University of Calgary
UofC Navigation

Funds awarded to four ambitious Earth-space technology projects

World-leading experts collaborate to expand horizons in space medicine, sensors, drone analytics, robotics and Earth and space science
May 1, 2017
Surgeon demonstrates the neuroArm robotic platform that the Robot-Assisted Space Telemetry (RAST) project will be based on, with advancements. Photo courtesy Project neuroArm, University of Calgary

Surgeon demonstrates the neuroArm robotic platform that the Robot-Assisted Space Telemetry (RAST) project will be based on, with advancements. Photo courtesy Project neuroArm, University of Calgary

A methane sensing-drone, part of Chris Hugenholtz's NEST-funded research project. Photo courtesy of Chris Hugenholtz

A firefighter performs a remote mentored tele-ultrasound examination. Photo courtesy of Andrew Kirkpatrick

Michael Sideris is part of the project that has been awarded funding to create and link a network of sensors with the goal of characterizing Earth systems. Photo courtesy of Michael Sideris

What common thread links remote-controlled space surgery, methane-sniffing drones, an Earth-to-space sensor web, and tele-mentored ultrasounds?

Each is the topic of a University of Calgary-led research project recently selected by the Office of the Vice-President of Research to receive matching funds totalling $1 million under the New Earth-Space Technologies (NEST) strategic research theme.

As with all six strategic research themes, the university boasts a critical mass of NEST expertise, and matching funds are designed specifically to boost select research projects deemed high-impact, highly feasible and deliberately collaborative.

“While disparate in focus, these projects each exemplify the Eyes High vision, relying on truly world-class expertise at the University of Calgary,” says Ed McCauley, vice-president (research). “This research emphasizes the study of remote regions, including space, while offering widespread applications for humanity, from improving health to monitoring the environment.” 

Ultrasound at a distance

“We were MacGyvering off-the-shelf technology, cobbling this idea together on evenings and weekends, working around our schedules as clinicians,” says trauma surgeon Andrew Kirkpatrick, principal investigator on the Tele-Mentored Ultrasound Supported Medical Interactions (TMUSMI) project and Cumming School of Medicine professor. “This NEST funding is so exciting because it allows us to formalize our work and will accelerate our program a thousand-fold.”

The goal of Kirkpatrick’s group, which is co-led by former NASA flight surgeon Douglas Hamilton, is to develop protocols allowing an inexperienced clinician to be mentored at a distance through any unfamiliar medical assessment including, if necessary, ultrasound imaging. Read more

An immodest proposal: taking the pulse of the Earth

Not interested in small-scale goals, the NEST-funded project led by geomatics engineer Michael Sideris aims to create and then link an enormous network of sensors with a goal of characterizing Earth systems from the core to the magnetosphere.

That’s right: the team of geoscientists, engineers, geographers, physicists, astronomers and social scientists just wants to monitor the whole geospatial continuum, using a combination of satellite and airborne remote sensing systems, as well as Earth-bound measurements. Read more

Autonomous and intelligent methane-sniffing drones

The NEST-funded Sniffer Drone Project, led by geographer Chris Hugenholtz, looks to develop unmanned drones capable of detecting and quantifying methane gas emissions associated with natural gas leaks and other natural and industrial sources.

The project consolidates expertise in robotics, sensing, atmospheric modelling and geo-intelligence. As Hugenholtz says: “We’ve worked with Alberta-based companies to develop North America’s first commercial methane-sensing drone system, but through this project we will take it a step further by developing next-generation technology that uses artificial intelligence to seek out hidden (fugitive) methane emission sources and quantify the rate of emission into the atmosphere. If you can teach a dog to track a scent, we can teach a drone to find a gas leak.” Read more

Remote-controlled surgery in space

With a growing number of astronauts spending an increasing length of time in space — and consideration being given to moon and Mars colonization — there is an increasing probability of medical problems requiring acute care in space.

A team of researchers led by Dr. Garnette Sutherland, neurosurgeon and developer of the neuroArm neurosurgical robot, is looking to solve that problem with their Robot-Assisted Space Telemetry (RAST) project, which will test the feasibility of conducting remote-controlled tele-operations in the International Space Station from a workstation on Earth. Read more

“These projects demonstrate the breadth and depth of our NEST research strengths,” says McCauley. “They are ambitious, inspired projects that cut across faculties, include academics at every stage in their careers and engage our community.” Read more

New Earth-space technologies are capturing, analyzing and visualizing our Earth-space environment through unprecedented advances in sensors, platforms and systems. We are on the cusp of a technological revolution in our ability to sense and monitor our natural environment and built world — with widespread applications for humanity. From the oldest science (astronomy) to the latest evolution of geomatics, University of Calgary researchers on the New Earth-Space Technologies Research Strategy team are providing information that is constantly changing how we make decisions about our world.