The UW’s Yoky Matsuoka is leading the quest for robotics that take orders from the brain

Yoky Matsuoka wants to connect robotic hardware to the brain’s software to help people with disabilities live fuller lives. The prosthetics and wearable devices she envisions aren’t clunky, heavy grabbers. They are devices so functional, so sophisticated that even a spinal-cord patient could use them for fine motor skills, even pen-twirling.

Her audacious work earned her a 2007 MacArthur Foundation "genius award" (and no-strings-attached $500,000), increased awareness for the burgeoning field of "neurobotics" that she is pioneering and caused a wave of attention her way. She chose to ride the wave.

Consequently, Matsuoka, 37, lives an over-budgeted life, one crammed with meetings, mentoring, researching, testing and speechmaking even as she raises three small children. She usually arises at 4 a.m., sometimes "pulling all-nighters," and spends most of her drive time in phone meetings. She warns people she will be late and usually is.

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