It’s a big place, the Murray-Darling Basin. Over a million km2 – about one-seventh of the whole of Australia. There’s a lot to know about it, and we’re helping students find out more for themselves, using a novel CSIRO innovation.
The National Museum of Australia and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority have teamed up to let students learn about this vast area, taking students on an interactive, customised tour of the Museum’s Murray-Darling Basin exhibits. But the really cool part? The students never have to leave their classrooms.
Using our Telepresence robot technology, museum staff are able to broadcast real-time images, video and audio back to students in their classrooms. Students can learn about how the Basin’s water movement and volume has varied over the past 300 000 years, and the importance of water quality and its role in determining where human settlements develop and whether they survive and prosper.
This is a new departure for the robots. In the past, they’ve mainly been used to give a taste of the museum to people in remote areas who can’t easily travel there. Now they’re letting students get an understanding of the broader Murray-Darling picture.
It works this way. The museum robot (accompanied by education staff) takes the remote visitors on a virtual tour of the museum.
The robot has a high speed broadband connection, so remote visitors can interact with a human educator in the museum. The human educator leads the robot, while the remote visitors use a panoramic camera to look around and explore.
In an ultimate case of ‘look but don’t touch’ students can see and interact with information about each of the objects on display.
The best thing is that it’s a conversation, not a monologue with pictures. The museum educator can engage and challenge the students by posing multiple-choice questions, polling and viewing the student’s responses in real-time.
We’re doing a lot of work on digital immersive learning. Apart from the Telepresence robots, we’re working with science education experts to develop learning environments that mirror real-life places. These 3D models of real places will be created using our award winning laser mapping technology Zebedee and panoramic video to create the immersive environment. We’ve already taken students through Jenolan Caves from the safety of their own classrooms.
Almost makes you wish you were back at school again …
Today is World Usability Day (WUD). WUD celebrates the technologies, products and services that improve our lives by doing what they’re designed to do in a way that engages and assists us. And more importantly, it’s a day for encouraging creators, designers and manufacturers to put usability at the forefront when they’re making products.
We’re pretty proud of some of our useable technology – like our smartphone apps. We’re leveraging a technology that’s well on the way from being popular to being ubiquitous, and creating applications and services that can make a big difference to a wide range of people.
Take people who’ve had heart attacks, for instance. Nowadays, a lot more people survive heart attacks than in the past, but post-heart attack rehab remains a problem. It used to involve travelling to an outpatient clinic or similar centre, and there was a considerable dropout rate from the program. This is a problem, because patients who successfully complete cardiac rehab following a heart attack have much better health outcomes.
They are less likely to have another cardiac event, be readmitted to hospital or die from their condition. So we developed a smartphone home care delivery model – known as the Care Assessment Platform. A clinical trial found that people were almost 30 per cent more likely to take part in their rehab program at home using the app than those who had to travel to a clinic.
What’s more, people using the app were 40 per cent more likely to stick to the program and almost 70 per cent more likely to see it through to completion. That’s REAL usability.
Of course, the best treatment for heart attacks is not having one in the first place. As we all know, weight is a factor in heart disease. And certainly, keeping your weight down is a very, very good thing to do after a heart attack. We’re hoping we can help there too.
We’re currently working with Bupa Health Foundation on a trial of smartphone apps to assist with dieters’ mood and motivation. Face-to-face support is often the best way to succeed on a diet, but this is not always possible, and it can get expensive.
So you’ve survived a heart attack and done the rehab using an app. And you’ve lost weight. That means you’ve got more chance of living to be old. We’ve been working on apps to help with that, too.
Our Smarter, Safer Homes project is looking at ways to keep older people living safely in their own homes for longer. This not only takes pressure off the aged care home sector, but also improves older people’s health and wellbeing.
Our app involves placing simple sensors such as motion detectors and energy sensors placed around the home. These monitor the person as they go about their day and report the data back to family members or carers.
For example, motion sensors can detect whether a person got up at the usual time, put the kettle on, regularly cooked food for themselves, and even if they left the oven on.
The data is also reported to a tablet device owned by the elderly person, who retains full control over what data gets reported to others and what stays private.
Not all our work on apps is in human health. There’s one for soil health too. SoilMapp is designed to make soil information more accessible for Australian farmers, consultants, planners, natural resource managers, researchers and people
interested in soil. It provides direct access to the best national soil data and information from several sources.
With SoilMapp, users can find information on soil depth, acidity, salinity, soil carbon, soil water holding capacity and other attributes in a matter of minutes, anywhere there’s a wireless or internet connection.
We’ve also counted koalas using an app, and we’re looking at doing many more things with this technology.
Even the first version of the iPhone had more computing power than all of NASA had for the Apollo 11 mission, so there’s plenty of opportunity to make use of the potential of smartphones. That very usable thing in your pocket just keeps on getting more so.
Meet Yogi Kanagasingam. Yogi works at our Australian e-Health Research Centre and his vision is to change the way eye care is delivered around the world to prevent needless blindness.
A ‘serial inventor’, Yogi has developed a number of low-cost diagnostic technologies that are used to take images of our eyes. These devices are helping in the early detection of serious conditions, ranging from those that directly threaten sight, through to stroke and Alzheimer’s Disease.
By focusing on affordable, mobile solutions, he is bringing quality eye care to thousands of patients who might otherwise have gone without.
Recognising this passion and dedication, Yogi has been named as a WA finalist in the 2015 Australian of the Year Awards. Here are just some of the sight-saving (and often life-saving) projects he’s working on:
Saving sight in remote communities
However due to the remoteness of some Australian communities, it can be very difficult for people to access this type of specialist care.
That’s why we’ve been working with our partners in Western Australia (Gold Fields and Great Southern) and Queensland (Torres Strait Islands) to set up remote eye screening – giving hundreds of people access to eye testing services.
This is possible thanks to technology Yogi has developed called Remote-I.
Using Remote-I, local clinicians are able to conduct routine retinal screenings, often as part of scheduled health clinic visits. The system then sends hi-res retinal images to a city-based specialist ophthalmologist via satellite broadband – allowing them to accurately diagnose and refer patients who need immediate treatment.
A global vision for eye care
Now Yogi and his team are taking Remote-I to the world. For the past year, they’ve been working with the Zhongshan Ophthalmic Centre in China’s Guangdong Province to introduce the technology throughout a network of ten hospitals.
With a population of over 100 million people in Guangdong, local health professionals are now using the technology to screen up to 1000 patients per week. That’s a lot of eye tests.
As well as giving patients access to specialist care, this project is also providing the research team with valuable data about blood vessel patterns in retinas. This will allow them to design algorithms that could be used to automatically detect particular eye diseases, aiding diagnosis in routine screenings.
Early detection of Alzheimer’s
Using curcumin (a compound in the spice turmeric), Yogi and his team have also developed a spice-infused eye test for Alzheimer’s disease.
Patients ingest the curcumin which binds to beta-amyloid plaques (the sticky proteins that indicate Alzheimer’s) showing up in retinal scans as bright spots which can be counted and measured.
Early results show the amount of plaque in the retina closely mirrors the amount in the brain. If confirmed, this could be the beginnings of an easy, non-invasive test for early detection of Alzheimer’s – maybe up to 20 years before cognitive symptoms appear.
We’re proud as punch of Yogi. As well as the groundbreaking work he is doing with us here at CSIRO, he is also giving back to the community in his personal time. Yogi is actively involved with local Rotary Clubs, including Freshwater Bay Rotary in WA where he helps promote regular eye screening for primary school children. This can make a big difference to students, as early detection of vision abnormalities can improve both academic and sports performances.
We wish Yogi all the best this Saturday when the WA Australian of the Year will be announced at Government House. WA’s winner will then join recipients from other States and Territories as finalists for the National Awards, to be announced on Australia Day 2015.
Read more about our eHealth research on our website.
Biological illustration has come on a bit from the days of Gould’s gorgeous illustrations of birds, or Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man. Today, with the help of big data and big graphics power, we can visualise things, not just at the molecular level, but at work.
But why – apart from because it’s beautiful and fascinating – do we do it? How is it helpful? What can it show us?
Obviously, we’ve been using rudimentary data visualisation for a very long time. Charts, maps, tables, graphs. All data visualisations, but not at the level we now find ourselves working at. As Sean O’Donoghue, from our Digital Productivity and Services Flagship, puts it, ‘Data visualisation is a new visual language; we need to become fluent in it to manage the complexity of computational biology’.
Let’s think about genomic data. The more we know, the more we need new tools to deal with the knowledge we have. And we now know a lot. We’ve got the ability to generate tremendous amounts of genomic data from sequencing. Analysing that data is now the roadblock to our being able to convert what we’ve found into something useable.
Obviously, some genome analysis can be done using automated processes. But that still leaves a lot that depends on human judgement, particularly in the early stages such as hypothesis formation. Our concentration – and eyes – frankly aren’t up to spotting something different in a field of As, Cs, Gs and Ts (and nothing else), that seems to go on forever. Think of Where’s Wally?, in monochrome, with one Wally hidden on a single page hundreds of times larger than book pages. And then imagine that finding the Wally you’re looking for could make a big difference to people’s lives.
If we can combine visual and automated analysis, the pairing becomes more powerful. Users can user can seamlessly look at their data and perform computations on it, refining their analysis with each step.
Visualising also helps us reason about complex data. Sometimes, a well-chosen visualisation can make the solution to a complex problem immediately obvious. That’s because of the way that visual representations simultaneously engage the eyes and the memory. When we look at a visual, our eyes and our brain work in parallel to take in new information, and break it into small chunks. Then both the eyes and the brain process the bits in their different ways to extract meaning. It works like this.
You’ve gone to the supermarket - not your usual one – to buy bananas. When you walk in, your eyes scan the layout. At the same time, your brain is processing the various sections of the layout, and telling your eyes to home in on the fruit and veg section. It does this by sending signals from memory about how fruits look. Your eyes then break the entire scanned area into parts, then scan each part until they (all but instantly) recognise the veggie section. The same process is repeated until you spot the bananas in the fruits section. Your eyes and memory do their own things but work in parallel.
We’ve used our brains to build tools that can help us discover more and more. But making sense of what they’ve found still depends on us and our limitations. Around half of the human brain is devoted – directly or indirectly – to vision. Visualising the vast streams of data lets us work with what we’ve got to make it something more than a hunt for a tiny needle in a monstrous haystack.
If you want to see more data visualisations, there are some beautiful ones at Vizbi.
By Emily Lehmann
Flying robot enthusiasts can breathe a deep sigh of relief, because Outback Joe has finally been saved after spending eight years lost in the bush.
This week, sixteen teams from around the world competed in the search and rescue mission to save our beloved Akubra-clad mannequin pal, who has year after year, been strategically placed in the Queensland outback as part of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Challenge.
After eight years running, this was the first time that a team – not just one, but four– successfully delivered the emergency package to save Outback Joe, with the top team taking home a grand prize of $50 000.
Each team was tasked with developing their own custom-made UAV (a.k.a flying robot or drone) and navigating it through a course to first locate Outback Joe, and then secondly deliver him a life-saving bottle of water.
The competition brings some of the latest international aerial robotics technology and puts it to the test to highlight its value for use in search and rescue efforts.
These flying machines can cruise at various speeds – some are just like helicopters – and can mostly fly for 40 to 60 minutes at a time. They rely on modern computers and sensors, such as GPS, to figure out where they need to go in order to perform tasks that the operator has asked it to do.
The clever minds behind the winning ‘bot are from CanberraUAV and managed to score the most points out those that completed the challenge – two other Australian teams and one from the United States.
The UAV Challenge also involves a delivery challenge for high school teams, taking place earlier in the week. Students build their flying robots from scratch, designing and developing the software and hardware needed for their own rescue mission for Outback Joe.
This year’s winner was the all-girl DareDivas team from Mueller College at Redcliffe with a $5 000 prize.
We run the UAV Challenge annually in partnership with the Queensland University of Technology.
By Emma Pyers
How do bees in the Amazon jungle compare to those in Tasmania? They get up earlier, for a start.
Paulo de Souza and his team have been tracking bees in the two regions using tiny backpack sensors as part of our Swarm Sensing Project to gather biological and ecological data to improve honey bee health.
The tiny backpacks are just a quarter of a centimetre square and are fitted to the back of the bees.
“We have already attached the micro-sensors to the backs of thousands of bees in Tasmania and the Amazon and we’re using the same surveillance technologies to monitor what each bee is doing, giving us a new view on bees and how they interact with their environment,” Paulo said.
“Once we have captured this information, we’ll be able to model it. This will help us understand how to manage our landscapes in order to benefit insects like bees, as they play such a key role in our lives. For example, one third of the food we eat relies on bees for pollination, that’s a pretty generous free service these humble insects provide us!”
Early modelling has shown one notable difference between the bees in Tasmania and those in the Amazon; Amazon bees are up and about very early in the morning while Tassie bees prefer to wait until the day warms up before they leave the hive.
But finding out what time bees get out of bed is only a tiny part of what the research can show us. For example the research will also look at the impacts of agricultural pesticides on honey bees by monitoring insects that feed at sites with trace amounts of commonly used chemicals.
A global buzz in micro sensing
Working with researchers across the globe has its unique challenges as well as its rewards, and it’s the physical challenges that have been the most interesting.
“As the Africanised honey bees were very aggressive, the hive was placed in an isolated area away from housing and domestic animals – and isolation meant working in densely vegetated areas,” Paulo explained. “We had to clear a path to the hive and we wore fully protective bee clothing which was tough given the extreme humidity and heat.”
The Brazilian media got a taste of what it was like to work in these conditions, when they suited up to interview Paulo and our colleagues from the Vale Institute of Technology about their work
The collapse in global populations
Bee health is important globally however, honey bee populations around the world are in danger.
Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) – a phenomenon in which worker bees from a colony abruptly disappear – and Varroa mite are two major problems facing bee populations globally. While these two problems haven’t appeared in Australia, there is a very real risk. And what happens if it does? Catastrophe!
Check out this video where Peter Norris, Tasmanian beekeeper, describes his first hand experience with CCD while working in the United Kingdom.
So it’s a good thing our scientists, and their colleagues in Tassie and Brazil, are on the case.
To learn more about how we’re trying to save honey bees around the world tune into ABC Catalyst at 8pm tonight.
CSIRO’s Swarm Sensing Project is a partnership with the University of Tasmania and receives funding from Vale, a Global mining company.
By Michael Brünig, CSIRO
Australian’s museums, galleries and other cultural institutions must adopt more of a digital strategy with their collections if they are to remain relevant with audiences.
Only about a quarter of the collections held by the sector have been digitised so far and a study out today says more needs to be done to protect and preserve the material, and make it available to people online.
Challenges and Opportunities for Australia’s Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums is a joint study by CSIRO and the Smart Services CRC.
It notes that Australia’s galleries, libraries, archives and museums (the GLAM sector) represent our accumulated achievements and experiences, inspire creativity and provide a place for us to connect with our heritage.
They are also crucial to our economy with the GLAM sector estimated to have a revenue of about A$2.5 billion each year. That’s not only a lot of paintings and artifacts, but a lot of jobs as well.
But despite its size and scope, we found that digital innovation in the sector has been inconsistent and isolated. If these cultural institutions don’t increase their use of digital technologies and services, they risk losing their relevance.
So what changes do they need to make in order to thrive in the digital economy?
Opening doors and minds
With Australia’s rapid uptake of online and mobile platforms, people are now choosing to access and share information in very different ways.
It’s safe to say that the only constant in this space is change. Research suggests that expectations for more personalised, better and faster services and more well-designed experiences will continue to increase.
This is why our cultural institutions need to review the kind of visitor experience they are providing. We found only a few organisations had made fundamental changes to their operations that would allow them to place digital services at their core, rather than as an add-on activity.
This is in contrast to the dramatic changes we’ve seen when it comes to adopting digital technologies in our daily lives.
In order to be successful, digital experiences need to be an integrated and cohesive part of an institution’s offering.
Take what is happening at the National Museum of Australia. It’s now possible to take a tour of the museum via a telepresence-enabled robot.
This means school students – particularly those in rural and regional Australia – can explore exhibits virtually, without even leaving the classroom. Interestingly, we hear that this actually increases their desire to visit the museum in person.
Digital-savvy innovations such as this need to be at the fore of our institutions’ thinking if they want to engage with the community and break down barriers to participation.
Engaging with the public
To be successful in this new era, institutions need to meet people on their own (digital) terms. We can no longer expect visitors to queue at the turnstiles waiting for opening time. Organisations need to bring experiences to the user so that they can access them wherever and however they prefer.
Some of Australia’s cultural institutions are starting to get this.
The NSW State Library has appointed a Wikipedian-In-Residence to contribute expertise and train the public in publishing information online.
The National Library of Australia has attracted a large online user base with its online Trove service attracting almost 70,000 unique users each day.
The Powerhouse Museum has made parts of their photographic collections available on Flickr via Creative Commons licensing. This has caused a surge in the level of use and allowed the public to contribute information, adding value to the collection.
While these examples provide a lot of hope for the sector, the unfortunate reality is that they are few and far between. Most of Australia’s cultural institutions have not kept pace with this change and are missing the opportunity to better connect and actually increase their revenue.
Australia’s eight national, state and territory art organisations hold archives that, if laid out flat end-to-end, would span 629km. This is on top of a staggering 100,000 million artworks, books and audio-visual items in Australia.
But only a quarter of these items are digitised, with some of Australia’s collections still being managed through “old school” mechanisms such as log books and card indices.
Imagine if there was a fire at one of our great institutions? We would risk losing cultural and heritage material of significance. Parts of our history could be completely lost. Even without such a devastating event, if we don’t make our collections more accessible, in a sense they’ll be lost to many of us anyway.
As a country, not only do we need to get moving when it comes to digitising our collections, we also need to explore new and innovative ways to do this. Traditionally, digitisation has meant scanning flat documents, photographing objects or creating electronic versions of catalogue data.
But what if we could do so much more? Researchers are now focused on the next challenge: digitising objects and spaces in three dimensions.
Researchers from the University of Wollongong with support from the Smart Services CRC are focusing on capturing 3D models and the textures of surfaces using low-cost equipment such as a Kinect camera from an Xbox.
At CSIRO, we’ve even used our own handheld scanner Zebedee to map culturally and environmentally significant sites suchb as the Jenolan Caves, Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance and even a semi-submerged wreckage of the HMQS Gayundah.
We’re also creating high-quality 2D and 3D image libraries based on the National Biological Collections, letting us document biodiversity in the digital era.
Embracing the digital economy
While our study reveals that Australia’s cultural institutions are certainly at risk of becoming “digital dinosaurs”, it also demonstrated how those organisations that are embracing digital are reaping the benefits.
It provides recommendations for the GLAM industry in order for it to maximise its digital potential, including:
- shifting to open access models and greater collaboration with the public
- exploring new approaches to copyright management that stimulate creativity and support creators
- building on aggregation initiatives such as the Atlas of Living Australia
- standardising preservation of “born digital” material to avoid losing access to digital heritage
- exploiting the potential of Australia’s Academic and Research Network (AARNet) and the National Broadband Network (NBN) for collection and collaboration.
By adopting these recommendations and building on some innovative examples in the sector, Australia’s GLAM industry will be well placed to embrace digital, rather than be engulfed by it.