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Young Investigator Develops Better Human–Machine Interactions

August 08, 2016

Tiago Falk

People send out signals constantly through their mood, behavior, physiology, and even their environment. It’s the job of Sigma Xi 2016 Young Investigator Award Winner Tiago Falk and his lab to investigate and enhance how those signals are received and used intelligently by machines for the betterment of humankind.   

Falk is an associate professor at the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique at the University of Quebec in Canada and director of the Multimedia/Multimodal Signal Analysis and Enhancement (MuSAE) Lab. The lab works closely with Canadian and international companies so that its research outcomes have practical applications. 

One area of focus is on applying intelligent machines to assist clinicians with improved health diagnostics. For example, Falk’s team is developing a low-cost method of detecting a person’s early risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease via the use of games, eye tracking, and portable neurotechnologies. The player performs a virtual navigation task known to elicit activity in specific parts of the brain that are known to be affected early by Alzheimer’s disease. A second application is on the use of smartphone cameras and microphones to remotely monitor patients with depression.
The lab is also developing technology for adaptive multimedia communications. For example, physiological signals have been used to monitor a user’s perceptual experience­‌—such as emotion, fatigue, or pleasantness—with new multimedia technologies, such as a video streaming service, thus allowing service providers to adjust system parameters in real-time to maximize user experience. 

Falk’s background is a mix of engineering domains. A native of Brazil, he completed his PhD at Queen’s University in Canada by working in speech coding and processing. Then, during his postdoctoral fellowship at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital in Toronto, he worked on assistive technologies, including brain–computer interfaces, for children with multiple severe disabilities. There, he developed a device nicknamed “the Hummer” that allowed children to use hums as control signals to drive powered wheelchairs, as well as control a virtual keyboard to communicate with their loved ones. 

Tiago Falk will receive his Young Investigator Award and present a keynote lecture on his research at the Sigma Xi Annual Meeting and Student Research Conference in Atlanta. To watch his full interview, go to his award page