IT Hero Awards: WiFi-enabled canine search and rescue pack, Web-based CT scan bag awards

Saving lives appeared to be the theme of this year’s choice of winners for the 9th Annual ITAC IT Hero Awards as judges picked developers of canine search and rescue pack that turns a dog into a mobile WiFi node and a Web-based CT (computed tomography) scanning system as the 2009 recipients of the awards.

Winner of the Community IT Hero Award is Professor Alexander Ferworn, director of graduate studies at the Department of Computer Science of the Ryerson University in Toronto.

Ferworn and his team developed the first WiFi-enabled low-light/infrared camera pack which can be carried by search and rescue dogs. Images captured by the camera can be transmitted back to handlers and rescue workers via ruggedized WiFi networks.

Ironically the canine-based rescue device is called CAT (canine Augmented Technology).

Winner of the Corporate IT Hero Award is GE Healthcare IT which together with eHealth Ontario and London Health Services Centre developed a Web-based transfer and storage system for neuro-treatment head scan images. With the help of the Emergency Neuro Image Transfer System (ENITS), health workers in remote areas can quickly transmit CT scan images to a data centre accessible via online connection to physicians and specialist anywhere in the province.

Being able to receive fast and accurate diagnosis can help health workers save patients’ lives or eliminate unnecessary patient evacuation.

The awards, which were presented at the annual ITAC (Information technology Association of Canada) Chair’s Dinner on Tuesday, celebrate and recognize the creative application of information technology that significantly improves the lives of Canadians and demonstrates social and economic benefits. Intel is a major sponsor of the event.

Learn more about other IT Hero Award nominees:

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Technology going to the dogs

Chances of surviving a structural collapse are actually very good if rescue occurs within 24 hours, according to Ferworn, of Ryerson University. Since most people trapped under debris are hidden from view, rescue units around the world use dogs to sniff out survivors.

“One of the main challenges is that rescue workers are not able to see what the animals see under the rubble,” said the professor. There’s very little information rescue workers get back from dogs that can help workers extract trapped victims. Ferworn said the technology can be very useful in countries prone to earthquakes.

Working with the Ontario Provincial Police canine unit, Ferworn and his researchers were able to develop a light camera pack that can be carried by rescue dogs on their bodies. The pack consists of a $25 low light/infrared camera and a WiFi system that transmits images back to the dog’s handlers. The pack is constructed in such a way that it can slip off the dog’s body if the animal becomes snagged thereby preventing the dog from being trapped as well.

The system enables handlers to detect the dog’s whereabouts, trace the animal’s progress, identify obstacles along the part or a survivor’s images. “In effect the dog becomes a Web server or mobile WiFi node,” says Ferworn.

Ferworn said that work is now underway to add an attachment that will allow the dog to carry extra payload and trigger its release. “This way we can provide survivors with a radio, water, food or medicine.”

Faster diagnosis turnaround

According to some estimates, anywhere from 35 to 50 per cent of patient transfers and evacuations later turn out to be unnecessary.

The unneeded transport of patients from one hospital to another, drains budgets, tie-up health workers and create unnecessary stress or even endanger patients, according to Mike Clarke, general manager of GE Healthcare IT Canada.

“One of the major challenges of many remote health centres in Ontario is the ability to get immediate specialist opinion on patient CT scans,” Clarke said.

Without an accurate diagnosis, doctors and health workers are hampered on making a decision whether to transport a patient to a better equipped hospital or not. “In this situation, doctors typically err in the side of caution and transfer the patient.”

ENITS which was built on GE’s high-availability centricity enterprise archive system, allows for Web-based distribution of images to collaborating hospitals, according to Dan Chiasson, director of new market development and government relations at GE.

“Essentially the system allows remote health centres to transmit over the Internet, CT scan images to a data centre we have in London, Ont.”

Neurosurgeons can then be alerted and given Web access to the stored images for them to study. Specialists can then provide their diagnosis and recommendations to the doctors in the remote location.

“ENITS has the potential to save lives or prevent trips which could cause could be an unnecessary trauma to the patien,” Clarke said.

By using the data centre infrastructure already established by the LHSC in South Western Ontario, GE hopes to complete within 12 months the connection of 175 CT scanners in 130 hospitals in Ontario. The technology will provide 70 neurosurgeons and approximately 200 CT technicians the ability to communicate and consult remotely throughout Ontario.

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