Inteview with UNMC's CAST (November 1, 2012)

CAST: What do you do at UNMC?

Professor Terry: I am presently an Assistant Professor at UNL for the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering.

CAST: What do you do at CAST/what have you done with CAST (projects/collaborations/papers)?

Professor Terry:As a mechanical engineer, my purpose for joining CAST is to collaborate with UNMC medical doctors and researchers who are interested in creating tomorrow's medical devices. Since joining in June, I have coauthored several proposals with CAST members Dmitry Oleynikov, Carl Nelson, Raj Dasgupta, and Matt Goede. My interests  align well with current CAST members, so I feel that collaboration has been natural and easy.

CAST: If you have made any projects, what are they, and what do they do? Do you think they will continue being used/upgraded to newer and better things? If so, what are they?

Professor Terry: One of those proposals has already been funded, in which we will be investigating new ways of implanting sensors and actuators in humans. One technological bioengineering advancement I am anticipating is the augmentation of human health through real-time and automated intervention of cyber physical systems. In the future, even healthy individuals will have access to these systems. They will be inexpensive, noninvasive, and capable of  recognizing early-stage subtle symptoms of conditions that need intervention that otherwise would have gone unnoticed by the individual or the physician. Our current work focuses on how to implement these systems with minimal or no constraints on the patient.

Another interest I have is in developing new therapies for treating oxygen deprivation (hypoxia). I feel fortunate to collaborate with Dr. Matt Goede from CAST, who is also very interested in this problem and has some unique expertise that will be very helpful. Ultimately, we hope this project will result in a minimally invasive way of ventilating patients that have little or no lung function--solving the so called "living without breathing" problem.

CAST: What got you interested in your current career path?

Professor Terry: I entered the field of biomedical engineering almost by chance about 14 years ago when I received my first industry job following my Master's degree. After nine very exciting years as an R&D engineer creating new medical devices, I decided I wanted to focus more on the "research" side of engineering and less on "development". With a family of five, making the decision to leave a very good job to pursue a Ph.D. degree felt a bit like the first time I went skydiving--I asked myself, "Why am I jumping out of a perfectly safe and stable environment?" Since then, I've thoroughly enjoyed the new, exciting direction to my career. UNL has been a wonderful landing spot for me as a new professor.

CAST: What got you interested in MIS/CAST/robotics?

Professor Terry: Coincidentally, my Ph.D. advisor at the University of Colorado, Dr. Mark Rentschler, is a former CAST member. He introduced me to MIS and most of my dissertation work focused on characterization of GI tissue to aid the design of microrobots that work within the abdominal cavity.

CAST: What are your future goals?

Professor Terry: One of my goals is to add to the impressive body of work created over the past seven years by CAST members. Their work has resulted in a local fledgling biomedical hub and I'd like to see that expand and grow. One of my observations is that native Nebraska engineering students are keenly interested in this field, but have not had many local opportunities to pursue world-class, cutting-edge biomedical research and development post-graduation. My primary goals are to train Ph.D.-level engineers and to help create opportunities for them to establish careers in Nebraska.

CAST: Where do you see robotics in 30 years?

Professor Terry: That's an exciting question to consider. Improvements in AI, continued miniaturization and sophistication of electromechanical components, and advancements in materials research will lead to many exciting new frontiers in robotics. For example, we've heard a lot lately about lost manufacturing jobs that are never coming back to the United States. Those manual labor-intensive jobs may not come back, but the manufacturing work certainly can. For example, advancements in dexterous robots with haptic feedback will enable automation of very complicated, delicate tasks, such as assembling an iPod. Anyone who's repaired the cracked screen on their child's iPod finds that hard to imagine, but it will. Incidentally, work done at CAST directly translates to these types of manufacturing improvements.

Also, two very exciting innovations have occurred lately that could substantially change the trajectory of future robotics. One is inexpensive, open source robotics platforms that empower the non-technical, but curious (and often very young) creator. The second is inexpensive 3D desktop printing "for the masses", so to speak. We will see some amazing robotic innovations coming from some unexpected places (like your 12-year-old's bedroom) as these tools are refined and costs continue to make them even more affordable. These technologies will also lead to in-home robots that build what we need, when we need it, from reusable, environmentally friendly materials. 

 Thirty years ago we only dreamed of the self-driving car, sky cranes lowering robots on Mars, and telesurgery, but those present-day robotic innovations make the next 30 years very exciting to contemplate.