research in Engineering (SURE) grant, the SURE Robotics Program adds a robotics component to Georgia Tech’s SURE Program, established in 1992.

Launched in May 2014, and funded with co-support from the Department of Defense and NSF’s Division of Engineering Education and Centers, the program supports undergraduate students in an immersive, ten-week summer robotics research experience designed to attract qualified underrepresented students into graduate school in the fields of engineering and science.  In 2021, the in-person GT SURE Robotics program was hosted by the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering with support from IRIM.

Over next academic year, IRIM will be highlighting each of the undergraduate participants, their research topics and experience in the labs, as well as what they gained from the program and their time at Georgia Tech, and in Atlanta. Our third interviewee from the program is Kavya Puthuveetil, an Incoming Senior in Biomedical Engineering at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond VA.

Name: Kavya Puthuveetil
PI: Dr. Charles Kemp
Mentor: Dr. Zackory Erikson

What sparked your interest in robotics and what problems are you hoping to help solve as a roboticist?

I first became interested in robotics while participating in the FIRST Lego League as an elementary schooler. I continued to be exposed to robotics through FIRST Robotics Competition in high school, however as a biomedical engineering major, I never thought that actually becoming a roboticist could be within my reach until I was accepted into this REU. As a future roboticist, I hope to solve healthcare problems. I am particularly interested in exploring how robots can alleviate the strain caused by the limited availability of nursing staff and how they can restore autonomy and dignity to patients who are otherwise reliant on full-time human assistance for care.

What research are you conducting at GT and what applications do you feel this research may have?

Consider a person lying in bed, covered with a blanket. My research this summer investigates how robots can learn to manipulate the blanket to uncover a given target limb without uncovering other nontarget parts of the body. This research has many potential applications in healthcare since robots working in these settings will frequently need to interact with patients that may be covered by a blanket when attempting to perform an assistive task. More broadly, our work contributes to research into robotic manipulation of deformable objects and human-robot interaction.

What has been your favorite academic lab activity thus far and why?

My favorite part of my research this summer was transferring some of the initial work we did in simulation to the real world. Our lab got a new robot over the summer, a Stretch from Hello Robot, and I was in the unique position of being the first person in the lab to work with it. I was largely on my own for this portion of the project since there was no one in the lab who had prior experience with the robot to help me when I ran into issues. Additionally, Stretch is a very new robot, so the pool of available knowledge resources is still quite small. Although it was  initially very intimidating to work with the robot, I think that the experience helped push me out of my comfort zone in a good way. Not only did I get to write ROS code to control Stretch, which greatly improved my technical skills, I also frequently had to make posts in the Hello Robot forum to get direct assistance from their engineers when I hit a wall, which was the source of a lot of personal growth in becoming more comfortable with admitting when I need help.

Do you feel this REU experience has helped prepare you for working in a collaborative laboratory environment and furthered your education goals?

Absolutely - this REU is probably the single most transformative experience I’ve had during my undergraduate education. After this experience, I feel more prepared and confident to pursue my educational goals by both building my technical skills in robotics, and by solidifying my conviction that doing research on this level is something I am passionate about/capable of.

What are your plans post-undergraduate?

I plan to pursue a PhD in robotics. I am particularly interested in doing research in assistive or healthcare robotics.

What was your favorite thing about the Georgia Institute of Technology and Atlanta?

I liked the campus a lot more than I had expected. I enjoyed all of the green space and how the campus is independent from the city while still being very close to it. The food was also really good here!

Update on November 11, 2021 | Ms. Puthuveetil's research with the HCR Team formed the basis of a research article that is currently under review as a journal publication. Congratulations to Kavaya and the HCR Team!

Bodies Uncovered: Learning to Manipulate Real Blankets Around People via Physics Simulations

K Puthuveetil, CC Kemp, Z Erickson - arXiv preprint arXiv:2109.04930, 2021 -
While robots present an opportunity to provide physical assistance to older adults and people with mobility impairments in bed, people frequently rest in bed with blankets that cover the majority of their body. To provide assistance for many daily self-care tasks, such as bathing, dressing, or ambulating, a caregiver must first uncover blankets from part of a person's body. In this work, we introduce a formulation for robotic bedding manipulation around people in which a robot uncovers a blanket from a target body part while ensuring …

Visit the Healthcare Robotics Lab Here

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Christa Ernst |