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Researchers Demonstrate the First Autonomous Medical Robot That Steers Needles In Vivo

To safely operate, an autonomous vehicle needs to be able to recognize and avoid obstacles in real time. Even a momentary lapse could lead to disastrous consequences, especially if the vehicle is a medical needle, less than a millimeter wide, navigating through the cluttered tissue of a patient’s lungs en route to a cancerous nodule.

Safely and accurately reaching a site inside living tissue is currently often challenging for physicians, especially inside complex, moving anatomy like the lung. Errors can be fatal: the failure to precisely reach a suspicious nodule in the lung can result in an inaccurate diagnosis and hence allow cancer to spread untreated. An autonomous robot has the potential to exceed the accuracy that a human operator can safely accomplish using currently available tools. 

A team of researchers from the University of Utah’s John and Marcia Price College of Engineering, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Vanderbilt University have demonstrated, for the first time, a robotic needle capable of autonomously maneuvering around obstacles to a target in living tissue.

A panoramic view of Hamburg

Kahlert School of Computing Faculty and Students Heading to Hamburg for CHI 2023

The Kahlert School of Computing is heading to Hamburg, Germany for the CHI 2023 conference, which will be held from April 23rd - April 28th. Considered to be the leading global conference on Human-Computer Interaction, the  ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems brings together business and academic leaders to discuss ways to develop and enhance new interactive digital technologies.

This year, the Kahlert School of Computing will have particularly strong representation at CHI with seven papers and one case study. The paper Never Skip Leg Day Again: Training the Lower Body with Vertical Jumps in a Virtual Reality Exergame by Kahlert School of Computing faculty affiliate Jens Harald Kreuger is being honored with the Best Paper Honorable Mention, a selective honor awarded to only the top 5% of papers from nearly 3,200 submissions. Overall, the University of Utah will be represented by 14 individuals including six professors alongside a mix of researchers and students. "The strong presence of the Kahlert School of Computing at the world’s leading HCI conference is a testament to the school’s growing emphasis on a human-centered approach to designing technologies of the future," said Prof. Mary Hall, Director of the Kahlert School of Computing.

Faculty and students from the Kahlert School of Computing will be presenting seven papers on a variety of subjects ranging from the impact of smart home technology on rehabilitation centers to methods used to spread misinformation through data visualization:


Adding Domain-Specific Features to a Text-Editor to Support Diverse, Real-World Approaches to Time Management Planning

Jason Wiese (University of Utah), John R. Lund (University of Utah), and Kazi Sinthia Kabir (University of Utah)


Data Abstraction Elephants: The Initial Diversity of Data Representations and Mental Models

Kay P. Williams (University of Arizona), Alex Bigelow (Stardog), and Katherine E. Isaacs (University of Utah).


It Made Me Feel So Much More at Home Here: Patient Perspectives on Smart Home Technology Deployed at Scale in a Rehabilitation Hospital

Joshua Dawson (University of Utah), Thomas Kauffman (University of Utah), and Jason Wiese (University of Utah)


Misleading Beyond Visual Tricks: How People Actually Lie with Charts

Maxim Lisnic (University of Utah), Cole Polychronis (University of Utah), Alexander Lex (University of Utah), and Marina Kogan (University of Utah)


Never Skip Leg Day Again: Training the Lower Body with Vertical Jumps in a Virtual Reality Exergame

Sebastian Cmentowski (University of Duisburg-Essen), Sukran Karaosmanoglu (Hamburg University), Lannart E. Nacke (University of Waterloo), Frank Steinicke (Hamburg University), and Jens Krüger (University of Duisburg-Essen, University of Utah)



Smartphone-derived Virtual Keyboard Dynamics Coupled with Accelerometer Data as a Window into Understanding Brain Health

Emma Ning (University of Illinois at Chicago), Andrea T. Cladek (University of Illinois at Chicago), Mindy K. Ross (University of Illinois at Chicago), Sarah Kabir (University of Illinois at Chicago), Amruta Barve (University of Illinois at Chicago), Ellyn Kennelly (Wayne State University), Faraz Hussain (University of Illinois at Chicago), Jennifer Duffecy (University of Illinois at Chicago), Scott Langenecker (University of Utah), Therea Nguyen (University of Illinois at Chicago), Theja Tulabandhula (University of Illinois at Chicago), Olusola A. Ajilore (University of Illinois at Chicago), Alexander P. Demos (University of Illinois at Chicago), and Alex Leow (University of Illinois at Chicago)


Troubling Collaboration: Matters of Care for Visualization Design Study

Derya Akbaba (Linköping University), Devin Lange (University of Utah), Michael Correl (Tableau Software), Alexander Lex (University of Utah), and Miriah Meyer (Linköping University)

"The strong presence of the Kahlert School of Computing at the world’s leading HCI conference is a testament to the school’s growing emphasis on a human-centered approach to designing technologies of the future."
Prof. Mary Hall, Director of the Kahlert School of Computing. 

In addition to the seven papers, Postdoc researcher Johanna Cohoon will present a case study titled Adapting to Challenges in Qualitative Fieldwork through Theoretical Sampling co-authored with James Howison of the University of Texas at Austin.

In addition, students and faculty from the school will participate and present their work in the Symposium on HCI Education (EduCHI) and the Workgroup on Interactive Systems in Healthcare (WISH) workshop held at the conference.

EduCHI is the premier venue focused on research and practice connected to teaching HCI and supporting community building among HCI instructors.

WISH aims to foster a community around innovations in consumer and medical health and wellbeing by connecting academic and industry researchers in HCI, medical informatics, health informatics, digital health, and beyond.

An individual is shown using an electric wheelchair in an urban environment

Prof. Jason Wiese Receives Google Award for Inclusion Research

Professor Jason Wiese of the Kahlert School of Computing

Kahlert School of Computing Assistant Professor Jason Wiese is a recipient of the 2022 Google Research Award for Inclusion Research aimed at developing personal tracking technology that addresses a major challenge faced by power wheelchair users: avoiding pressure ulcers. The research supported by the US $60K grant from Google will address the challenges they uncovered in their previous work in which they conducted interviews with users of powered wheelchairs to understand their experiences in adhering to the clinical recommendations and performing pressure reliefs throughout their days. 

Personal tracking technologies, such as the activity trackers found on many phones and smartwatches, diet tracking applications, symptom trackers, and personal finance tools, have become commonplace. People use these technologies to gain better self-insight and make or sustain changes that improve their lives. Early versions of these tools typically focused on activities such as counting steps, which excluded people who use a wheelchair. 

Over time, these tools have become more inclusive, for example, by adding the ability to track wheelchairs propelled manually by their users. However, as Professor Wiese’s recent work has shown, users of powered wheelchairs remain excluded from such personal tracking technologies and from research in general. To address this disparity, Prof. Wiese and his Ph.D. student Tamanna Motahar are collaborating with the Nielsen Rehabilitation Hospital to design and implement personal tracking technology with the goal of exploring better ways to serve users of powered wheelchairs.  Professor Wiese explains: “Our goal is to make sure we design technology to specifically serve people who use powered wheelchairs, rather than assume that their needs are addressed by solutions that work for those who use manual wheelchairs or those without disabilities.” The research will leverage the incredible potential for technology designed with and for those who use powered wheelchairs and create a positive impact on their lives. 

One major application for such technology relates to pressure ulcers, a common issue faced by individuals who use wheelchairs of all sorts. The mechanism behind a pressure ulcer is similar to bed sores, which can occur if someone lays in a bed for too long without getting out or changing position. In the context of wheelchairs, pressure ulcers can occur if somebody sits in their wheelchair for too long without changing position, shifting weight, or getting out. While users of manual wheelchairs and people with sufficient upper-body strength can do stretches or shift their weight to relieve pressure, it’s more complicated for people who have less upper body strength or function. In these cases, a “pressure relief” often requires tilting the chair back to a 45-degree angle for two minutes so that weight is shifted onto the person’s back. 

Current clinical guidelines suggest that the procedure be performed every twenty minutes while a person is in the wheelchair, resulting in an estimated 30-50 pressure reliefs per day. Yet, people in wheelchairs may intentionally skip a pressure relief if it is infeasible or socially awkward to perform it in a given situation, such as being in a crowded place, traveling in a vehicle, participating in a meeting, etc. Often, they miss a pressure relief because they simply forget.

Wiese and Motahar will tackle this problem by exploring solutions for detecting pressure reliefs as well as providing users of power wheelchairs with real-time context-aware reminders and feedback. Their goal is to enable these individuals to view and reflect on their own behavior and its effect on their health and wellbeing.