Imagine a rush hour intersection where a cellular network analyzes the movement, speed and direction of vehicles and, in real time, helps drivers avoid collisions.
Or imagine yourself beaming in an online lecture, with an interactive 360-degree view of the classroom and lab that’s so real you almost forget it’s virtual.
These scenarios are close to reality for eight new Western-funded projects, whose researchers are examining how the university’s unique Bell-Western 5G network can transform lives for the better.
“It’s all about connectivity: connecting people to people, people to places, people to things,” said kinesiology professor Kevin Shoemaker, associate vice president (research), whose work also includes the development of an app that uses super-fast 5G to help students. improve mental health and activity.
The partnership and the newly activated network provide a living laboratory where researchers test the technological properties of 5G and gain insights into its applications as a multi-communication tool: robot-assisted remote surgeries with real-time responses and without lag; develop applications with breakthrough speed and resolution; processing big data figures; enhanced security for drones.
“We want our electronic and digital existence to be exactly like our in-person existence: fast and able to do many complex things at once,” said biology professor and associate vice president (research) Bryan Neff.
“There’s just a lot of things we can do now that just weren’t possible before this,” Shoemaker added.
First and only of its kind
5G technology offers exponentially faster connection, ultra-low latency (minimal lag between sending/receiving signals), faster upload/download speeds, improved security and greater reliability than cellular networks of the previous generation.
“Western is the only university in Canada with a fully functional and operational 5G network,” said Peter White, Western’s executive director of government relations and strategic partnerships.
Five 5G cell towers provide full campus coverage, including Western Research Park, White said.
“It’s fully integrated with Bell’s commercial network so researchers can test their research in a real, real-world environment,” he added.
Western has committed $1 million to research projects that test network technology and application.
As telecommunications companies build and deliver access to 5G networks in the months and years to come, Western’s research provides a valuable head start in understanding and developing its potential.
Calming traffic chaos
Take, for example, the conundrum of traffic collisions and how technology can prevent humans from making costly and potentially deadly mistakes.
“We start from the underlying assumption that everything is connected using 5G technology: all cars on the road, as well as cyclists and pedestrians,” said Western computer science professor Anwar Haque, expert in next-generation telecommunications networks and cybersecurity.
In his project, all connected devices communicate with a server that receives information and with intelligent algorithms that analyze the proximity of people and objects to each other and to an intersection.
Once the algorithm detects a high probability of a collision, the server can then send an alert to users’ cell phones or car infotainment systems to warn them to avoid an accident.
The technology’s ultra-precise positioning capabilities – a matter of locating users within centimeters, much improved over counters in conventional technologies – could make it a lifesaver for vulnerable road users, including people blind people or cyclists in the driver’s blind spot.
Haque plans to test a prototype of the research, using vehicles and pedestrians equipped with 5G phones, within months.
“It has to be real-time use because a lot of information has to be collected, analyzed and communicated very quickly. For it to work, it must also have excellent signal quality and reliability – you don’t want a signal to drop unexpectedly when the stakes are so high,” he said. “All of these technical requirements are possible thanks to the Bell 5G research network that we are able to use.
In another Western-funded project, Haque is also testing proprietary technology that would help drivers locate available parking spaces in a car park, without constantly turning around to find an empty spot. “Unlike other systems, it doesn’t require any sensors, cameras or other equipment in the parking lot, only a cell phone, and it doesn’t depend on weather conditions.”
Next Level Virtual Classes
Paul Frewen, Professor of Psychiatry at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, also cross-appointed to the Department of Psychology, is working to test 360-degree real-time virtual teaching – allowing students to attend classes or lectures virtually. laboratories.
The technology holds the potential for a much greater sense of physical presence — and engagement — for students, Frewen said. This, in turn, benefits learning.
“Especially with the pandemic and the shift to online learning, there has been a loss of physical presence between instructor and students,” he said.
There was also a loss of social connection, both between students and between students and their instructors.
“Virtual reality is known to evoke the feeling of being present in the virtual environment”,
he said. “We thought, if we’re going to be limited to just physical distancing, could we use this (360 degree online learning) to lessen the impact of social distancing?”
In 360 degree teaching, the front and rear camera lenses record simultaneously.
“The instructor can show something in a very practical way. For the viewer, it is like being teleported into the physical environment where the teaching takes place.
Frewen has successfully used 360-degree teaching in asynchronous (recorded) lessons that students listen to through VR headsets on their computers. Students feel more connected to learning than in conventionally recorded one-way lessons, early studies show.
But taking it a step further, to a lightning-fast live system, would be a game-changer.
A 10-minute 360-degree video recorded over 4G, for example, would use up to 2GB of user data; while 5G can quickly stream large files and bring student presence to the classroom.
“5G is going to give us new capabilities for synchronous, lag-free, live and continuous learning.
“Our hope is that it can help students feel more connected to learning – and, by reducing social distancing, improve their mental health.”
technology for mental health
Shoemaker is testing technology that treats student mental health through biofeedback devices that work with a 5G-enabled phone.
The goal is to help students reduce their negative stress. Biofeedback devices detect elevated heart rate, sweating, temperature, or blood pressure as signals of increased stress.
An augmented reality program then allows the student to lessen their anger or anxiety by introducing visualized mindfulness or breathing activities that encourage growth.
To develop this approach, it is planned to bring the research to at least 50 volunteer students living in residence.
All projects are expected to be live tested during this year.