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News Archive 2001 - 2010

Project’s Goal: Quality of Life Improvements for the Elderly

December 3, 2009

Computer science and engineering researchers at The University of Texas at Arlington are embarking on a quest to help elderly individuals live safely and as long as possible in their homes with the same confidence of being in an assisted living environment.

Human Centered Computing Laboratory researchers have received a three-year, $774,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop of a suite of visualization software forming a “command-center” that monitors, through various types of sensors, human behavior at home in a non-invasive and privacy-preserving way. This sophisticated research instrument, tentatively called ZScope, will securely monitor and visualize human behavior and collaborate with remote users.

The University of Texas at Arlington is supplying an additional $450,000 to fund the project, which involves faculty from several departments in UT Arlington’s College of Engineering and the School of Nursing, plus faculty at the University of California-Davis and Boston University.

The interdisciplinary team is being led by Professor Fillia Makedon, chair of the Computer Science & Engineering Department. “ZScope will gather and evaluate several types of data,” she explained. “For example, it would combine data scheduled medication intake with facial expressions that might indicate pain and sense abnormal behavior or significant events such as extreme temperatures, poor lighting conditions or an outside door opening that would impact the safety of the person. ZScope would assemble these factors in meaningful ways to predict and, providing guidance as to what to do next, reduce or prevent risks for a person at home.”

One exciting new support feature in the Human Centered Computing Laboratory is CAVE, a computer-assisted virtual environment that will be able to simulate a real habitat and facilitate and expedite simulation experiments. This simulation of a real apartment will provide graduate student researchers with opportunities to perform daily experiments using robots, sensors and other data capture devices.

In addition to predicting and preventing physical risks, ZScope also looks for digital information risks, such as data access by unauthorized users or a failure to collect vital information due to defective devices.

Professor Makedon believes there will be additional benefits beyond providing a safer and prolonged stay at home. “The development of smarter assistive environments provides opportunities for diverse experts to better understand human motor behavior and provide indicators of how medication and clinical assessments connect to and are reflected in prolonged behavior,” she said. “By combining basic computational tools such as databases, computer vision, machine learning, data mining, graphics and user interfaces, ZScope will provide markers for assessing the confluence of environment, drug and human interactions.”

“This project will enable us to develop and apply computational tools to compelling real-life situations,” she continued, “improving the life of the elderly and, in the process, helping to deliver a new generation of scientists who can work together across various disciplines to achieve goals that put technology to the service of humanity and are human-centered.”

The University of Texas at Arlington’s College of Engineering, which celebrates its 50th Anniversary this year, has emerged as one of the most comprehensive engineering programs in North Texas and the nation. The college’s eight baccalaureate, 12 master’s and nine doctoral degree programs serve approximately 3,700 students, making it the fourth largest engineering college in Texas. With more than 21,000 alumni, the college provides the local, regional and national workforce with motivated and highly skilled graduates. Research expenditures in the past year grew to more than $40 million, and the University will invest $160 million to add 295,000 square feet of facilities in the next three years. With a commitment to creating viable solutions to today’s most pressing problems, the College of Engineering is helping to propel UT Arlington toward its goal of becoming a national research university.