Growing up in Johannesburg, South Africa, Katiso Mabulu often saw poor people on the street who couldn’t even beg because of their amputated limbs. The disturbing sight inspired him to envision building affordable technology one day to help them. “That put me on the path of robotic prosthetics,” he says. “And now I’m in Dr. Samuel Felton’s robotics lab as a PhD student, and we work on wearable technology and robotics. I’ve really enjoyed working with Sam, he is always open to new ideas and takes the time to really explain anything that might be confusing about research concepts. Even in fields that he isn’t as familiar with, Sam is able to give good advice.”
After earning a bachelor’s in electrical and electronics engineering from Hampton University in Virginia and receiving a prestigious fellowship to pursue his doctorate in mechanical and industrial engineering, Mabulu came to Northeastern in 2018 to pursue his PhD. As a research assistant at Northeastern’s eXpeditionary Robotics Laboratory, he is working on several projects; currently he is developing a smart wrist brace that provides support when typing and corrects improper typing posture. “It functions by alternating between a rigid and flexible configuration, controlled by the gesture of typing using a Myo EMG armband,” he explains, “It can detect finger movements, becoming stiff when the wearer starts typing, then relaxing when the wearer stops.”
Looking ahead, Mabulu wants to continue his work with wearable technologies. A fan of futuristic films like Iron Man, he hopes to work in industry at the forefront of prosthetics. Eventually he hopes to be involved in integrating robotics and the human body – he imagines a day when a patient with a failed lung will get an implanted lung that is as efficient as the original, if not moreso.