Cloud based device created by MU researchers curbs chaos in hospitals after natural disasters

Panacea’s Cloud uses technology such as Google eyeglasses to send live updates of an affected area to paramedics and medical personnel after a natural disaster.

In the event of a natural disaster, such as the Joplin tornado, hospitals are overwhelmed with the injured. Doctors remain in the dark about each person’s condition until the hospital has already overflowed.

Salman Ahmad, an assistant professor of surgery in the MU School of Medicine and medical director of the Surgical Intensive Care Unit, wanted to combat this problem with a device that would help medical responders know exactly what was happening at a scene in real-time.

Ahmad, as well as Prasad Calyam, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science and the director of the Cyber Education and Research Initiative in the MU College of Engineering, teamed up with a group of graduate researchers to develop Panacea’s Cloud to approach disaster situations.

“I wanted to use a mesh network so that after a disaster came, say like the Joplin, Missouri tornado, you’d go out and set up all these battery-powered nodes,” Ahmad said. “You would layout, and after a couple of hours, you have your own mesh network. We put a few of those that we had and set up a real-time audio-visual network.”

The overarching goal of Panacea’s Cloud is to improve communication within disaster scenarios. When developing the device, Calyam and Ahmad commissioned a market study where 1,700 first responders confirmed that this communication tool is an unmet need in the community.

The system operates with a series of colored dots. A green dot means there is nothing wrong with the person, yellow means they are the walking wounded, red means they are in critical condition and black means they are dead. This real-time data is then relayed back to the hospital through surveillance videos using Google Glass, a wearable computer in the form of glasses for hands-free work, and other technology so doctors at the hospital will know exactly what is going on.

“The more devices that we have that can take all of this information and let you know what’s going on is going to be very important going forward for most of these disasters,” Calyam said. “In a lot of these disasters, people respond very quickly, so having more of the ability to respond fast, people will be able to respond better.”

If the project continues to develop, it will improve a rapidly changing medical field through health technology and information. Part of what Calyam and Ahmad strived for was to capitalize on the technology that was already available to them and use it to help in more situations.

“I think smart devices are going to get more and more capable in the future,” Calyam said. “They are becoming cheaper and higher resolution every day. So in the future, it will be that. How do we bring these devices to people and find a use for this technology that helps them do their job better?”

The problem is that the project has lost momentum within the last couple of years since it is predominantly graduate student based. When graduate students leave, the project stalls.

“The computer engineering department right now hasn't really put anymore dedicated resources into it,” Ahmad said. “So without any extra funding, they are not really interested in working on it.”

There have been discussions on working with a corporate partner to help the device move onto a larger scale. Companies like Garmin have come to mind but have not been secured.

“The vision I had for it has never come into fruition because it needs to come more from a corporate office,” Ahmad said. “This could open up the possibility for a much wider surveillance system. I couldn’t convince the computer engineering guys to do it, so if it were up to me I’d find someone else to do it because that is the only way it is going to happen.”

Edited by Laura Evans | levans@themaneater.com

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