A pioneer for the past three decades in mobile robotics and legged locomotion, Ralph Etienne-Cummings’ innovations have the potential to produce computers that can perform recognition tasks as effortlessly and efficiently as humans can and has developed prosthetics than can seamlessly interface with the human body to restore functionality after injury or to overcome the disease.
Etienne-Cummings’ research includes developing systems and algorithms for biologically inspired and low-power processing, biomorphic robots, closed-loop neural prosthetics, and computer integrated surgical systems and technologies. His contributions to the field are numerous, including helping to develop the first large scale neural computer-implemented using Very-large-scale integration (VLSI) chips (integrated circuit of, potentially, millions of transistors on a single chip) as a PhD student to publishing the first paper on pulse-based, inter-pixel time of travel motion chip, which was based on the fly’s motion detection. After expanding this research into silicon retinas, Etienne-Cummings worked with the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the JHU Applied Physics Lab to study how these chips guide micro unmanned aerial vehicles.
Etienne-Cummings has published more than 230 technical articles, one book, 12 book chapters, and holds 12 patents. In the 2000s, he helped create silicon Central Pattern Generators (CPG) for the control of biped locomotion. This groundbreaking research developed real-time adaptation in response to external perturbations and asymmetries in the motor system, creating smooth and efficient bipedal running, walking, and stepping that is still hard to find in today’s legged robotics systems. This evolved into brain-machine interfaces and neural prosthesis devices to restore function after injury and for human augmentation.
Etienne-Cummings’ recent work has advanced the understanding of how to interface electronics with the nervous system and how to use biological signals to control biomorphic robots. His demonstration of in vitro control of the spinal circuits responsible for locomotion in lamprey and on a cat’s hind limb were the first examples of artificially generating signals to change the cycle-by-cycle behavior of segmental CPG networks in the spinal cord. Currently, he is working on an implantable device that will perform intra-spinal-micro-stimulation to mitigate spinal cord injuries; an integrated, wireless wearable physiological sensor to track the health of cardiac patients after admission; and ultrasonic imaging systems and actuated catheters for infertility treatment, among other projects.
In a career spanning academia and industry, Etienne-Cummings is the former director of the Institute of Neuromorphic Engineering and consults for numerous technology firms, including Nova Sensors, Inc., Innovative Wireless Technologies, Singular Computing, Panasonic N. American & Corporation, Avago Technologies, Micron Technologies, and others. He also serves as an expert witness for law firms across the country and has testified in the Federal Court and the International Trade Commission cases. He was a visiting scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a visiting African scholar at the University of Cape Town in South Africa and an Eminent Visiting Professor at the University of Western Sydney in Australia. At Johns Hopkins, where Etienne-Cummings holds a secondary appointment in Computer Science, he is the chair of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. He is the founding director of the JHU Institute of Neuromorphic Engineering and was associate director for Education and Outreach of the National Science Foundation (NSF) sponsored Engineering Research Centers on Computer-Integrated Surgical Systems and Technology.
Among his numerous honors and awards are the 1996 NSF’s CAREER Award, the Young Investigators Program Award from the Office of Naval Research (2000), and the Trailblazer Award for Top Minorities in Science (2006). In 2007, Etienne-Cummings was named a Kavli Fellow in Science by the National Academies of Science, and, in 2012, was elected Fellow of The Institute of Electrical and Electronics (IEEE). He also participated in the DARPA’s Revolutionary Prosthesis” project for developing dexterous upper limb prosthesis for amputees. His papers have won several top awards, including the 2012 Most Outstanding Paper of the IEEE Transaction on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering and 2011 Best Paper Award for IEEE Transactions of Biomedical Circuits and Systems. Additionally, Etienne-Cummings was recognized as a “ScienceMaker,” as part of the HistoryMakers, an African American history archive. In 2015, he received First Place in the Research Competition at the 5th Annual Johns Hopkins Imaging Conference and was selected for the “Indispensable Role of African Americans at JHU” honor for his impact in the classroom and lab.
A board member of Profesee (Paris, France), Etienne-Cummings has also served on various technical committees such as IEEE Circuits and Systems, IEEE Solid-State Circuits, and IEEE Electron Devices. His current professional service is extensive: Electrical and Computer Engineering Department Heads Association Awards Committee and Organizing Committee member, NSF Telluride Neuromorphic Engineering Workshop. Past leadership includes chairing the IEEE Circuits and Systems (CAS) Technical Committee on Sensory Systems and on Neural Systems and Application, serving as general chair of the 2008 IEEE BioCAS Conference and the IEEE ISCAS 2017, and serving the committee for the NSF Workshop on the Science of Learning, among many others. He lends his expertise to numerous editorial boards, including the Journal of Low-Power Electronics and Applications and Frontiers in Neuromorphic Engineering; was Deputy Editor in Chief for the IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Circuits and Systems from 2011-2016, and is a reviewer for numerous organizations.
He received his B. Sc. in Physics (1988) from Lincoln University and his MSEE (1991) and PhD (1994) in Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania.