Transcript for the #GCC2020 showcase: Newcastle Uni


Professor Sarah Johnson

Hello Game Changers!

Congratulations on reaching the semi-finals of this year's challenge.

That's a fantastic result.

My name is Sarah Johnson I'm an electrical engineer.

I work at the University of Newcastle.

My job has two parts.

The first part is that I teach students who'd like to become engineers at the uni and the second part is that I use my engineering skills to solve problems.


Game Changer Challenge 2020

Professor Sarah Johnson

So I thought your challenge this year was awesome.

How do we use technology to bring people closer together.

It's just one example of how we can use technology to solve problems.

And it's great that you got to experience that.

One of the problems that I like to solve with technology is;

How do we help people recover from disease? How do we help people stay healthy?

It's another way we can use technology to solve problems.

And there's many more.

So some of the people that I work with are using technology to come up with new ways to do renewable energy, to help solve one of the biggest problems which is a climate change problem.

Others use them for health problems, others use them to help people at school or at work.

So there's so many problems that we can solve using technology and it's great that you've you've had a go at solving one of those problems.

So one of the problems that I've been working on recently is to help people recover from a stroke.

A stroke happens when the blood to your brain is blocked in some way, so some part of your brain doesn't get the blood it needs to function and it becomes damaged.

So stroke is a really common problem.

Roughly one person every nine minutes has a stroke in Australia.

And when you've had a stroke it's really important you get to the hospital straight away so that it can be fixed, but then after the stroke there's a very long period of rehabilitation.

Where a physiotherapist or a nurse or a doctor works with you to help recover the function of the brain that's been lost because of the stroke.

Depending on where the stroke happens, there can be a couple of different things that can happen to someone when they've had a stroke.

They might have difficulty moving, walking or using their arms, they might have difficulty speaking, they might have difficulty eating, or they might have difficulty processing information.

So a lot of different things can happen depending on whereabouts in the brain the stroke happens.

So after the initial treatment in the hospital to help stop the blood flow problems, then there's a rehabilitation process where you need to do some exercises.

And those exercises are carefully designed to train your brain to re-learn some of the activities that you might be struggling with.

So it could be if your stroke is very severe you might have to re-learn how to reach out and pick up a cup and take a sip and put the cup back down.

Or perhaps you might need to re-learn how to stand up from a chair and sit down back in a chair.

Those kind of activities require your muscles to work but they also require your brain to work so it's sending the right signals to the muscles at the right time, so that you can do those activities.

So it's almost like when you're a toddler and you're learning how to do those activities now you have to re-learn how to do them.

And the physiotherapist or the doctor or the nurse helps give you exactly the right activities to train your brain and do those activities in the right order.

So stroke rehabilitation is really important and it's really important that you have that coaching that feedback that happens while you're doing the exercises.

So if you've ever had coaching for a sport you'll know what I'm talking about.

If you're trying to learn how to do a tennis serve for example, you've got to practice a lot of times but you also have to have someone there telling you when you're doing it wrong.

If you're doing the serve incorrectly and you keep practicing it incorrectly it's not going to help you at all.

You need the coach to say throw the ball a little bit higher or hold your arm back a little bit further before you swing.

So you need that coaching, that feedback all the time when you're trying to learn a new activity.

So it's very important also when you're trying to learn activities to recover from stroke.

The problem is of course is that you can't have a physiotherapist with you all the time.

And you might live remotely, you might not be close to a hospital and you might just want to be able to do the exercises in your own home, where you're comfortable.

And so that's the problem that we we're going to try and help people with.

Help people use technology so that they can do the rehabilitation exercises in their home, get the feedback that they need to get it right and to improve, anytime they want, just by turning on a computer.

So the idea of the technology is we want to be able to monitor the person as they're doing the activity, so we can see what they're doing.

Then we want to design some clever software so we can compare what they're doing right now, to what we already know is the correct way to do it.

We can do that comparison using some software in the computer and then we can give some feedback to the patient saying do this a little bit differently or do that a little bit differently or hopefully perfect you're spot on keep going.

So the encouragement to keep doing the exercises.

So there's two parts to that technology.

The first is the sensing part.

So we need to be able to figure out what it is that they're actually doing right there in the room without a person watching them.

So we can have some sensors on the on the body so we might strap on some little, they're called IMUs, some little sensors.

And then as you move the sensors track that movement and send that information to the computer.

Well the other way you could do it is with a camera.

So you could have a camera watching you as you're doing the exercises, which is also understanding what movements you're making.

So that's the first part, the sensing part to figure out what motion is happening.

And then the second part is the software the computer part, where the computer checks what you're doing, compares it to what it knows you should be doing and then figures out where those two things are different and figures out how to give some feedback to you to tell you what how to change your motions.

So that's the two parts to the technology.

It can give you feedback while you're doing the exercises, but it can also record your performance.

So it can say how many times you did each exercise, how well you did, whether you're improving or not and then it can provide all of that information to your doctor and physiotherapist, so they can actually see what you've been doing while you're at home, doing your rehabilitation exercises and tell you fantastic, keep up the great work or let's move on to this new exercise.

So the technology is working with the doctor or physiotherapist for your treatment.

So I think you guys have been doing a lot of work on the design process.

And I can talk to you a little bit about how I use that design process in this particular project.

So the first part is to empathise, which is to really understand the problem.

And part of what I did in that phase was to go out and talk to patients, to talk to physiotherapists, to talk to rehabilitation specialists to really understand what the problem was and what solutions were required, to help these patients recover from their stroke much better.

And then in part of that is something we also called research.

Which is where we go out, look all around the world, find out what exactly is out there.

Are there solutions already?

If there are not, are, is there some technology out there that someone's already built that I could use?

For example those sensors, in order to solve the problem that I'm doing my research about.

It's a very big problem help people recover from stroke.

So I had to narrow that down and define the exact problem that we thought that we might want to help with.

And we in all of our understanding the problem, we decided that the way that technology could really help was narrowing it down to this idea of facilitating rehabilitation in the home and using technology to provide feedback.

To provide that coaching for people as they were doing their rehab.

And so we defined the problem really into quite a small specific issue, so that then we could work on finding the solution.

So then we had to come up with some ideas.

The ideations.

So, what could we do in order to solve this problem?

And the idea we came up with was the sensors.

We thought we could strap on these sensors to people and we already knew that those sensors had some technology available that could communicate with the computer.

So we just had to come up with some algorithms, some software some ways of comparing the motion now, to what the motion should be.

And that was our idea for the solution.

That was our first idea for the solution.

So then after we had our idea we had to build a prototype of course.

And then we had to test it.

So we got a lot of people in, we strapped on the sensors, we had them do the exercises and we gave them feedback as they were doing them.

And as part of that testing phase we actually found some problems with the prototype.

So for example we found that the software was working beautifully when the sensors were giving correct information.

But sometimes the sensors didn't work.

The sensors work on magnetic fields and sometimes in some places if there was too many computers nearby, or if there was some some metal in the concrete, the sensors weren't quite accurate enough.

So in our testing of our prototype, we found that perhaps sensors weren't the right way to go, to solve our problem.

So then we went back which often happens in the engineering problem and we said okay let's change the prototype.

Let's come up with prototype number two.

And so in prototype number two we went with a camera.

A special kind of camera that doesn't just have a picture, it also has a depth sensor.

So you could tell how far away from the camera each part of the person's body was.

And so we switched out the sensors for the camera.

And kept the software and the algorithms the same.

And we found from our testing, a better solution than the one we originally came up with in the first place.

As Game Changers you guys have been looking at how you could use technology, you know, to help people in their lives.

And I think that's a really really important point.

Most of us perhaps, want to find a job where we can do something to help people.

Either we want to be a doctor, or a firefighter, or a nurse, or someone who's going to help people.

But a really important point I think that sometimes people don't realize is that engineers can really help people too.

We can build the technology that helps people in so many different ways.

Whether it's people that are recovering from stroke.

Whether it's people who need to connect with other members of their community better, like you guys have been working on.

Or whether it's to solve problems of global warming.

So technology, engineers and other people in technology can really help people when they solve these important problems.

So it's a great career if you want to help people!


Game Changer Challenge 2020

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