Press Release

APL Discovery Projects to Explore Disaster Health, Ethical Robots, School Safety

Tue, 07/23/2019 - 12:00

Three principal investigators from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, were among researchers from across the Johns Hopkins enterprise to earn funding in the fifth round of the JHU Discovery Awards program.

The program was launched in 2015 by Johns Hopkins President Ronald Daniels, Provost Robert Lieberman and the deans and directors of the academic divisions to spark synergistic interactions across JHU and lead to work of the highest quality and impact. This year the program attracted a record 222 proposals, from which 32 teams, each composed of members from at least two Johns Hopkins divisions, received awards of up to $100,000.

Disaster Health

Disasters are occurring with greater regularity, due partly to increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events, emerging infectious diseases and the rise of intrastate and asymmetric warfare. As disaster threats continue to grow, the ability to mount a rapid, effective and sustained health response remains a serious challenge. Health care providers — perhaps, especially, nurses — require disaster-specific knowledge, skills and abilities to respond quickly and appropriately.

Hans Mair, a national security analyst, heads a project to build an analysis tool for disaster-preparedness resources for nursing care, which he calls the backbone of civilian and military health care systems. “We propose to innovate the digital twin of the Disaster Healthcare System,” he explained. “As a decision tool for disaster health care, the digital twin will enable cost and resourcing analysis, disaster response planning, workforce projections and training, and system readiness assessment. It will also force the implementation of objective performance metrics.”

His team includes two APL scientists — Amy Haufler and Teresa Nowak — and Tener Veenema, from the JHU School of Nursing.

Ethical Robots

For more than a year, Ariel Greenberg, a research scientist in APL’s Intelligent Systems Center (ISC), has been working with researchers at the JHU Berman Institute of Bioethics to create a moral code for robots. “As machines develop the ability to do more tasks without the supervision of humans — as they are allowed to ‘decide’ how to complete tasks — it is imperative that they are explicitly programmed with values and principles to guide their decisions,” he said.

Building on this work, Greenberg and his team plan to use an ontology of physical harm as a model for mapping other kinds of harm that semiautonomous machines must take into account when interacting with humans. “While notions of physical harm are fairly universal, notions of dignitary or reputational harms, for example, will vary tremendously across contexts and cultures,” he explained. “We will develop an ontology of these harms beyond the physical to include, for example, harms related to the psychological, emotional, dignitary, reputational and financial well-being of individuals.”

They will also explore the parameters, such as context, culture and time horizon, that affect the impact of physical and nonphysical harms.

Greenberg’s team includes David Handelman, a senior roboticist in APL’s ISC; and, from the Berman Institute, Travis Rieder, a philosopher and ethicist, and Debra Matthews, a geneticist and bioethicist.

School Safety and Security

In 2016, APL published the nation’s largest research study on school safety and security technology, focusing on a wide range of technologies designed to strengthen the safety and security of pre-K-12 schools. Mark Gabriele and his team will advance APL’s initial study by conducting new research on the risks, benefits and impact of school-based security. They will also develop resources for practitioners and decision-makers on the application of the evidence and the selection and assessment of the technologies.

“The need to provide new evidence to the nation’s school administrators is critical at this point in time,” said Gabriele. “School administrators often make decisions about safety and security technologies with limited evidence and supportive information.”

Gabriele’s team includes Sheldon Greenberg, from the School of Education; Steve Teret, from the Bloomberg School of Public Health; and Andrea Cimino, from the School of Nursing.

In addition to the three APL-led projects, Laboratory researchers will be supporting three other 2019 Discovery grants funded during this cycle:

  • John Benson and Bob Bamberger are working on a collaboration with Bloomberg, the Whiting School of Engineering and APL to explore the use of mobility technology — such as self-driving cars — to reduce health disparities in urban environments.
  • Stephanie Pitts and Josh Steele are working with researchers from Johns Hopkins Medicine and Bloomberg on a project to leverage a mobile health application and narrative storytelling techniques to motivate opioid users to get into and stay in drug use treatment.
  • Brant Chee will be working on a project with Johns Hopkins Medicine to identify cardiac arrest subphenotypes using both clinical and physiological time series data from a very large dataset of patients admitted to the ICU.

“This year’s proposals attested to the intellectual creativity and collaborative spirit of our university,” said Daniels in a statement announcing the awards. “With these awards, faculty will have the freedom to pursue new avenues for discovery with colleagues across our community and to take up the most pressing questions we face as a society.”

The 2020 awards cycle will open in January.