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New NSF Engineering Research Center to Pursue Ideal Mind–Machine Interface

a University of Washington doctoral student interacting with a lifelike robotic hand.

A University of Washington doctoral student interacts with a lifelike robotic hand.

August 9, 2011

The National Science Foundation (NSF) announces an award to the University of Washington and its partners to establish a new NSF Engineering Research Center (ERC).  The ERC will pursue interdisciplinary research and education to address questions important to both human health and robotics, and to provide the foundation for new industries through innovation.  NSF will invest $18.5 million in the Center over the next five years.

The NSF ERC for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering (ERC/SNE) will create devices to restore or augment the body's capabilities for sensation and movement.  The foundation for the new devices will be new mathematical and structural understanding of the nervous system.  Center researchers will combine this new understanding with improved communication and interface design and with advanced control and adaptation technologies. 

The Center aims to create devices that function and adapt seamlessly with the body, enabling dynamic and highly complex interactions with human environments.  Ultimately, the resulting intelligent systems, neural implants, and robotics will be engineered to meet individual human needs for sensation and movement. 

The NSF ERC/SNE will be based at the University of Washington, in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and San Diego State University.  Researchers at the University of British Columbia and the University of Tokyo will contribute additional expertise and international perspectives. 

The involvement of 23 industry partners — including multinational corporations, healthcare practitioners, and start-up firms — will spur innovation and provide university students with first-hand experience in entrepreneurship.  The NSF ERC/SNE will also collaborate with complementary research centers and organizations specializing in technology transfer to stimulate innovation based on its research.

Since 1985 the ERC program has fostered broad-based research and education collaborations to focus on creating technological breakthroughs for new products and services and on preparing U.S. engineering graduates to successfully participate in the global economy.  The centers launched this summer, as part of the third generation of NSF ERCs, place increased emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship, partnerships with small research firms, and international collaboration and cultural exchange.

"The Gen-3 ERCs are designed to speed the process of transitioning knowledge into innovation and to provide young engineers with experience in research and entrepreneurship, strengthening their role as innovation leaders in the global economy," said Lynn Preston, the leader of the ERC Program.  "Because they build on the rich understanding we gained from two previous generations of ERCs, we expect these new centers to make even more significant impacts on the competitiveness of U.S. industry."

-Cecile J. Gonzalez, NSF,


Media Contacts
Joshua A. Chamot, NSF, (703) 292-7730,
Hannah Hickey, University of Washington, (206) 543-2580,

NSF Program Contacts
Lynn Preston, NSF, (703) 292-5358,
Theresa Good, NSF, (703) 292-7029,

Principal Investigator
Yoky Matsuoka, University of Washington, (206) 616-0621,

Related Websites
NSF ERC website: 
ERC/SNE website:
University of Washington news release:

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2021 budget of $8.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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