I think the third week crept up on us a bit. I asked my students about it later and they said that it had really started to fly – although everyone was feeling the pressure towards the end of week 2. On the Monday morning we met late to have the short exam and then I gave the students an hour for lunch before we headed off to tour the labs that are found around CUHK itself. Another OAL host, Cora Chan, picked us up from one of the many food outlets (it’s Hong Kong, food is very serious business here) and took us to visit the Virtual Reality, Visualisation and Imaging Centre, where our students got to see research and industrial application mixing together. We saw 3D imaging displays and a really interesting example of a training device to help medical professional develop their expertise at carrying out biopsies of tumours, using computerised measurement to give a quantified indication of accuracy. Usually, a human observes you to assess your technique. In this case, computerised measurement can tell you exactly where your probe went in relation to the ultrasound and the ‘tumour’ – actually a special sponge. Had you told me that my students would be carrying out biopsy practice on this trip, I wouldn’t have believed you. We’re all learning!
We then moved on to the Radio-frequency Radiation Research Laboratory, where the team look at interesting ways to send and receive communications-band radiation, while also carrying out formal assessment work of the possible effects on humans. To do this, they have one of the most amazing looking labs in the world…
Thats the door to an anechoic chamber, designed to completely isolate anyone inside from outside electromagnetic radiation – and it’s also eerily silent because it absorbs all noise. Of course, all of us had to step inside – it’s 7m tall, which makes it one of the biggest labs of this type that there is.
It is eerily quiet in there and that giant ring, studded with sensors, is the detector array. Here’s a vertical panorama that tries to capture what the whole chamber looks like. I have included an ISO Standard Tullie for scale.
With this apparatus, and a range of things including human substitutes and replay-able mobile emissions, the team can check that an antenna is putting where it should be and not cooking anyone. Always good! The last lab on the tour was the Networked Sensors and Robotics Laboratory, where we started the tour by looking at robots designed to assist in surgery. In the picture below, the small robot to the front takes the role of a human and stabilises the patient’s internal organs for a 90-120 minute operation, where a human would typically tire. This is classic assistive robotics – they do something that we potentially have neither the strength nor patience to be able to achieve with high reliability.
In the background, yo0u can see a device that helps a surgeon stabilise the tools required for keyhole surgery – an assistant who never shakes and never tires, no matter how long it goes on. Right now these all have to be manually positioned, which still needs human involvement, but the team go to their cadaver trials very shortly and would hope to have devices like the organ assistant robot deployed into surgical theatres by 2015-2016. Good thing to keep in mind when you’re visiting hospital! We then went to see some more work being done by the students in the group on robot autonomy and position determination – taking robots to the point where, instead of careering around the room like a deranged Roomba, they learn paths properly and can follow them, on land and or on water, but without ground assisted guidance. Overall, a fantastic day for seeing research in action and, as one of the students noted, he now knew more about research at CUHK than he did about what we did back home. Hmm. Good point, we’re going to have to fix that! Thanks again to Cora and all the teams who helped us out today.