Yoky Matsuoka, a leader in the emerging field of neurorobotics, is transforming our understanding of how the central nervous system coordinates musculoskeletal action and of how robotic technology can enhance the mobility of people with manipulation disabilities. Working at the intersection of computer science, biophysics, material science, biomechanics, and psychophysics, Matsuoka creates sophisticated prosthetic devices and designs complementary rehabilitation strategies. In one line of research, she constructed an anatomically correct robotic hand, complete with an intricate tendon structure that enables it to respond to sensor signals closely resembling neural commands. This model has facilitated investigations into the neuromuscular forces necessary for precise finger movement and constitutes an important step toward the development of a dexterous prosthetic hand that can be controlled by the brain’s neural signals. Another major project involves the use of virtual environments and visual feedback to distort recovering stroke patients’ perceptions of tasks they perform during therapy. Designed to address the condition of “learned nonuse,” a habit of decreased movement that affects a quarter of all stroke patients, this system encourages subjects to push beyond perceived limitations to their range of motion and strength, thereby providing more accurate assessments of their progress and increasing the efficacy of rehabilitation. By illuminating the biomechanics of the hand and experimenting with robot-human interfaces that alter the neural control of movement, Matsuoka is making technological advances that hold life-changing potential for those suffering from serious brain injuries and reduced functional capabilities.
Yoky Matsuoka received a B.S. (1993) from the University of California, Berkeley, and an M.S. (1995) and Ph.D. (1998) from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. From 2001 to 2006, she was an assistant professor affiliated with the Robotics Institute, the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition at Carnegie Mellon University. She is currently an associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle.