|Put on your 3-D glasses|
|The following appeared in HME News, the publication for the home medical industry, on July 26, 2011. This year and last, I asked the residents of Addison Court, the low-income apartment for disabled and elderly in State College where I live, to attend a demonstration at the Immersive Construction Lab, described here. One of the participants was Lilian Hutchison, who celebrated her 87th birthday in January. No one can say for sure whether Lilian would have fallen several times in her apartment if this kind of technology were in place. However, the hope is that the future will be kinder to those of us who can benefit from design which residents are able to modify in advance.
The projectors behind the three, 8-foot screens show a virtual reality world that can improve the environment where home medical equipment HME is used. Professor John I. Messner’s Immersive Construction (ICon) Laboratory at Penn States Architectural Engineering Department is a dark, windowless room where the healthcare facilities being viewed seem so real there is a special world for it: immersion.
When Kaiser-Permanente began constructing a medical building in downtown Washington, D.C., pharmacists traveled 140 miles to State College to see how their workplace would appear. Among their suggestions: a partition so when two patients are served simultaneously, their privacy is insured.
There is substantial growth in constructing healthcare facilities from hospitals to housing for the elderly. Previously, a model of how a building would look required physical materials like wood and nails. By comparison, virtual reality offers interactive models early in the design process. The resulting efficiency and cost savings (making changes to a building before it is built) are creating a boom in the use of virtual reality in the architectural, engineering and construction (AEC) industry. Expectations exceed the ability of the AEC industry to have virtual reality applications ready as quickly as desired.
Sonali Kumar, a graduate research assistant at Penn State, is developing a 3-D model for an independent living facility for elderly and disabled individuals based on the concept of experience-based design. Experience-based design often refers to a body of academic literature, primarily health-care related. Designers are urged to consider the perspective of the individuals who build, maintain, work and reside in the facility, including patients and residents. A common example is the decision of a Philadelphia hospital to build its bathrooms closer to patients beds.
My perspective on Sonali’s effort comes from my status as a disabled resident of a primarily elderly independent living facility. For example, I look at an early version of Sonali’s model showing a bathtub in the bathroom and say, No. There should be a roll-in shower here. I show an early prototype to Travis Barr, co-owner of T & B Medical here in State College. While fixing my scooter, Travis says, “There should not be cabinet doors in the kitchen. Doors are a nuisance for people with disabilities.”
Sonali’s model is based on a Blue Roof Technologies cottage in McKeesport, Pa. Pennsylvania has a larger number of elderly people in its population than any other state except Florida. The need for elderly housing is acute. In McKeesport, where the factory for steel pipes closed down leaving a near-ghost town and an elderly population of more than 20%, Robert Walters, a retired Penn State professor, created Blueroof. The cottages are constructed of pre-fabricated housing and have special sensors inserted in the walls to remind residents when to take their medicine (the walls talk) and to call 911 if a resident falls and does not get up in a timely fashion.
Sonali’s model of a Blue Roof cottage makes use of interaction, the most significant new development in virtual reality. Look at the screen shot Sonali took of the power chair inside the kitchen of her model cottage. For those readers who have not spent their productive hours playing video games, an avatar is a virtual reality representation of an actor functioning in a 3-D environment. The avatar in the Sonali’s kitchen is a power chair. The power chair makes coffee and toast, opening the refrigerator door to get eggs and milk, and scrambles eggs on a stove the avatar has just turned on. Interactivity is key to understanding how practical people in the construction industry have come to use 3-D technology for practical purposes.
Interactivity is arrived at slowly as Sonali experiments with a wide range of software. I suggested that Sonali replace the 3-D power chair with a scooter. In my experience, a scooter is more mobile and less likely to damage walls and take bathroom doors off their hinges. I ask a manufacturer to provide a 3-D scooter file, but for reasons I cannot explain (because I do not understand), the file does not yet open. Sonali explains, “We are in the process of integrating the computer model obtained from Amigo Mobility.” Keep your 3-D glasses on and await future developments.
Joel Solkoff writes about disability issues from a customer perspective. He is an adjunct research assistant at the Department of Architectural Engineering at The Pennsylvania State University.
John Bertoty (right) is Executive Director of Blueroof Technologies, Inc. This is a position John has held for the past 10 years when he founded Blueroof with Robert Walters (left). Listen to one of the sounds you might hear after you enter the front door.
In 2002, John was Academic Principal, McKeesport Area High School, McKeesport, Pennsylvania. John writes that he was “responsible for all aspects of the academic program (1500 Students).”
This following is a photograph of McKeesport Area High School as it is today:
The website All About McKeesport Area High School and Technology Center notes:
“The high school became a Grade 9-12 building with the start of the 2000-2001 school year. In 2003-2004, new additions to the high school building provided room for the five remaining vocational/technical classes that were housed at North Hall. Culinary Arts, Cosmetology, Building Construction, Auto Body, and Auto Mechanics are now all a part of the comprehensive high school that offers its entire academic and vocational/technical curriculum under one roof.” http://www.mckasd.com/MAHS/general_information.php#matc
At the same time John was Principal, he also served as Acting Director of Vocational Education with full responsibility for the 700 student vocational/technical center. Indeed, it was John’s passion for vocational educational that led him to join with Robert Walters, a professor of engineering at the local Penn State campus, to create Blueroof. As Blueroof noted in its initial website: “Blueroof will use innovation, invention, and entrepreneurship to develop state-of-the-art living facilities that will keep senior citizens safer, healthier, and living independently at home as long as possible.”
John’s perspective focused on the fact that the school system was training workers for technical jobs which required, in Rust-Belt-devastated McKeesport, that the young people leave the area to obtain work. One goal of Blueroof was to keep young, skilled workers in McKeesport constructing badly needed housing for the elderly and disabled who have been left behind by the exodus.
In 1940, McKeesport had a population of 55,000 residents. According to the 2010 Census, McKeesport’s population is 19,731. McKeesport, just outside of Pittsburgh at the junction of the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers, was steel country.
The largest employer, National Tube Works, once employed 10,000 workers. Now the factory—which graced the cover of postcards—is out of business. At its height, Tube City, as McKeesport was called, took pride in the fact that it was the largest supplier of tubing without seams in the world.
Tube City established a reputation for innovation which, according to Bob Walters, meant that in the 1950s, McKeesport had more patent attorneys than Pittsburgh. Penn State, the largest university in Pennsylvania established a campus at McKeesport which bore the city’s name, but when the city’s reputation became unsavory, the University changed the campus name to Greater Allegheny.
John Bertoty co-authored a scholarly paper on the program he helped found writing, “In 2005, Blueroof Technologies completed construction and dedication of its model Smart Cottage [shown in the photograph above], located at 400 Spring Street in the Third Ward of McKeesport.
“The model Smart Cottage was built to demonstrate and test the monitoring technology features and functions. In addition, Blueroof used the Smart Cottage to guide the development of a floor plan that utilized universal design concepts; this enables it to be adapted to the ever-changing and unique personal needs of each individual owner in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“A modular home is a structure designed and built for residential use; constructed in one or more three-dimensional modules in a factory, and transported to the home site for final assembly and completion on a permanent foundation.
“Using modular home construction techniques, the Smart Cottage is easily replicated for new construction at a cost of approximately $150,000, excluding land cost. About $10,000 (6.7%) of this $150,000 cost is associated with the technology add-ons (materials and labor) to facilitate aging in place. The basic information technology infrastructure (wiring, controller, basic sensors) adds ~$2,000. Internet connectivity, a computer server and an enhanced sensor array add ~$3,000. Networked cameras and a more advanced sensor array add ~$5,000.”
As the first invited guest to spend the night at the Experimental Cottage, it is difficult to describe the feeling of exhilaration I felt sleeping in an apartment designed to meet my specific needs as a person who cannot walk. For about two years, I have been working at Penn State’s Immersive Construction (ICON) Lab working with graduate assistant and 3-D modeller Sonali Kumar to develop a virtual reality demonstration of how residences for elderly and disabled people, such as myself, should be built. The model is based on the reality of the cottage in which I was sleeping and living for two days, using, for example, an expertly designed roll-in shower where I did not fear about falling because the grab bars and shower seat fit so comfortably. I had served as Sonali’s model for the avatar in virtual reality and there were moments when I half expected to bump into myself going into the shower.
If you go to this link at 9 am, (you do not need to log in, but you may have to wait because only one user can use the remote camera at a time), http://188.8.131.52:60001/CgiStart?page=Single&Language=0 you will see John Bertoty sipping his one deeply cherished mug of coffee for the day, talking with Bob Walters and Rich Knapick, who designs the remote sensing equipment, and the rest of the crew, planning the day.
My first day of my two night stay, John had me drive my POV [Power Operated Vehicle] scooter to his car and I transferred to the passenger seat and took the tour. We seemed to go everywhere and everywhere we went, everyone knew John Bertoty.
“Sometimes,” John later told me, “I will see someone who was a student I expelled, and he will come up to me and apologize for having behaved so poorly 15 years ago.” John is the kind of guy, a respected former principal who has been in the area for generations, everyone likes. He is well-equipped to coordinate the area’s human and other resources into creating the kind of housing that will revolutionize the construction of residences for the elderly and disabled. All he needs are the right tools.
Working, as I do, in PSU’s virtual reality lab, one of the most complicated and detail oriented places I have worked in my many decades working, I cannot help but admire Ames’ ability to summarize the story so briefly and to the point.
6. Robert Walters sitting on a real Amigo Mobility Power Operated Vehicle (POV) scooter shown on a live video screen to McKeesport (a two and a half hour drive away) where he and John Bertoty at Blue Roof Technologies are currently building low-cost, high technology homes in a Bruce Springsteen town where over 20 per cent of the population is elderly.
- Reality: the design of housing for elderly and disabled individuals such as myself
- Virtual reality: the tool that makes it possible, economical, and more efficient to create a 3-D model that can be used as a template for the massive construction effort required to house the elderly population here in Rust Belt, PA, and as we age; we “baby boomers” who constitute the largest generation in our country and indeed the world’s history. Stay tuned for more on this demographic reality and its impact.