Technology on Parade

With robots that play soccer and lead group exercise classes, advances in telemedicine, and aerial drones that can map cities, UM showed off some of its technological wonders at the eMerge Americas Techweek Expo and Summit.

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CORAL GABLES, Fla. (May 06, 2014) — The kick came just past the midfield line, delivered with all the athletic precision of Pele and Ronaldo. Only this soccer match wasn’t being played by humans, but by robots no more than 2 feet tall.

The mechanical humanoid drones of the University of Miami’s RoboCanes soccer team were a crowd pleaser on Monday at the eMerge Americas Techweek Expo and Summit in Miami Beach, drawing a crowd of curious onlookers enamored by all things tech. But as sophisticated and entertaining as the robots proved to be, they weren’t the only show in town.

Ubbo Visser, an associate professor of computer science, demonstrates the autonomous, programmable humanoid robots used by his students to compete in an annual international robotics competition.

From a patient simulator that can mimic 30 different cardiac conditions, to gaming apps for improving well-being, to software for mapping shantytowns with inadequate infrastructures, UM showcased a slew of its technology-driven initiatives at the expo, demonstrating how such high-tech tools can improve health care, living conditions, and transportation.

Using a machine similar in appearance to a weighing scale, exercise physiology students from UM’s Department of Kinesiology and Sport Sciences measured the body fat of anyone who volunteered to be test subjects. The machine, as well as other equipment used to determine bone density, metabolic and cardiovascular rates, and musculoskeletal development, is part of the department’s new Guardrails Prevention program, aimed at reducing chronic disease and encouraging healthy behaviors.

Patients get a health assessment and recommendations on how they can improve their lifestyle—all while waiting in their doctor’s office. The department hopes to implement the program at UHealth Sports Medicine and other UM family medicine clinics. “We’d like this to eventually become a model for other programs across the country,” said Wes Smith, clinical assistant professor and director of undergraduate exercise physiology at the School of Education and Human Development.

He was one of many UM professors, researchers, and technicians who shared the University’s exhibition space inside the Miami Beach Convention Center during the expo. Thousands of entrepreneurs, executives, and tech tycoons from South Florida and Latin America attended Techweek, May 1-7, exploring technological advances and trends at the expo and attending a series of summits, where experts debated technology’s role in improving health care, entertainment and media, finance, cities, and education.

Attendees could listen to the heart sounds of Harvey, the famous cardiopulmonary patient simulator from the Miller School’s Michael S. Gordon Center for Research in Medical Education. Created by the center’s namesake and first introduced in 1968 as a training tool for physicians, medical students, and emergency responders, Harvey used to operate with cams and levers. Now, sophisticated actuators and switches are used to operate the mannequin, explained Oscar Rodriguez, clinical core instructor at the Gordon Center.

UM TeleHealth featured the videoconferencing technology that allows physicians who may be hundreds or even thousands of miles away from their patients to render diagnosis and recommend treatments via live videoconferencing and high-speed networks. “The benefit of telemedicine is that it increases access to services in any geographic area,” said Anne Burdick, associate dean for telehealth and clinical outreach and a professor of dermatology.

UM TeleHealth, for example, provides dermatological care for ship-based staff of Carnival and Royal Caribbean Cruise lines, and also offers dermatology, nutrition, and psychiatric services for the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation School Health Initiative, a partnership with the Miller School to provide primary care for children in the North Miami Beach, North Miami, and Overtown feeder school patterns.

Using technology to help acquire information on Latin American urban settlements faced with housing, health care, and other pressing problems was the topic at a School of Architecture exhibit. In a partnership with UM’s Center for Computational Science, associate professor Carie Penabad and her group are using new software, handheld smartphones, and aerial drones to map slum areas that are beyond the reach of government services and basic infrastructure. “Our goal is not to provide a technological quick fix, but rather to create a set of adaptable tools that overcome current deficiencies in mapping and which will enhance modes of development that engage residents of informal settlements as protagonists of social improvement,” she said.

But it was robotics that dominated the limelight—from the soccer-playing, autonomous, programmable robots demonstrated by UM’s Ubbo Visser, an associate professor of computer science, to the dancing and talking Nao, a School of Education and Human Development robot who teaches children how to exercise and eat right.

The Launch Pad, William Lehman Injury Research Center, and Center for Computational Science also had exhibit space.

If attendees weren’t watching a tech demonstration, they got an earful at some of the summits that addressed technology’s impact on different areas of society. Among the topics addressed at two summits where UM had a strong presence: how marketers, digital media professionals, and others use big data to predict behavior; and how innovation and technology are transforming health care.

“We’d all love to know what happens to the exchange rate next week, but it’s not as easy as just looking at volumes of big data,” UM physicist Neil Johnson said at a summit addressing big data. Johnson, who leads a research group that examines the physics of collective behavior and emergent properties in complex real-world systems, explained that the “secret behind a lot of things that happen in the world is not to do with individuals saying things,” but actually the manner in which something is organized.

Noting that she’s able to use her smartphone to check on whether her 103-year-old mother is in bed, UM President Donna E. Shalala said technology is transforming the way health care is administered. “But it’s not just the smartphone that takes [the IBM supercomputer] Watson and converts it to something more sophisticated,” she said at a summit moderated by Steven G. Ullmann, a professor at UM’s School of Business Administration who is an authority on the integration of health care management. “We’re going to have robots that go from room to room at night in a hospital checking on patients. We’re going to have handheld devices that actually can do the examination in someone’s home and transfer the data to experts. It’s this handheld technology that’s going to transform the way in which we analyze data to provide services.”

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