Research on human movement could lead to development of 'assistive homes'

June 11, 2015

ASU professor awarded $536K NSF grant

Imagine living in a house that knows you and can anticipate your activities when you’re home. Imagine how this technology can help in the development of “assistive homes” for the elderly, and workspaces featuring built-in, ergonomic components that can improve workers’ health. professor working with human movement simulations Pavan Turaga, assistant professor in the ASU School of Arts, Media + Engineering in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, engages in research into the underlying qualities of human movement. Photo courtesy of Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts Download Full Image

These are examples of long-term applications that could result from a $536,000 grant recently awarded to Pavan Turaga, an assistant professor in the ASU School of Arts, Media + Engineering in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, by the National Science Foundation.

Turaga received the NSF Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) Award, which, according to the National Science Foundation, “supports junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.”

“This award demonstrates that Dr. Turaga’s career achievements place him among the most elite scholars and engineers in the country,” said Steven J. Tepper, dean of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. “His work will fundamentally change how computers interact with human bodies to improve health and make our environments more responsive.”

Turaga, also an assistant professor in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, received the award in support of his research into the underlying qualities of human movement.

Titled “CAREER: Role of geometry in dynamical modeling of human movement: Applications to activity quality assessment across Euclidean, non-Euclidean, and function spaces,” the project expands on the central theme of Turaga’s academic focus.

“My PhD work had a lot to do with geometry applied to other imaging problems, and it was a natural extension to look at human movement through the lens of geometry,” Turaga explained.

Turaga, whose areas of expertise include computer vision and human activity analysis, notes that using such additional knowledge has classically been considered challenging in signal-processing literature, though “over the past several years, techniques from geometry have emerged as a possible lingua franca when considering signals with interesting physical constraints.”

Turaga points out that human movement recorded from sensors has traditionally been studied as yet another signal, yet human movement has many interesting properties that make it distinct from other signals.

“As an example, our skeletal structure imposes various constraints on how we move,” he explained. “Most of us cannot contort our bodies into any shape we want, but there is a range of postures to which we are constrained. If we can use such physical constraints while modeling the underlying signals we are recording, one can possibly improve techniques for signal-processing, storage, matching and retrieval.”

Over the course of the five-year project, Turaga aims to show how creative applications of mathematical principles can lead to discoveries that bear on the development of long-term therapies to address a wide range of health issues.

Although he sees the long-term impact of his research as mainly on the individual’s health care, Turaga emphasizes its potential for dual impact: “The CAREER agenda is meant to start a long-term research trajectory of both fundamental advances and its varied applications. The medical realm is only one possible application of this study.”

Deborah Sussman

Communications and media specialist, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts


ASU grad 1st to win student Murrow award for video journalism

June 12, 2015

A recent Arizona State University graduate has won the first Edward R. Murrow award honoring a college student for work in video journalism.

Erin Patrick O’Connor, a December graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, is the inaugural winner of a Student Edward R. Murrow Award in overall video excellence for his work on “Gun Wars,” a Carnegie-Knight News21 investigation into gun rights and regulations in America. O’Connor will accept the award from the Radio Television Digital News Association during an October awards ceremony in New York. portrait of ASU grad Erin Patrick O’Connor Erin Patrick O'Connor is the recipient of the first Edward R. Murrow award honoring a college student for work in video journalism. O'Connor was a December graduate of ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Download Full Image

Established in 2014, the Student Murrow Awards celebrate overall excellence in student journalism at the collegiate and high school levels. Unlike the professional Murrow Awards, which are presented to a news organization, the Student Murrows are awarded to individuals in one of three categories – audio, video and digital journalism.

O’Connor’s award-winning News21 stories, “Colorado: Battle on the Front Range” and “Camden, N.J. – Homicides,” examined how two states are trying to balance gun rights and regulations in two distinct regions of the country. In Colorado, O’Connor profiled the tension between the rural community and the expanding urban population, sparked by gun-control legislation. In New Jersey, he highlighted government initiatives to curb gun violence in a city with a murder rate 17 times higher than the national average.

“It's such an honor to be considered for such a prestigious award, and then to win it is a bit overwhelming,” said O'Connor, who was an Ethics & Excellence in Journalism Fellow with News21. “You put your heart and soul into a story and hope it benefits the community. I'm just happy people are listening, and it makes me want to do more.”

News21 is a multimedia investigative-reporting initiative established by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Twenty-nine college students from 16 universities participated in the 2014 project headquartered at the Cronkite School. Students traveled to more than 28 states to interview hundreds of people about their experiences with guns. News organizations across the country, including the Washington Post, USA Today and NBC News, published portions of the project.

The investigation was led by News21 Executive Editor Jacquee Petchel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist, and Leonard Downie Jr., the former executive editor of the Washington Post and current Weil Family Professor of Journalism at the Cronkite School.

“Erin is an extraordinary visual storyteller and reporter whose ability to capture the essence of his characters is matched only by his determination and humility,” Petchel said. “His attention to detail at a student level is unparalleled. He is, in every way, remarkable.”

As a Cronkite student, O'Connor specialized in documentary production. He served as the director of “Hooked: Tracking Heroin’s Hold on Arizona,” a Cronkite School and Arizona Broadcasters Association-produced documentary that aired on all 33 Arizona television stations and reached 1 million viewers earlier this year. The documentary recently won an Arizona Press Club Award in video storytelling, marking the first time in the history of the 91-year-old organization that students won against professional journalists.

At the Cronkite School, O'Connor held internships with Republic Media and the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting. He also traveled to Chiapas, Mexico, to participate in Cronkite’s Southwest Borderlands Initiative, a semesterlong in-depth reporting project examining border and immigration issues in the U.S. and other countries.

Just last week, O’Connor finished second in the multimedia competition at the Hearst Journalism Awards Program’s National Championship in San Francisco for an in-depth story on gentrification and urban renewal.

Originally from Wrightwood, California, he is currently working at the Washington Post as a part of a 12-week video internship, where he is producing short-form stories in the nation’s capital.

“Erin tells vivid narrative stories through the people and places in his videography that make important statements without the intrusion of Erin's own voice – a rare talent at any age and level of experience – as recognized by this well-earned award,” Downie said.

The Radio Television Digital News Association has been honoring outstanding achievements in professional journalism with the Edward R. Murrow Awards since 1971. Murrow Award recipients demonstrate the excellence that Edward R. Murrow made a standard for the electronic news profession. The association is the world’s largest professional organization exclusively serving the electronic news profession. Members include local and network news executives, news directors, producers, reporters and digital news professionals as well as educators and students.

Lisa Robbins

Editor/publisher, Media Relations and Strategic Communications