Connecting humans and computers

PhD candidate Benjamin Stephens-Fripp shares his experience of merging the digital and physical worlds through his research, leading to his dream job at Facebook in Seattle.

Deciding to pursue a PhD was an easy decision for me as I have always had a thirst for knowledge and for the past three years I was embedded in the Applied Mechatronics and Biomedical Engineering Research Group.

My interest in the connection between humans and computers, especially how they can help improve and enhance our lives, led me to focus on exploring a range of haptic stimulations to create non-invasive sensory feedback and intuitive control for prosthetic hands.

PhD Candidate Benjamin Stephens-Fripp

This is important research because without sensory (touch) feedback, people using prosthetic or robotic hands don’t have any idea how hard they are squeezing or holding an object.

Imagine not feeling the connection between your hand and an object, this is what someone with a prosthetic currently deals with everyday.

The lack of feedback leads to overexertion, limited ability to control the prosthetic hand and a feeling of dissatisfaction and disconnection with the hand.

It has been particularly rewarding meeting with doctors, prosthetists, clinicians and amputees to discuss and demonstrate my research, and hear about the difference it could make to them.

Access to world class supervisors Senior Professor Gursel Alici and Dr Rahim Mutlu, both experts in the fields of Biomedical and Mechatronic Engineering, was critical to my success. I was also awarded opportunities to attend international conferences, enabling me to build a professional network.

Another highlight was an opportunity to work with Cicada Innovation, who put me through my paces in an intensive course focused on commercialising medical devices. Developing business acumen and understanding the needs of the end user made sure my research had a holistic approach.

Cicada also led me through the process of how to create a medical device startup company, in case I ever want to go down that path.

But my goal was to work in Human Robotic Interaction or in Haptics Research, and through my networks I secured a role as a Mechatronic Engineer with Facebook Reality Labs, formerly Oculus Research, based in Seattle, USA.

I’m super excited about this opportunity to move with my family to Seattle and work in a cutting edge research environment with experts from around the world.

In my new role, I will have the chance to develop and prototype state-of-the-art mechanisms and solutions for the next generation Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality devices that can create transformative experiences.

This technology has the ability to merge the digital and physical worlds, creating a richer interaction which could be a game changer in how we can use technology in many areas of our lives; including creating better social connections, and improving education, healthcare and rehabilitation.

Stay tuned for the next relationship developments between computers and humans.