WHAT THEY LEARNED: Adam Van Aken ’15

Adam Van Aken’s computer science thesis was motivated by the attempt to provide a new method of computer input, replacing a mouse and keyboard, for people with certain physical disabilities.

The Myo gesture-control armband

Adam Van Aken wants to use technology to help people. The computer science major’s thesis, “Processing Electromyographic Signals For Use as Computer Input,” was, he says, “motivated by the attempt to provide a new method of computer input,” replacing a mouse and keyboard, “for people with certain physical disabilities that might restrict their ability to use conventional input methods.”

Van Aken, who minored in mathematics, is now continuing his education in our 4+1 engineering degree partnership program with the University of Pennsylvania. So in addition to his recent Haverford B.S., he will, in one year, also have earned a masters in embedded systems engineering. And since some of the hardware Van Aken used in his thesis (such as the Myo gesture-control armband, pictured above) is an embedded system, this new step in his education will be, in some way, a continuation of the work he began at Haverford.


How did your thesis advisor help you develop your topic, conduct your research, and interpret your results?

[Associate Professor of Computer Science] John Dougherty helped by offering suggestions for alternate implementation and other considerations, etc. Most helpful were his suggestions for future directions. He plans to continue to move forward over the summer with some of the work that we started this year.

What did you learn from working on your thesis?

I learned a lot about EMG (electromyographic) signal processing. These are biophysical signals that are activated by the nervous system and skeletal muscles.

What are the implications for your research?

We successfully showed that EMG signal processing, today, is finally accurate enough to be developed into a competitive computer input method. We have a lot of ideas for future growth and expansion of our prototype, or proof of concept, but the groundwork to show that future work can be fruitful has been done. This could be a very effective new technology to help people with certain disabilities. Computer accessibility is becoming more and more crucial as technology advances.



“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.