Reportage, Photography, Video

Remote Monitoring of Biosignals: Bettering the Lives of the Ill

In Uncategorized on March 29, 2013 at 10:18 pm

I recently had an interview with Aswin Aristama, a photonics graduate from Algonquin College, about his work on a project known as ROMOBS (Remote objective monitoring of bio-signals). The project’s goal is to create a device that monitors a patient’s vital signs — like heartrate, blood pressure, etc. — even when the patient isn’t necessarily in a hospital. In other words they want to create a mobile monitoring device that uses wireless technology to transmit a patient’s readings to a remote location where a supervising physician can review the information and then advise the patient if any of the readings are not as they should be.

The project offers exciting possibilities for critically ill patients who would otherwise be confined to a hospital bed. With this kind of technology the patient can go about living a close to normal life, so long as they carry around the tentatively — and even Aristama was quick to admit — uncreatively named “ROMOBS device”.

The device works by communicating a patient’s vital signs via Blue Tooth technology to a cell phone which it has been linked with. With programming done by Aristama, the cell phone then sends the signal through its company’s existing wireless communications network to an assigned doctor monitoring the patient.

The project is a collaboration between the University of Ottawa, Algonquin College and a manufacturing company charged with creating the hardware. Currently, ROMOBS is nearing the end of its first year of work, and is scheduled to take three years to complete.

Aristama’s job in this was to program the ROMOBS device and design an application for cell phones that allows patients to both see their bio-signals and to send them off to their doctor.

Aristama and the team’s work has payed off so far, having won awards from the IEEE of eastern and central Ontario.

Algonquin’s support lab of the future

In Features, Technology on March 4, 2011 at 7:30 am

“Some of you have been around long enough to remember 1996, the famous 1996,” Algonquin College President Robert Gillett recollected at the annual President’s Breakfast at the start of the year. “Where we made a decision at a time when two levels of government made major cut-backs, we had a $20 million deficit… and we decided to invest heavily in information technology…. Today we enter phase two of that plan.”

Director of the Learning Resource Centre Tammy Thorton

The College is transitioning towards a fresher, more technologically savvy school and from the student support lab under renovations in room C102, which opened January 6, the College is banking heavily on students bringing their own technology, such as cell-phones and laptops to use as learning tools.

The first of its kind in Ontario, the fresh and excitingly new $500,000 study area’s successes and failures will largely determine how the college shapes its spending and innovation strategy moving forward.

The lab is expected to accommodate 80 to 90 students and will feature “four distinct learning spaces”. These include an informal couch seating area, a more formal area for group and private study, five group collaboration stations, which are small, semi-private rooms with long tables and computer chair seating that include a big screen television students can hook their computers up to for presentations and “dirt walls”; semi-translucent blockades that can be written on and finally, the more public group work stations.

The centre is also employing library technicians to help students navigate Algonquin’s e-library, which features books, journals databases and a collection of other resources students can use for reference.

“The lab does not have fixed computers,” Director of Learning and Teaching Services Glenn Macdougall said. “Rather, each desk will have wireless and wired connectivity [to the internet].”

This all leads to the big picture: the school’s plan to go fully mobile by 2013. According to officials, this means that all students will need some sort of mobile device that can connect to the internet by that year.

Even though a good per cent of students already have smart phones or other internet capable devices, what if not all students can afford such technology? The plan could alienate potential students and brings questions of academic fairness into play.

“All mobile, I think that’s a bad idea because what if the network goes down?” Small and Medium Enterprise Management student Ibrahim Elmi, 26, said. “There should always be a pen and paper alternative because we’re paying tuition.”

However, manager of the centre, Tammy Thornton is touting the redesign a success and early results appear to be good. Since its opening, the lab is seeing around 1000 students enter each day between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. when users are counted.

The College is also encouraging students to take a survey on their website to provide feedback on the new area.

Passing by the lab, it always appears to be full of people, but then again, so was the old lab, when it only had hardwired PCs with print capabilities. Because of this, it’s hard to say the lab is having an immediately recognizable benefit right now. The new place certainly looks nice: it’s all fresh, green-paint and curvy couches, and it is certainly very cool that you can write on walls and host group presentations on big screen TVs. But in a school where most programs are hands-on, technology and trade oriented, how much benefit can a wireless lab have for the average Algonquin student’s education?

At the very least, it seems to be giving students an outlet. Rules are more relaxed in the newly designed lab; students can bring laptops and chat as well as work together. The e-library acts as a great reference area for those looking to brush up on their learning.

Perhaps the best way to view the new lab is as a marker to a fundamental change of thought when it comes to administering post-secondary education. The learning environment seems to be moving away from the formal teacher-gives-assignments-students-do-assignments ethos and towards individual, self-directed learning. We’re seeing the institutionalisation of the user-directed learning brought to us by the internet.

We’ll have to see how the College’s enrolment and dropout rates change in the future to know for sure how effective in improving education the new lab is.

Tipping towards a recommendation

In Arts on March 4, 2011 at 7:29 am

The Tipping Point book review

Through his books, (Blink, What the Dog Saw) and columns in the New Yorker magazine, Malcolm Gladwell is part of a growing number of academics and researchers releasing popular, critically acclaimed books that are turning our traditional ideas of everything from economics to social psychology on their heads.

Gladwell’s novel The Tipping Point can best be summed up as an idea: What if style changes, crime trends, the phenomena of word of mouth and say, rises in teenage smoking are best understood when we view them as epidemics, much like a virus.

The idea is abstract, and even through his examples, hard to fully comprehend. Gladwell invites us to imagine that very small changes in attitude or behaviour in a small group of individuals can have a profound effect on the behaviour of others.

The Tipping Point sheds light on interesting experiments in social psychology and answers questions like how much does our environment really affect behaviour? It also calls to attention many cases of our failure to account for changes in socio-economic behaviour. What really did account for a Baltimore syphilis epidemic and why did Hush Puppies shoes sky-rocket in popularity after showing a flat-line in sales for so long?

Much like the Freakonomics series, it’s perhaps best to approach Gladwell’s work as an introduction to macro-economics. Books like these are blurring the traditional lines between academia and traditional observation – the textbook and the novel. The Tipping Point features interesting character studies, like one of a salesman that would traditionally be left to novelists to portray but studies their behaviour in such an acute and precise way you feel as if you are observing them as a scientist or researcher would.

At times, you may find some of Gladwell’s categorizations overly pedantic. Like when Gladwell profiles and classes some people as connectors, who are great at bringing people together, or mavens, who he calls brokers of information. I think, in all fairness, we all act as connectors, mavens and even salesmen at points in our lives and to classify individuals as one or another seems short-sighted.

In any case, The Tipping Point is certainly an interesting read and it along with the Freakonomics series may be the most fascinating new ideas I’ve read about in years.

The Tipping Point is an easily recommendable book to any open-minded individual looking for a better understanding into why people act the way they do.

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