Professor Higashino’s key theme is: “what can we do with smartphones and sensors?”. One example of his interdisciplinary research is the Electronic Triage System developed in partnership with experts in medicine and disaster mitigation.
Saving lives through information science
“Triage” is the process of categorizing and prioritizing patients requiring medical treatment. In times of disaster, the number of casualties can be huge. Ever since the Great Hanshin/Awaji Earthquake of 1995, a system has been in place whereby patients are categorized and assigned paper tags in accordance with the urgency of their need for treatment. In some cases, however, patients that were initially given low-priority tags end up requiring priority treatment after time has elapsed. The paper-based tag system is not capable of addressing such changes in a patient’s condition. There is also the problem of locating high-priority patients in a crowded, hectic environment.
In the Electronic Triage System, miniature sensors attached to a patient’s fingertip are used in place of paper tags. These sensors automatically monitor the patient’s heart rate and other vital signs and record their location. The system is designed to work even in post-disaster power outages, and is easy to use for emergency services personnel, medical teams, and other workers dealing with emergency situations.
The Electronic Triage System is already being used in the waiting area at the Trauma and Acute Critical Care Center in the Faculty of Medicine, one of the partners in the research project that created the system. Apart from the patients that are brought to the Center by ambulance, there are occasional cases of patients collapsing suddenly while awaiting treatment. By applying sensors to patients that are thought to be at some risk, the Center has achieved a one-third reduction in the number of patient collapses in the waiting area.
Awareness expands through interdisciplinary research
The research described above is one example of collaboration between medicine and engineering, but I am also doing research on energy reduction in partnership with an environmental science lab. I also have an interest in crowd sensing research with colleagues in the human sciences, and we are currently conducting empirical research together in Grand Front Osaka (commonly known as Umekita) on the northern side of Osaka Station. By ascertaining where people gather and in what volumes, and what kind of topics people are discussing on Twitter in different locations, we hope to contribute to research on the formation of communities.
As you engage in interdisciplinary research, you come to realize that the original ideas you had can differ greatly from the ideas and needs of researchers in other areas and people working at ground level. As you talk with different people, you start to think about what you can contribute, and it becomes possible to frame problems in a way you had never envisaged before. I believe that this is the advantage of interdisciplinary research.
Considering both “of” and “by”
In the field of information science, you often hear the phrase “from OF ICT to BY ICT”. This means that rather than pursuing research and technological development within the field of information science itself, we should be thinking about what can be done using information science. What we need is individuals who can work on both the “of” (advancing the discipline) and the “by” (contributing and collaborating beyond the discipline). This need is surely not limited to information science alone. All fields require people with broad horizons. I hope that the Humanware Innovation Program will be a place that trains young people to pursue this kind of broad-ranging research.