Over the past 25 years, Ralph Etienne-Cummings’ research has developed through three main phases. In the early part of his career, he studied biologically inspired sensors and sensory computation systems, primarily in the form of vision sensors. Typically, these systems were implemented with Very Large Scale Integrated (VLSI) technology and were used to extract information about the environment and to guide the “attention” of other computation systems. In the middle part of his career, he studied how these systems can be hosted onto robots. At that point he also started to model spinal neural circuits in silicon, and develop robots to study legged locomotion. Both VLSI circuits and biomorphic robots were developed and used in these studies. More recently, he has evolved this work to include brain-machine interfaces and neural prosthesis devices. Specifically, he started looking at spinal and cortical prosthesis devices and robotic systems to restore function after injury and for human augmentation. This area has required close collaboration with neuroscientists to gain access to animal models (i.e. lamprey, cat, ferret and monkey preparations).
His recent work has included various experiments to understand neurophysiology of spinal and cortical neural circuits, to interface with them, to decode their sensory-motor relationships, and to use these relationships to control biomorphic robots. He has also worked on encoding somatosensory feedback to the cortex of non-human primates. He has made significant contributions in the following areas:
His work has the potential to produce computers that can perform recognition tasks as effortlessly living organism, legged robots that are as efficient and elegant as humans and prosthetics than can seamlessly interface with the human body to restore functionality after injury or to overcome disease. Lastly, we have also been working on developing miniaturized ultrasound phased arrays, developing interstitial high intensity ultrasound ablation and monitoring system, and most recently we focused on developing ultrasonically “smart” tools.