The Center for Data Innovation spoke with Camille Crittenden, the deputy director of University of California’s Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS). Crittenden discussed some current projects at the center and its emerging work in the area of resiliency.
Travis Korte: Can you introduce CITRIS and speak a little about its origin and mission?
Camille Crittenden: CITRIS was founded in 2001 as one of four multi-campus Institutes for Science and Innovation at the University of California. CITRIS uses innovation in information technology to address complex areas such as energy production, distribution, and conservation; health care delivery and data analysis; sensor networks for environmental monitoring; and civic engagement through social media platforms. Our mission is to facilitate new connections between academia and industry and, from those connections, to spur the creation and growth of new enterprise. Along the way, our activities create knowledge and provide benefit for students and faculty in higher education, boost California’s economy, and improve the well-being of its citizens.
TK: What are some of the most exciting projects you’re currently working on?
CC: One current project involves faculty from UC Merced and UC Davis developing a ruggedized drone that can take off and land on the surface of running water under windy conditions. Using smart sensing strategies it can collect water samples to analyze eDNA (environmental DNA, shed by all organisms into their environment). This will allow us to collect samples from isolated areas and monitor the health of our water system more comprehensively. A project in our health care initiative will develop a system to collect wireless data from mechanical ventilators from patients in critical care units. By using web-based analytics, researchers will be able to visualize issues in patients with respiratory failure and improve their treatment. This is one of our first projects to use real-time analytics from critical-care instruments to directly improve patient care.
TK: Can you speak about some of the emerging technologies that have influenced and enabled CITRIS’s work the most?
CC: CITRIS researchers are expanding on a prototype system that uses a network of wireless sensors to track snowpack depth, water storage in soil, stream flow, and water use by vegetation in the Sierra—information that is essential to improving usage of this increasingly scarce resource. This project will also develop tools to measure the economic benefits of improved hydrological forecasting using monitoring networks in order to enhance our ability to manage an intelligent water infrastructure.
Researchers in the energy initiative are also combining tools in novel ways to improve automation for mid-sized commercial buildings. The Open BAS project employs an open-source IT architecture, an intuitive user interface, and plug-and-play control devices to improve energy efficiency in buildings under 50,000 square feet.
TK: Some of your initiatives come into contact with state and local governments. Can you talk a little about your experience here? What are some of the successes and challenges that have come up in CITRIS’ interactions with government?
CC: CITRIS has been closely affiliated with California’s elected officials and state agencies since its inception under Governor Gray Davis. As one current example, the Data and Democracy Initiative has been working closely with the Office of California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom to develop the California Report Card. This new platform draws on innovations in recommender systems and crowdsourcing ideas to improve communication among voters and public officials. In the first version of the California Report Card participants graded the State of California on six timely issues and suggested topics that should be addressed on future report cards. From its launch in early February 2014 to late June, more than 9,000 California residents from all 58 counties assigned over 23,000 grades to the state and suggested over 300 issues for increased priority at the state level. Participant suggestions revealed strong interest in statewide disaster preparedness, prompting a specific response from Lt. Governor Newsom announcing that this issue would become a top priority for him and his staff.
TK: Your work falls into the general categories of health, energy, democracy, and infrastructure. Were there areas that were particularly hard to leave off this list, or areas that you’d like to explore in the future?
CC: We will soon begin exploring a few themes that cut across these research topics. One of these is the idea of “resiliency,” improving the capacity of built infrastructure like buildings and transportation systems to withstand natural disasters, as well as helping communities prepare for and recover from major disruptions. Several of our research categories also generate huge amounts of streaming data (energy and healthcare) or create large public data sets (democracy). We will be looking at how best to share learning in big data analytics across these domains in order to advance the research agenda in these and other areas that have an impact on people’s lives.