Schulich Scholar Makes Good: Research Has Big Benefits for Amputees

Author: Engineering Alumni Office

Posted on Mar 18, 2019

Category: Student Spotlight

Wesley Finck, UNB Engineering student

Fourth-year UNB electrical engineering student Wesley Finck was torn between filmmaking and engineering when he was faced with what to do as graduation from high school in Pemberton, B.C. approached. He’d always felt the pull of filmmaking and using his creative skills, but felt that engineering would allow him to solve complex problems and make a meaningful difference in the world.

The prestigious Schulich Scholarship, valued at $80,000, ultimately made his decision easier and he arrived at UNB in 2015.

During his studies, he began to understand how what he was learning could apply to the real world and benefit society. He focused on electrical engineering and became interested in Virtual Reality, realizing that it bridged the gap between technology and creative content. In fact, he worked with UNB’s Media Lab to help develop, plan and research a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) around virtual reality and implemented the first and only virtual reality lab at UNB.

In third-year, he approached his supervisor, Dr. Erik Scheme about an idea for a project, and ended up working with Scheme and Dr. Scott Bateman that summer at UNB’s Institute of Biomedical Engineering and Human-Computer Interaction Lab, thanks to NSERC’s Undergraduate Student Research Award, which funded most of the research.

Over the course of the summer, as they problem-solved and developed software to help amputees make a quicker transition to using prosthetics, they actually shifted from Virtual Reality (VR) to Augmented Reality (AR). Not much research has been done to-date on AR, so they were breaking ground with this non-traditional proof-of-concept work.

Finck and the team ended up developing an AR application on the Microsoft HoloLens that trains amputees to use their prosthetic limb even before they get it.  Users simply don the lens, wear an armband that senses muscle activity through myoelectric pulses, and attach a motion tracker. With this tech and the software behind it, clinicians are able to track how the limb is moving and help users control it more accurately since the experience is very close to reality. Their application not only helps amputees more quickly adapt to their prosthesis; it also has far-ranging implications in the field of human-computer interaction, biomedical engineering and rehabilitation technology.

Enter Wesley’s filmmaking passion. He recently put together a 1-minute video (with help from friend Vu Pham) profiling the AR Prosthesis Trainer for NSERC’s Science Action program, a national contest that highlights scientific research across Canada. His video has been selected in the first round, and will hopefully now make it through the second round, which is dependent on public interest as gauged by views of his video.

“I hope this research will be very meaningful in the long-term,” Wesley says. “It’s certainly been meaningful to me to be able to understand how to bring concepts to life in a purposeful way.”

Wesley says that the greatest advantage of the Schulich Scholarship is that he has the ability to space out his engineering program over five years so that he can also take other courses and participate in activities that are helping him build other skills (he’s also taking film courses and computer science courses at UNB). Ultimately, he’d like to work in an area that addresses climate change and sustainability, perhaps with fusion power or smart cities, creating large-scale solutions to shift to a greener way of living.

“I’m really glad the Schulich Scholarship led me to UNB,” Wes openly exclaims. “This small, comforting community has helped me come out of my shell. It’s so easy to approach professors and to collaborate with people that inspire and encourage me. I’m glad I’m able to do work that will hopefully have benefits locally and lead me to do even bigger things.” 

Make sure to view Wes’s video for NSERC’s Science Action contest and help him reach the next round!