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innovations Fall/Winter 2013



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BIOPHOTONICS Lasers as an imaging tool for cancer detection



CHANGING THE GAME An intelligent, cloud-based platform will enable anytime, anywhere video gaming

FORMAL VERIFICATION Debugging complex systems

director’s desk


innovations fall/winter 2013

Production Editor

Sharon Cavalier ICICS Administrator

Writer Craig Wilson ICICS Communication Writer Design Industry Design Office ICICS University of British Columbia 289-2366 Main Mall Vancouver, BC, Canada V6T 1Z4 Tel: 604-822-6894 Fax: 604-822-9013 Email


Fall/Winter 2013


SOCIAL BROADCASTING Bringing back the audience



HUMAN-IN-THE-LOOP INDUSTRIAL ROBOTICS Designing robots that can safely interact with humans

ROCK FRAGMENTATION SENSING Portable device allows mining engineers to analyze rock fragments in the field

I would like to welcome you to another edition of ICICS’ Innovations magazine. We now span 18 departments at UBC,

which allows us to undertake large-scale research projects that help us build bridges with industry. A case in point is the ICICS People & Planet Friendly Home sustainability initiative, which has gained considerable momentum since we wrote about it in our Fall/Winter 2012 edition. NSERC has doubled our industry funding from a TELUSled consortium, and major new industry players wish to participate. On another front, UBC was awarded a $10 million Canada Excellence Research Chair in Digital Media in late 2012, and is now establishing an associated Centre for Innovation in Digital Media at ICICS. The Chair, Centre, and a wide range of ICICS researchers will work closely with gaming, animation, film and TV post-production houses and other digital media organizations to produce innovations that individual companies or researchers cannot realize on their own. Our conversations with industry are helping us shape the Centre, and we look forward to collectively propelling British Columbia toward global competiveness in digital media. In this issue, we provide a sampling of recent research advances made by ICICS members in biomedical engineering, microsystems, robotics, complex systems verification, and other areas. This diversity forms the backbone of ICICS initiatives, and makes us unique in Canada. Read on!


Helping Prevent Spinal Cord injuries Unique sports helmet design minimizes damage from head-first impacts


ADVANCED MICROSYSTEMS LAB OPENS AT UBC A new, state-of-the-art lab will accelerate microsystems research, commercialization, and teaching

Panos Nasiopoulos, ICICS Director



innovations magazine

Fall/Winter 2013





s mobile computing devices from phones to tablets to ultrabooks proliferate, consumers want their traditionally tethered content to follow. The video game industry, in which Canada is ranked third in the world, has responded by shifting from console-based games to online games. With online games, scenes in a game may be rendered locally at mobile devices, or rendered remotely in the cloud and sent to the mobile devices for display as video frames. Neither is an ideal solution: the former method imposes a heavy computational load on the devices with diverse capacities, while the latter approach imposes a heavy demand on network communication resources. A team of ICICS researchers from communications, signal and video processing, and cognitive psychology are tackling the problem by developing a cloud-based gaming platform that dynamically adjusts to the nature and capabilities of the communications networks, cloud in-


Fall/Winter 2013

frastructure, and devices being used by the gamers. Led by Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Victor Leung, their goal is to develop play-anywhere-on-anydevice video gaming. This would enable a player to pause a game they are playing through a set-top box at home, resume playing it on a portable device while riding the bus to a friend’s house, and pick up where they left off on a smart TV in the friend’s living-room, all while enjoying a consistent quality of experience.

Quality of Experience Testing Artificial intelligence and quality of experience testing are key to realizing this new architectural framework. Subjective user testing will help the researchers understand how a player’s quality of experience is influenced by the varying capabilities of different devices, networks, and cloud infrastructures, across a range of game genres.

Device parameters they will look at include screen size, sensor availability (e.g., accelerometers), input characteristics, processing power, etc. Network variables such as bandwidth, latency, and loss rate will be considered for a range of networks, including 3G/4G cellular, WiFi, cable, DSL, etc. The processing power of the cloud servers being used also needs to be considered, as well as their geographical distribution, since they may be spread across a continent, and subject to data-packet delays.

adapt according to variables such as processing load, bandwidth and memory use, number of players and their geographical distribution, and game-state delays. Compression schemes will be adjusted to favour, for example, a steady frame rate over video quality, in order to avoid jerkiness in the game. Players will be connected to the nearest cloud servers to avoid delays. Game versions with varying components will be selected that best suit device and network characteristics.

Once an acceptable quality of experience has been determined for these various combinations, it can be incorporated into data compression and resource-management algorithms that maintain the user’s requisite quality of experience as much as possible, no matter where they are playing a game or on what device.

These and other adjustments will be made continuously as conditions change. The system will learn over time what works best for a given mix of variables and game types, to make appropriate decisions faster and more efficiently.

“The key to making all of this work,” says Leung, “is gaining knowledge of the resources and characteristics of the cloud, the access network, and the end-user device. We can then dynamically utilize these resources to enable the best possible experience for the player.”

With a multitude of sensors increasingly embedded in the fabric of our lives, we are moving toward the Internet of Everything. The information being harvested will need to be intelligently processed and accessed, using whatever digital device we have at our disposal. The researchers’ cloud-based cognitive platform may also be a game-changer in this area.

Intelligence Gathering Mobile agents, or “gamelets”, dispatched by the cloud when the user logs on to play a cloud-based game will provide the required information to the game’s architectural framework. The framework will then intelligently

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For more information, contact Victor Leung at

Fall/Winter 2013



Lasers as an Imaging Tool for Cancer Detection 6

Fall/Winter 2013


n biophotonics, light is used to study biological material. Lasers, for example, can be used to provide both structural and functional information about tissue, and identify potential problems. In optical coherence tomography (OCT), a long-wavelength laser is directed at the tissue in question. Reflected photons are detected by photodetectors and used to build up an image of the tissue. Since different tissue layers, such as the epidermis and dermis in skin, reflect laser light differently, cross-sectional images can be rendered, to a depth up to about 2 millimetres.

Surgical Robot Guidance In related research, Tang has joined a team of UBC biomedical engineers led by Tim Salcudean who are working on improving the guidance system of the da Vinci surgical robot. Targeting prostate and kidney cancer treatment, the team is combining MRI, ultrasound, and X-ray imaging with the robot’s camera-based system (see Innovations, Fall/Winter 2011). The goal is to enable the surgeon operating the robot to work with greater precision, for minimal tissue and nerve damage.

OCT can provide a quick, preliminary scan Tang is incorporating photo-acoustic of a fairly wide area and identify abnormaliimaging by adding a fibre-optical probe “We’re hoping ties to explore more thoroughly. Electrical to the robot’s ultrasound probe. In the and Computer Engineering professor Shuo this will evencase of prostate cancer surgery, the laser Tang couples OCT with microscopy to pertually replace will heat up the prostate tissue, causing form both functions on the same platform. the need to do it to expand and generate waves that are Multiphoton microscopy (MPM) also uses biopsies.” picked up by the ultrasound receiver. Bea laser as light source, but to create a highcause the laser’s light penetrates into the resolution structural picture showing difprostate, a 3D “optical absorption map” of ferentiation, at the cellular level, of the tissue constituents of the area being scanned. In MPM, cells and the prostate and surrounding tissue can be generated and extracellular material are excited by the laser, to emit charac- added as a real-time overlay to the other obtained images. teristic fluorescence and harmonic patterns at different wavelengths. Since MPM can image the morphology of single cells Photo-acoustic imaging can detect blood oxygenation, as and their association with surrounding cells and extracellular hemoglobin in blood is a major optical absorber. Tang is also exploiting this capability by tuning the laser’s wavematerial, abnormal tissue areas stand out. length to locate areas of oxygen depletion, an indicator of tumour growth since tumours induce excess microvascuOptical Biopsies latures to supply nutrition—the surgeon will be able to see Tang’s innovation is to use the same laser source and scanners the actual tumour. Blood vessels around the tumour can for OCT and MPM, allowing the respective structural and also be detected, and avoided for better surgical outcomes. functional images to be readily combined. A fast scan can be performed by OCT to identify suspicious regions, and then these can be zoomed in on and potentially diagnosed using MPM.

“We’re hoping this will eventually replace the need to do biopsies,” Tang says. “We call it ‘optical biopsy’ because you can see similar structures in vivo and noninvasively that you would in traditional biopsy.” If successful, optical biopsies would eliminate the need to take numerous tissue samples, a procedure that is painful, alters the tissue, and may not see test results for weeks. Tang and colleagues are currently targeting a skin cancer application, as the skin is easy to access and does not require an endoscope probe. They are also looking at miniaturizing the system, using fibrebased lasers for scanning the lung, colon, and other internal structures. innovations magazine

Tang plans to validate the technique on excised, cancerous prostates, and then in patient studies, to see if the identified cancerous regions match those located by pathologists. “We are currently aiming at surgical guidance,” she says. “But if you could get an image of a region that is suspicious because of its microvasculature and oxygen level, you could also do a targeted biopsy.” Shuo Tang’s discipline-spanning work shows great promise for the detection and treatment of cancer. Her laser focus is a welcome addition to the field.

For more information, contact Shuo Tang at

Fall/Winter 2013


FORMAL VERIFICATION: From Research to Commercial Success


Fall/Winter 2013



These can be very costly, delaying timely product launches or even resulting in massive recalls. Companies are obviously reticent to disclose costs, but as an example, a bug in an early Pentium processor and the resulting recall cost chip manufacturer Intel $475 million in the mid-1990s. Similar degrees of complexity are now also seen in software systems. It is no longer enough to simply test whether these systems work over a given range of values, since the “state space”, or total possible states of these systems, has become so huge. Testing a system for a given set of values in a conventional simulation proves only that it works for those values and may miss critical bugs. A 2002 study by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology estimated that software bugs cost the US economy alone nearly $60 billion per year.

ic, and then on carrying out a labour-intensive mathematical proof. Greenstreet, Joyce, and Seger developed newer, highly automated formal verification techniques, and pioneered the combination of these techniques with the older ones. Hu has devoted his career to improving purely automatic approaches. “It’s really an economic question,” he says. “Can I help you find bugs faster and cheaper than you otherwise could? The more automatic I can make formal verification, the faster and cheaper it is.” By the end of the 1990s, Hu, having made significant advances in hardware verification, was applying similar techniques to the formal verification of software.

Industrial Recognition

Hu’s work has drawn the attention of Microsoft, where it has been used in verification software to find a number of bugs in Windows drivers. The hardware verification work, having started earlier, has found even greater recognition. It is used in the verification products of the electronic design automation (EDA) company Jasper Design Automation, where Hu has served on the Technical Advisory UBC Verification Pioneers Board since the company’s inception. Jasper is now one of Verification is the process of debugging a system and the biggest EDA companies in the world, focusing on the showing that it meets its requirements. Computer Science design and verification of semiconductors, particularly professor Alan Hu is a pioneer in ausystem-on-a-chip designs. The comtomated system verification, but he acpany’s stature in the industry was recknowledges a long tradition of verificaognized this spring when it received a “The more autotion research at UBC: “Even back in the Red Herring Top 100 Award as one of matic I can make 1970s, the second head of the Computer the most promising technology compaformal verificaScience Department, Paul Gilmore, had nies in the United States and Canada. tion, the faster and done foundational work on mathematiRed Herring is a media company that cheaper it is.” cal logic underlying formal verificaproduces a number of technology pubtion.” By the early 1990s, UBC had three lications. Its Top 100 Awards are widely professors, Mark Greenstreet, Jeff Joyce, recognized as one of the more prestigious recognitions in and Carl Seger, whose research focused on verification. the technology and life sciences industries. Hu and UBC’s Within a few years, however, two had been lured away by Department of Computer Science can be justifiably proud. industry. Hu jokes, “I always tell Carl how grateful I am that Intel stole him from UBC, because his leaving created For more information, contact Alan Hu at the opening to hire me.” UBC research has advanced the techniques of “formal verification,” which are ways to mathematically prove that a certain property of a system model—for example, that a computer program doesn’t crash or that a circuit computes a correct result within a time limit—holds for every possible execution. Earlier researchers had concentrated mainly on how to formalize systems in mathematical loginnovations magazine

Fall/Winter 2013


ROCK FRAGMENTATION SENSING Portable Device Allows Mining Engineers to Analyze Rock Fragments in the Field By Bahram Sameti, Motion Metrics International Corp.


n mining, knowing the size of the rock fragments following a blast is valuable, so that loading, hauling, and crushing equipment can be fine-tuned accordingly, and blast parameters can be adjusted. Very small rock fragments, for example, indicate overblasting, and large ones under-blasting. Sieve analysis has traditionally been used to determine the size distribution of fragments, in an exhaustive procedure. More recently, image-based rock-fragmentation analysis has provided a feasible and more sophisticated alternative. In most commercially available systems, rock delineation results are converted to physical rock sizes by introducing one or more objects with known geometry (such as a basketball) to the scene as a size-scaling reference.

two cameras is then augmented with depth information and fed to the rock delineation algorithm to identify the boundaries of each fragment in the image. For each set of boundary pixels, the system identifies the corresponding points in the 3D point cloud to determine the real-world coordinates of the individual rock boundaries, which are then used to calculate the rock’s size and volume. “This is an ideal application of stereo imaging,“ Tafazoli says, “since the disparity of the rock scene lends itself well to stereo vision. The device is portable, so blast engineers can easily do rock fragmentation sensing in the field, without needing a reference object in the scene.” Adding a 3D orientation sensor to the device makes it

Portable device captures the scene in 3D and identifies rock-fragment boundaries without needing a reference object. A group of engineers at Motion Metrics led by Bahram Sameti has developed a patent-pending technology that eliminates the need for a reference object in the scene. Motion Metrics is a UBC spin-off company founded by ICICS member and Electrical and Computer Engineering adjunct professor, Shahram Tafazoli (see ICICS FOCUS magazine, Spring 2010). In this new approach, stereo imaging is used to measure a 3D point cloud of the scene. The 2D image from one of the 10 Fall/Winter 2013

possible to perform other useful calculations, such as remote sensing of the slope of the bench face in an open-pit mine. Automatic sensing of both the slope and the distance of the device to the face gives the device enough information to warn the user if they’re too close to be safe.

For more information, contact Motion Metrics at



his year’s 2013 Motion Metrics/ ICICS Graduate Scholarship has been awarded to Mechanical Engineering graduate student Matthew Pan. The annual award, created by ICICS and Motion Metrics International (see adjacent story) in 2011, is granted to an ICICS-affiliated graduate student whose research spans disciplines and is geared toward developing applications. Matthew’s work clearly fits the bill. Supervised by Professor Elizabeth Croft in the Collaborative Advanced Robotics and Intelligent Systems Laboratory (CARIS) at UBC, Matthew is focusing on controlling interactions between humans and robots for industrial applications. Robots are already widely used in manufacturing, to carry out repetitive, assembly-line tasks such as welding car parts. These robots work in isolation, performing pre-programmed chores that do not involve humans. Designing robots that can safely and effectively interact with humans, however, is a pressing problem faced by today’s robotics researchers that must be overcome if robots are to play a bigger role in our daily lives.

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Pan is tackling this problem head-on, by developing motion-control models to govern interactions between mobile robots and workers who have no specialized robotics training. He is framing his work around cooperative tasks that are commonly seen in the workplace, including object handover and shared lifting. The research will produce innovations in real-time robotic gesture recognition, role negotiation, and safety systems. Pan intends to test and refine his prototype strategies using state-of-theart robotics platforms available in the CARIS lab, and through user evaluations. “My goal,” he says, “is to develop a library of motion-control strategies for mobile, manipulatortype robots that are safe, intuitive, and ergonomic. They will enable workers and their robotic assistants to make full use of their respective skills.” Although the initial focus of his work is on industrial applications, in the long-term Pan’s research could have an impact on rehabilitation, homecare for the elderly and those with disabilities, and education.

For more information, contact Matthew Pan at

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HELPING PREVENT SPINAL CORD INJURIES Unique Sports Helmet Design Minimizes Damage from Head-First Impacts

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The double-shell design of the Pro-Neck-TorTM has an added benefit. “It’s important that we study as many different impacts as we can before certifying the helmet,” Cripton stresses. “We wouldn’t want to cause a brain injury, for example, while trying to prevent a neck injury.” In the course of testing the helmet in the sort of scenario that might cause a concussion, Cripton found that it decreased head acceleration and the resulting shear stress on the brain to a greater extent than a conventional football helmet would, due to deformation of the outer shell and cushioning from the interior padding.

Cripton is Co-Director of the UBC Orthopaedics and Injury Biomechanics Research Group, with Canada Research Chair in Spine Biomechanics Tom Oxland. He and Oxland are also Principal Investigators with the International Collaboration on Repair Discoveries (ICORD), a multidisciplinary spinal-cord injury research centre based at Vancouver General Hospital. “Spinal cord injury is a mechanical impact that results in a biological response,” he says. “Our interactions with the neuroscientists at ICORD provide us with the clinical input we need to guide our work.” An example of this might be determining the cellular responses to injury of the neurons that make up the brain or spinal cord tissue. Cripton’s clinical colleagues at ICORD can also give him feedback based on firsthand knowledge of the potential benefits of a proposed protective device.

Cripton and colleagues have been approached by several companies interested in licensing the technology from UBC, and are now designing sport-specific versions of the helmet.

risk-injury curves are then developed to guide the design of protective devices. Mechanical engineering professor Peter Cripton is an expert in this area, known as injury biomechanics. Understanding and preventing spinal cord injury (SCI) is a major focus of his work.

Designing a Better Sports Helmet

A Lifelike Surrogate Neck A major problem faced by injury biomechanics researchers is that they cannot conduct tests on live human subjects beyond the injury threshold. Instead, they have to choose from a variety of surrogates, including crash-test dummies, computational models, and cadavers. Each has advantages and drawbacks, but none is “biofidelic”, or truly lifelike. Cripton has addressed this deficit by developing an aluminum neck that approximates the human neck’s response to head-first impacts, specifically a diving accident. Using a combination of pulleys, springs, articulating vertebrae, and rubber “discs”, he has created a surrogate neck that, according to Cripton, “behaves like a human neck, especially with respect to the reaction forces that develop over time” in a head-first impact.

Head-first impacts are common in sports such as football, hockey, and mountain biking, with football players slamming To test the Pro-Neck-TorTM using the neck, Cripton and colleagues into each other, hockey players crashing into the boards, or attached an aluminum head with a simulated scalp and dropped it mountain bikers going over the handlebars. In these impacts, from a drop-tower. Using high-frame-rate video, high-speed Xray, the head comes to an abrupt halt while the and various accelerometers, they were able to torso’s momentum continues, deforming capture the metrics they needed to validate the “It’s important the cervical spine (neck) and potentially helmet against risk-injury curves. that we study as causing a spinal cord injury. A new type of many different helmet designed by Cripton and PhD stuCripton, along with Tom Oxland and ICORD dent Tim Nelson may help prevent some of impacts as we can Principal Investigator John Street (Orthopaethese injuries. before certifying dics), is now looking at the effects of lateral

the helmet.”

The Pro-Neck-TorTM consists of inner and outer shells separated by about 20 millimetres and joined together at the sides by pivot mechanisms. In most impacts, the helmet absorbs loads as a normal helmet would. In impacts exceeding a certain injury threshold, however, a component of the pivot mechanism breaks, allowing the inner shell to slide forward or backward within the outer shell. The momentum of the following torso is absorbed by the helmet, rather than the neck, reducing SCI by up to 56% in experimental tests. innovations magazine

bending of the neck in head-first impacts. The results of this Canadian Institutes of Health Research-funded study will help guide modifications to the Pro-Neck-TorTM to further reduce SCI. The study may also lead to other preventative measures, and improve treatment for those suffering from SCI.

For more information, contact Peter Cripton at Fall/Winter 2013 13


n Canada, there are currently four micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) research centres focused on designing and testing new microdevices, including UBC’s new Adaptive Microsystems Lab, or AdaMist, which opened in July 2013. Led by Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) professor Edmond Cretu, AdaMist is part of the Embedded Systems Canada (emSYSCAN) national network. The 37 institutions comprising the emSYSCAN network provide platform-based microsystems design and prototyping facilities to advance microsystems R&D. AdaMist, however, is unique in Canada. As Cretu explains, “there are no other centres in the country that have this grouping, this set of equipment. Our integration among 3D printing, aerosol jet deposition, photo-lithography, and laser removal is unique.”

ADVANCED MICROSYSTEMS LAB OPENS AT UBC A New, State-of-The-Art Lab Will Accelerate Microsystems Research, Commercialization, and Teaching By Julia Naim Schriver

14 Fall/Winter 2013

Cretu’s efforts to bring the new AdaMist lab to UBC began in 2006 when he initiated contact with CMC Microsystems, an umbrella organization based at Queen’s University that supports integrated microsystems research and commercialization. Relationships with CMC developed over time. “We gradually developed a kind of bilateral communication,” Cretu says. “They invited me to dinner and we discussed the vision I had for setting up a lab at UBC. They apparently liked my vision and were thinking along the same lines.” Cretu proposed developing complex heterogeneous microsystems by integrating conventional technologies in UBC’s Advanced Materials and Process Engineering Laboratory (AMPEL) with new technologies now available in the AdaMist lab. His proposal helped inform the overall vision that led to the award of a $48.26 million Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI) LeadingEdge Fund national grant in 2010, and the establishment of the emSYSCAN network.

State-of-the-Art Equipment and Training AdaMist is equipped with state-of-the art equipment such as an OPTOMEC aerosol jet printer, valued at over $400,000 USD. This printer enables the size of electronic systems to be greatly reduced, by incorporating nanomaterials to produce fine-featured circuitry and embedded components. Innovative MEMS designs can be adhered to a flexible substrate; surgical instruments, for example, can be upgraded with MEMS components for greater precision. Aerosol jet printing is useful in low-

volume fabrication of electronic circuitry and components, ideal for life sciences research and prototyping, and ultimately for the development and fabrication of next-generation microelectronic devices.

five years in Belgium working with teams to create integrated circuits primarily used in the automotive industry, wants AdaMist to be not only a place of research but also a place where researchers and companies connect and make use of both the technology and intellectual re“Together with our graduate students,” Cretu remarks, sources available in the lab. BC companies, such as Assex “we have the potential to Technology and Ultrasonix Medical create novel types of fabricaCorporation, specializing in imagtions steps. We want to get ing systems, took notice in 2010 from the design level to the and collaborated with Cretu’s team “We want to get from application level and not just by integrating ultrasound transducthe design level to the play with isolated pieces.” er heads into their product line. Cretu stresses that “it is very application level and important for ECE students Incorporating MEMS devices to not just play with isoto realize that the world of upgrade biomedical imaging equipengineering has changed, ment, such as ultrasound machines, lated pieces.” that most of the projects continues to be commercially lucrathey will be dealing with tive, as ultrasound imaging occuoutside of the lab will be inpies more than 25% of the biomediterdisciplinary in nature. Students studying nanotech- cal imaging market. It is little wonder that microsystems nology also need to know about quantum mechanics, designs emerging from the Adaptive Microsystems Lab chemistry, optics, and other disciplines, as the borders are garnering the attention of some very large biomedical between fields are becoming fuzzier.” companies in the United States. Cretu’s efforts to establish AdaMist on the national level are also beginning to unfold on a much wider stage.

Connecting with Industry

Opening up opportunities for ECE students to design and fabricate MEMS devices by providing access to state-of-the-art equipment, is key to attracting young minds to careers in MEMS research. Cretu, who spent

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For more information, contact Edmond Cretu at

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In this procedure, the anesthesiologist selects the injection site by feel, then guides the needle into the space just above the dura, or membrane, enveloping the spinal cord. The target site is identified by a loss of resistance to injected saline solution. A catheter is then fed through the needle to supply the anesthetic. The success of this essentially blind procedure depends highly on the skill of the practitioner, and can take up to 100 attempts to perfect. It also becomes much more difficult in obese patients or those with scoliosis or a previous back surgery. The most common complication is overshoot of the epidural space and puncture of the dura, causing leakage of cerebrospinal fluid and severe headaches. Inadequate anesthesia is also a common problem. In extreme cases, respiratory failure or paralysis may occur. With as many as 175,000 epidurals performed annually in Canada alone and a failure

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rate of 6–20 percent, there is a clear need for an improved guidance technique.

Approaching the Problem from the Side Advances in ultrasound technology have enabled adding visual guidance to help the anesthesiologist select the puncture site. This is useful only before the procedure, however, as the ultrasound transducer sits over and obstructs the injection site. UBC biomedical engineers Rob Rohling (ECE/ MECH) and Purang Abolmaesumi (ECE), along with Drs. Allaudin Kamani and Vit Gunka at BC Women’s Hospital and Dr. Jill Osborn at St. Paul’s Hospital, have harnessed new 3D ultrasound technology to develop a technique for real-time imaging of epidural needle insertion through to the target space. Rohling and Abolmaesumi have considerable experience in exploiting ultrasound to improve surgical outcomes (see Innovations, Fall/Winter 2011 and this issue, p. 7). In their epidural work, they are making use of a plastic needle guide

invented by Rohling that clips on to the side of the ultrasound transducer. Knowing the angle of the needle relative to the coordinates of the 3D ultrasound volume, and using a feature-selection technique based on training data from a number of scanned patients, they can automatically identify the midline of the spine and choose an appropriate injection site.

Targeting Widespread Use Echoes of the ultrasound beam off the needle in this technique are not ideal, however, given the angle of the needle relative to the transducer. One way to get around this is to use expensive “echogenic” needles, which are pitted with tiny divots to reflect ultrasound beams in different directions, keeping the needle visible at all angles. But as Rohling says, “We wanted to keep costs down so that our innovation will have the widest possible impact.” To realize this goal, the team is employing an image-rendering method they developed previously, based on “compound imaging,” where multiple ultrasound images taken at slightly different angles are combined to generate a coherent image of the needle. Variations and extensions of this method have been adopted by several different ultrasound manufacturers, and it is in clinical use. In the current application, it enables the team

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to use a much more economical standard epidural needle. The 3D ultrasound machine they are using is also widely available. With the input of many of the staff anesthesiologists at the collaborating hospitals, the team will also design a unique user interface, intended to satisfy the requirements of the end user. The interface will be refined as the system goes through a series of tests, initially on volunteers to test the ultrasound imaging component before needle insertion and then as a supplementary tool to guide needle insertion in patient studies. The team’s end goal is not to replace current epidural anesthetic procedures but to complement them. “The loss-of-resistance technique for detecting the epidural space will still be used,” Abolmaesumi stresses, “but SURE (Smart Ultrasound Rendering for Epidurals) will help make epidurals safer, easier to master, and more widely practiced.” In the long-term, SURE may also provide visual guidance for other medical procedures such as needle biopsies.

For more information, contact Rob Rohling at or Purang Abolmaesumi at

Fall/Winter 2013 17

SOCIAL BROADCASTING Bringing Back the Audience

Digital Content Alternatives are steadily eroding the audience for broadcast television.

Viewers accustomed to social media wish to be more actively engaged with the media they are consuming than is possible with traditional TV programming. While the production values and editorial capabilities of broadcast TV remain far superior to those of the digital media competition, advertising revenues are waning. The long-term viability of the medium many of us, for better or worse, grew up on is in question.

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Mahsa Pourazad, Research Director of ICICS’ Digital Media Lab, is leading a group of researchers who are developing a comprehensive suite of technologies aimed at wooing back TV audiences. Their overall goal is to create a broadcast platform that enlists viewers as providers of additional content, with personalized interactivity options tied to program elements. Transforming broadcast television into a form of social media, the researchers believe, will bring back audiences and help guarantee its survival.

Trustworthy Crowdsourcing

“A major focus of our work,” Pourazad says, “is on developing technologies that will allow the public to contribute to programming.” A broadcaster, for instance, might request a selection of these individuals to create and upload local content for a documentary about the Canadian Arctic. Contributor guidelines will ensure it meets minimum industry requirements for video quality, compatibility, etc. The broadcaster will then use tools developed by Pourazad and her colleagues to analyze and select submitted content for inclusion in the program. For broadcasters to adopt this new approach to producing programs, however, they must be able to trust the contributors. Pourazad plans to develop a trustworthiness measure for assessing the reliability and accountability of contributors, and to detect fraudulent content. Individual trustworthiness profiles will be refined over time, improving the robustness and accuracy of the measure.

on either a global or program-specific basis. They will also be able to suggest links to additional content based on personal experience or Web browsing, by providing feedback to a broadcaster’s social media site. The trustworthiness tools developed to assess incoming video streams will be customized to measure the reliability of viewer feedback. Broadcasters will be in a position to enrich programming, and, if desired, target it at a specific demographic, in a much more comprehensive manner than is possible with the current focus-group based approach.

For more information, contact Mahsa Pourazad at

Before additional content can be added to programming, the main video stream must be prepared appropriately. The researchers are identifying data that must be captured and stored while the program is being shot, including camera parameters and position, scene depth maps, and objects of interest. These data will later be used to integrate video streams, as well as Web content and augmented-reality enhancements (e.g., information overlays). Pourazad is also developing video analysis tools that will allow broadcasters and post-production houses to incorporate these enhancements into existing programs, tied to distinct program elements such as landmarks and segments of historical interest.


“Our focus on content-specific interactivity,” Pourazad emphasizes, “distinguishes our work from existing approaches, where additional program information is not tied to program components.” Machine-learning techniques will be developed to personalize options for viewers. Interactivity cues will be presented to the viewer based on their interests, defined initially by questionnaire, and refined over time based on viewing patterns. Viewers will always have the option to customize interactivity choices,

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Fall/Winter 2013 19

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ICICS Innovations Magazine


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Innovations Magazine Fall/Winter 2013  

In this issue, we provide a sampling of recent research advances made by ICICS members in biomedical engineering, microsystems, robotics, co...

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