Home Artificial Intelligence A. Michael West: Advancing human-robot interactions in health care

A. Michael West: Advancing human-robot interactions in health care

A. Michael West: Advancing human-robot interactions in health care

An completed MIT student researcher in health care robotics, with many scholarship and fellowship awards to his name, A. Michael West is nonchalant about how he selected his path.

“I form of fell into it,” the mechanical engineering PhD candidate says, adding that growing up in suburban California, he was social, athletic — and good at math. “I had the classic alternative: You’ll be able to be a health care provider, a lawyer, or an engineer.”

Having witnessed his mother’s grueling residency when she was training to be a health care provider, and feeling like he didn’t enjoy reading and writing enough to be a lawyer, “That left engineer,” he says.

Luckily, he enjoyed physics in highschool because, he says, “it gave intending to the numbers we were learning in mathematics,” and in a while, his major in mechanical engineering at Yale University agreed with him.

“I definitely stuck with it,” West says. “I liked what I used to be learning.”

As a rising senior at Yale, West was chosen to take part in the MIT Summer Research Program (MSRP). This system identifies talented undergraduates to spend a summer on MIT’s campus, conducting research with the mentorship of MIT faculty, postdocs, and graduate students to organize program participants for graduate study.

For West, MSRP was an education in what “exactly grad school was, especially what it could be like at MIT.”

It was also, and most significantly, a source of validation that West could achieve the upper levels of academia.

“It gave me the arrogance to use to top grad schools, to know that I could actually contribute here and achieve success,” West says. “It very much gave me the arrogance to walk right into a room and approach individuals who obviously know way greater than I do about certain topics.”

With MSRP, West also found a community and made enduring friendships, he says. “It’s nice to be in spaces where you get to see a number of minorities in science, which MSRP was,” he says.

Having benefited from the MSRP experience, West gave back once he enrolled at MIT by working as an MRSP group leader for 2 summers. “You’ll be able to create this same experience for people after you,” he says.

His involvement as a frontrunner and mentor in MSRP is just a technique West has sought to offer back. As an undergraduate, for instance, he served as president of his school’s National Society of Black Engineers chapter, and at MIT, he has served as treasurer for the Black Graduate Student Association and the Academy of Courageous Minority Engineers.

“Perhaps it’s only a familial thing,” West says, “but being a Black American, my parents raised me in a way that you simply at all times remember where you come from, you remember what your ancestors went through.”

West’s current research — with Neville Hogan, the Sun Jae Professor in Mechanical Engineering, within the Eric P. and Evelyn E. Newton Laboratory for Biomechanics and Human Rehabilitation — can also be geared toward helping others, especially those that have suffered orthopedic or neurological injury.

“I’m trying to grasp how humans control and manage their movement from a mathematical standpoint,” he says. “If you’ve a way of quantifying the movement, then you definately can measure it higher and implement that to robotics, to make higher devices to assist in rehabilitation.”

In 2022, West was chosen to be an MIT-Takeda fellow. The MIT-Takeda Program, a collaboration between MIT’s School of Engineering and Takeda Pharmaceuticals Company, primarily promotes the applying of artificial intelligence to profit human health. As a Takeda Fellow, West has studied the flexibility of the human hand to control objects and tools.

West says the Takeda Fellowship gave him time to deal with his research, the funding allowing him to forgo working as a teaching assistant. Although he loves teaching and hopes to secure a tenure-track position as a professor after earning his PhD, he says the time commitment related to being a teaching assistant is important. Within the third yr of his PhD, West devoted about 20 hours every week to a teaching position.

“Having a number of time to do research is great,” he says. “Learning what it is advisable study and doing the research gets you to the following step.”

In reality, the kind of research that West conducts is particularly time-intensive. That is no less than partly because human motor control involves much automatic, subconscious activity that’s predictably obscure.

“How do people control these complex, subconscious systems? Understanding that may be a slow-going process. Quite a lot of the findings construct on one another. You might have to have a solid understanding of what is understood, what’s a working hypothesis, what’s testable, what is just not testable, and bring the non-testable to testable,” West says, adding, “We won’t understand how humans control movement in my lifetime.”

To make progress, West says he has to rigorously proceed one step at a time.

“What are the small questions I can ask? What are the questions which have already been asked, and the way can we construct upon those? That’s when the duty becomes less daunting,” he says.

In September, West will begin a fellowship with the MIT and Accenture Convergence Initiative for Industry and Technology. Hoping to encourage and facilitate interaction between technology and industry, the corporation selects five MIT-Accenture fellows annually.

“What they’re searching for is someone whose research is translational, that may have impacts in industry,” West says. “It’s promising that they’re focused on the fundamental, fundamental research I’m doing. I haven’t worked on the translational side yet. It’s something I’d wish to get into after graduation.”

While earning prestigious fellowships and advancing human-robot interactions in health care, West continues to be very much the laid-back guy who “fell into” engineering. He finds time to satisfy with friends on the weekends, took up rugby as a graduate student, and has a long-distance relationship along with his fiancée, with a marriage date set for next summer.

Asked how he’ll counsel his future students once they approach complicated work, he has a predictably relaxed response.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There’s at all times going to be someone who’s higher at something than you’re, and that’s a superb thing. If there weren’t, life could be somewhat boring.”


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