Professors team up to design a better prosthetic arm

MARCH 18, 2016

Xiaorong Zhang and Kazunori Okada

Assistant Professor of Engineering Xiaorong Zhang, left, and Associate Professor of Computer Science Kazunori Okada are combining their respective expertise to develop a better prosthetic arm.

If computer scientists and engineers join forces, can they build a better prosthetic arm, one that could even, say, play the piano? A pair of San Francisco State University researchers hopes to find out.

Kazunori Okada, an associate professor of computer science, and Xiaorong Zhang, an assistant professor of engineering, have embarked on a project to develop a prosthetic arm that better understands and interprets the complex electromyogram (EMG) signals necessary for elaborate arm, wrist, hand and finger movements. EMG is a measure of electrical voltage generated from muscle contractions and contains information about the neural signals sent from the spinal cord to control the muscles.

“An arm is a basic tool of a human being, and losing it is a lifechanging experience,” Okada said. “Coming up with a good replacement for a lost arm is difficult. There are still muscles and nerves at the end of the arm, but how they coordinate together is very complex and reading their signals is not an easy thing.”



Making an Impact

Ken Fong (B.S., ‘71, M.A. ‘74)

This project is the first to receive funding from the Ken Fong Translational Research Fund, which was established with a $5 million donation from SF State alumnus Ken Fong to support interdisciplinary research projects at the University. Ken Fong is president of the Palo Alto-based venture capital firm Kenson Ventures and founder of the biotech firm Clontech Labs. His generous support of SF State stems from a desire to give back to the University in recognition of the education he received, which proved pivotal in his life and career.

Ken Fong headshot