SURF-IoT Kicks Off Summer Seminar Series

By Sharon Henry

Sergio Gago speaks about humanizing digital health to SURF-IoT fellows and guests.


Irvine, July 8, 2015 — SURF-IoT (Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship in the Internet of Things), kicked off its lunchtime seminar series this week with a presentation by SURF-IoT mentor and Calit2 User Interface Leader Sergio Gago.

Eleven students are participating this year in SURF-IoT, a 10-week summer research program for UCI undergraduates designed to immerse students in research and applications related to the Internet of Things (IoT).



Gago introduced himself to the SURF-IoT fellows and guests as someone who studies how people interact with machines and devices, and is interested in finding ways to humanize digital health.


“Sophisticated health information systems hold tremendous potential for influencing health behaviors and promoting public health. However, there is a long way to go to reach that incredible potential,” he said. “There seems to be more interest in designing technically sophisticated health information systems than in designing e-health programs that communicate meaningfully and build influential health-promoting relationships.”


Gago believes too many digital health information systems are boring, overly complex, and have minimal involvement. “They are not much fun,” he said.

E-health apps are often too artificial to achieve health goals, Gago added. He urged medical and health application developers to question their work. “How engaging and interactive is my health app?” and “Does my app communicate humbly and sensitively?” These are just two of a long list of concerns Gago wants students, researchers and developers to consider.



Avatar development  for "Pain Buddy," a pain-management app for children undergoing medical treatments.


Virtual agents and avatars are promising e-health tools. They can provide personal feedback and encourage appropriate responses, but there is a need to make them engaging, accessible and easy to use, Gago said.


He shared a case study of “Pain Buddy,” a health app he is helping to develop and evaluate in partnership with Michelle Fortier at the UCI Center on Stress & Health. The app uses a 3D avatar in a game environment to better assess pain and enhance communication between children and physicians.


Cartoon avatars ask the child questions, and provide support and encouragement during their medical treatment. Children earn virtual coins for completing entries that allow them to customize their avatars and the app’s environment. An additional goal is to reduce stress and anxiety in children by adding a skills-training component.


A Beta-testing version of Pain Buddy is scheduled for release next week, with a field trial set for August that will include 120 children recruited through Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC).


The next SURF-IoT seminar session is scheduled for Tuesday, July 21; it will feature Dara Sorkin, associate professor in the Department of Medicine.



Sergio Gago's presentation slides