WCU HIGH-TECH INITIATIVES TO ADDRESS                                                                                             

CULLOWHEE – Two newly established high-tech initiatives at Western Carolina University will enable faculty and students to collaborate on finding ways to utilize the complete capabilities of broadband Internet coming to Western North Carolina and on developing devices to help prolong independent living for the region's aging population.

As part of its quarterly meeting in December, Western's board of trustees authorized establishment of the Center for Broadband Applications, and the Center for Adaptive Devices.

Western Chancellor John Bardo called the new centers part of the university's continuing focus on “engagement” with the communities of the mountain region. “We want to offer the resources of the university – our faculty, students and staff – to help solve human problems and to assist in economic development,” Bardo said.

The Center for Broadband Applications is designed to meet the growing communication and business demands beginning to appear as high-speed Internet access comes to WNC, said Paul Evans, director of Western's Center for Regional Development, where the broadband initiative will be housed.

“As broadband expands into the Western North Carolina region, we need to consider the next step. We need to determine what will drive the new broadband-based economy,” Evans said. “To take full advantage of the massive capacity of broadband to store and share information, we need to begin to take a multidisciplinary look at some of the problem areas in key fields.”

Faculty and students from the fields of technology, graphic arts, computer science, engineering, business and communication are expected to become involved in the CBA, Evans said. The center is likely to study a wide range of high-tech applications, from such medical uses as providing real-time data and information sharing to hospitals to such entertainment functions as real-time gaming.

“The center, with the latest high-tech equipment, networks and computer software, will provide students with hands-on opportunities to work on real solutions in the broadband field,” Evans said. “It will offer the university community unlimited opportunities for applied research in the fields of production applications development, network performance and network security. And, as we work closely with industry partners to maintain a high-level of sustainability in broadband activities, the center will enhance economic development through commercialization and workforce expansion for Western North Carolina.”

The Center for Adaptive Devices, located in Western's College of Applied Sciences, will bring together faculty and students from the fields of engineering, technology, physical therapy, health sciences, gerontology and interior design to examine lifestyle issues facing impaired and aging populations, and then create solutions to help improve the quality of life for those populations.

Through the center, the department of engineering and technology and the department of human services in the College of Education and Allied Professions will collaborate to develop cost-effective devices to be used by handicapped children in the kindergarten through 12th-grade classroom.

The center is the logical outcome of several recent outreach activities by faculty and students in Western's department of engineering and technology, said Duane Dunlap, head of the department.

“Our professors and students developed an arm-sling that is helping a quadriplegic woman continue her passion for art, and another team fabricated a foot-powered pneumatic device that has enabled a Haywood County potter to continue working despite a shoulder injury that threatened his livelihood,” Dunlap said. “With the growing population of elderly people in Western North Carolina, we saw that there is a real need for the development of devices that can help them remain active members of their communities.”

Faculty and students in the department also are creating a navigational system for a wheelchair for a 14-year-old Buncombe County boy who is deaf and blind. The project involves installing and testing ultrasonic sensors that indicate through vibrations in a special cushion in the seat of the chair whether the boy should turn left or right.

For information on the Center for Broadband Applications, contact Paul Evans at (828) 227-7492. For information on the Center for Adaptive Devices, contact Phil Sanger at (828) 227-2159.

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Last modified: Monday, January 3, 2005
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