An Engaging Tour

By Shellie Nazarenus

Graduate student Peyton Paulick demonstrates a balance game.

Irvine, CA, September 27th, 2013 -- During his annual visit to catch-up on the latest Calit2 projects, UCI Chancellor Michael Drake was accompanied by the new Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Howard Gillman. This was Gillman’s first time to the institute, and he and the Chancellor were given a whirlwind tour of various activities on each of the building’s four floors.

Starting at the top, CalPlug was the first stop on the agenda, where set-top box energy efficiency and home energy management system projects were demonstrated -- the latter being a pilot study that is being tested in a real-time home setting. Chancellor Drake, who was very interested in the project, asked if it was ready for larger implementation, telling researchers, “I would be very excited to offer my home as a test subject.”

Moving down a floor, Ph.D. candidate Peyton Paulick and Professor Dave Reinkensmeyer provided a snapshot of eHealth Collaboratory efforts. Provost Gillman literally provided a hand in experimenting with the music glove, a therapeutic tool to encourage stroke patients and those with serious hand injuries to exercise by creating music. The glove has become a leading product for startup company Flint Rehabilitation Devices, which is located in Calit2’s TechPortal incubator and has received first-round SBIR founding.

Provost Gillman (left) tests the music glove; Chancellor Drake (right) gets a workout on a customized Mario game.

The second floor featured two lab stops. First up was EVoKE (Emerging Values in Knowledge Expression), an open space where students are encouraged to drop in and learn how to design things while thinking about values. The guests learned about the lab’s process of promoting a deep commitment to theory, but also a strong sense of play where design is a process of problem-solving that can be applied to every field.

The second stop showcased one of the newest building occupants, the Biophotonic Medical Device Fabrication and Testing Lab. Led by researchers from UCI’s Beckman Laser Institute, Professor Bruce Tromberg was on hand to guide Chancellor Drake and Provost Gillman through the maze of work stations dedicated to designing and developing new technologies for clinical translation and commercialization.

A tour stop at the second floor EVoKE lab.

“I am very pleased that this group has moved into this space,” Chancellor Drake said. “It really is an ideal location for this type of effort.”

With time running short, a final stop highlighted the first floor campus-wide shared resource facilities, including microscopy, materials characterization and clean room capabilities.

“I am grateful to have this opportunity to actually see all of the fantastic projects going on here,” Provost Gillman said. “There is some really exciting stuff happening on so many levels and I look forward to continued progress.”

This team, long on imagination, has already thought ahead to ways this system might prove useful to more diverse populations. "Suppose you're in a large city and are lost," says Blair. "And suppose it's night time and you're feeling vulnerable. You don't want to signal that you're lost by doing something as obvious as pulling out a city map or viewing a map on a PDA. Rather, given how common it is for people to talk on their cell phones on the street, you could use your phone as a convenient yet discreet way of figuring out how to get to your destination. We have voice-guided directional assistance in cars. You can think of this system as a finer-grain analog for pedestrians."

This project, as is typical at Cal-(IT)², is drawing on research results from related projects. One focused on optimizing the amount of time battery power is available, led by Ramesh Rao, will help Blair and his students push battery power (before the battery needs to be recharged) from six to a more practical 12 hours, the duration of a full-length working day.

Planned improvements in the system include secure user authentication, increased accuracy in the server's recognition of the military phonetic codes to tag locations, and path manipulation (a path is defined as a list of locations visited in order by a user). For example, the team wants to make it possible for paths to be combined or spliced together to create new routes around campus. As the usage of the system increases, the system will be able to determine the relative popularity of various paths between two set locations, which will allow the system to optimize its recommendations over time. The paths may also be optimized for distance or time, and offered to users as alternatives.

The research team is evaluating whether to add a camera feature. What if the GPS reception is not good, making it hard to determine where you actually are? With such a feature in place, the blind person could take a series of photos with his phone, then send them over the cell link to a sighted person who could advise over the phone what to do. In this way, sighted locals could serve as remote "interpreters."

"Engineers always run the danger of overengineering their systems," says Blair emphatically. "That's why we're interested in working with local disability organizations to test the technology with real users to see what does and doesn't work, and what useful features we might add. We're also interested of course in involvement by some of Cal-(IT)²'s key wireless partners, such as Ericsson, HP, and Nokia."