KINGSTON, R.I. — May 15, 2019 — West Warwick resident Nick Constant remembers his lackluster performances in elementary school spelling bees and being the butt of jokes for not being very smart. He also remembers a difficult start as an undergraduate at the University of Rhode Island.
But those challenges have not deterred him. Constant, who will earn a doctoral degree in electrical engineering from URI in 2021, will be in the spotlight as the student speaker for the Graduate Commencement Ceremony, Saturday, May 18 at 12:30 p.m. at the Ryan Center, 1 Lincoln Almond Plaza.
He was selected for the honor because he serves as the president of the Graduate Student Association, but also because he is a respected biomedical research engineer, an entrepreneur and engaged citizen who wants to help people and communities become healthier and stronger.
“I have never given a speech in front of such a large group,” said Constant, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from URI in electrical engineering. “It’s going to be a great experience.”
Constant said it was the Department of Electrical, Computer and Biomedical Engineering and one professor who helped shape him at URI.
“My senior year capstone project led to the biggest change in me,” Constant said. “I selected a project involving the development of pulse glasses — wearable technology that can monitor heart rates. I was selected to work with (Assistant) Professor Kunal Mankodiya.”
His team’s impressive work led to a presentation at the 2015 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers International Conference on Body Sensor Networks at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He also won the Best Design Award at the conference hackathon, and recently, Microsoft adopted the pulse glasses.
In addition, Constant said Mankodiya, was so happy with the team’s work that he offered its members graduate assistantships. “Of course, I accepted,” he said.
Throughout his master’s program and now on his doctorate, Constant has been working with Mankodiya on wearable technology, such as smart textiles, and fog computing to foster more localized and efficient data gathering and analysis to help people with movement disorders.
He contributed to a book chapter on “Wearable E-Textiles for Telemedicine Intervention of Movement Disorders” for the Elsevier Book of Wearable Technology for Medicine and a chapter on “Fog Computing in Medical Internet-of-Things,” to the Handbook of Large-Scale Distributed Computing in Smart Health Care, which were both published in 2017.
“The idea behind fog computing is that you take data from technology like voice recognition and you keep it closer to home, and then there is less chance of it being intercepted.
“I worked on this in nursing homes, and the idea is to make it more secure. This has been more efficient than processing data through a major corporate server,” he said.
He has also been working in the lab with Andrea Hopkins, ‘68, a former assistant vice president of public affairs at URI, on the assistive technology.
“She has been a blast to work with,” said Constant, who has been involved in numerous outreach activities for schoolchildren and the lead organizer of five very successful hackathons at URI, including those on health, water and the Internet-of-Things.
“Andrea comes to the lab to test our smart gloves and insoles. She is excited to be involved in activities that could lead to quality of life improvements for those with Parkinson’s disease. And her enthusiasm rubs off on all of us,” Constant said.
“Nick has a genuine smile, ready to greet you as he then explains the objectives and progress to date on his projects,” Hopkins said. “I’ve been fortunate to work with Nick on some of his ideas related to helping people, like me, who have Parkinson’s disease. I am amazed at the thoughtfulness and empathy he uses to design and build sensors that can actually help my doctor to remotely assess my status, or help me do everyday tasks. I am inspired whenever I get a call to come into the lab to work with Nick where his skill, knowledge and imagination are working to improve my quality of life. It is fun, too, to see a concept grow into reality, a feat which Nick has accomplished. I have a feeling that someday, I’ll say ‘I knew Nick Constant when.’”
And if he hasn’t been busy enough, Constant has also founded his own Rhode Island company, ECHOWEAR LLC, to translate his research for use in commercial products.
Through all of these exciting steps in his life, Constant is deeply grateful to Mankodiya for his support.
“I expect that we will be lifelong friends,” Constant said. “He pushes me out of my comfort zone, and he also knows how to help me back off when I am working with others. I also talk with him about my personal life, and he tells me stories from his life that help me out. He doesn’t just tell me what to do.”