Inside Penn State's Virtual Palmer Museum

Inside Penn State's Virtual Palmer Museum
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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Event--Come all ye faithful

Department of Architectural Engineering
104 Engineering Unit A
                                                                                The Pennsylvania State University
                                                                                University Park, PA 16802

Contacts: Amy MacIntyre, PHONE (814) 863-0075, E-MAIL
Joel Solkoff, PHONE (814) 272-0130, Cell (215) 518-7847, E-MAIL


September 21, 2011

Special 3-D Construction Session to Reduce Health Care Costs and Improve Quality         
University Park, PA - On Thursday, September 22, at 9:30 a.m. Penn State’s Department of Architectural Engineering will be hosting a session entitled “Using Virtual Reality to Construct/Remodel Health Care Facilities & Independent Housing” in the Alumni Suite at the Nittany Lion Inn. 

The session is part of the Pennsylvania Association of Rehabilitation Facilities’ (PARF) annual conference which defines the agenda for the Commonwealth’s disability community. PARF is a statewide organization of facilities serving individuals with physical, mental, social and/or emotional disabilities.  This year, for the first time since PARF was established in 1969, the organization has reached out to Penn State’s Architectural Engineering Department for its expertise in virtual technology. Gene Bianco, PARF’s CEO and President explains, “I was impressed by the ability of 3-D and 4-D technology to help our membership cut costs while increasing quality.” [3-D provides images that appear life-life in three dimensions; 4-D adds time as a dimension, and so, when building a home for the elderly, provides the viewer with the ability to see the construction of the building during intervals, for example, of 3, 6, and 12 months.]


Panelists for the virtual reality session include architectural engineering professors Richard Behr and John Messner. Behr, as director of the Smart Spaces Center for adaptive aging in the community, has been called one of the country’s early prophets of the concept of “aging in place” as a way of preserving individual dignity and saving the considerable costs involved in institutionalization in assistive living facilities.

Messner, who as director of the Computer Integrated Construction (CIC) Research Program, has been using virtual reality to involve end users in the design to create hospitals, health care facilities, and housing for the elderly and disabled.

Panelist Sonali Kumar, a graduate research assistant to Messner, will be demonstrating two aspects of virtual reality directly related to the members of the audience who have signed up for this session. The first aspect is the work she has done in creating an animated 3-D model of a residence designed for an elderly family whose members may have a disability or may develop one over the course of the aging process.

The second aspect Kumar will be demonstrating is experience-based design, a generic description of a body of academic literature that focuses on the importance of consulting with users in the design process. There are a number of users and end users affected by the way health care and facilities for the aging are designed. They include, for example, residents of the facility, health care providers, maintenance personnel, and people involved with the construction. Kumar’s final model will reflect observations from elderly residents of Addison Court, a State College residence for the elderly, planned critiques from a member of the deaf community, and comments from the mobility disabled community. Kumar changed the model to reflect changes from a wheel chair-based observer who suggested replacing an additional bathtub with a roll-in shower.

The fifth and final panelist Joseph Fagnani provides the prospective of a likely resident of an independent living facility for the aged. Fagnani is an Altoona, Pa based visual disabilities advocate who has been legally blind since childhood. Fagnani has the understanding and skill to provide design suggestions to a model intended to visualize how construction takes place even though he is blind. One of Fagnani suggestions is that controls for the stove use voice synthesis to inform residents when burners are turned on and whether the heat is low, medium, or high.

Audience participation

The following profiles are a sample of organizations represented by audience members who have signed up for the session:

Transitional Services, based in the Pittsburgh area,  provides up to 240 units of permanent housing in addition to temporary housing and services for individuals with mental disabilities leaving state mental facilities. The organization has $7.5 million in operating expenses and serves 390 individuals.

Clearfield-Jefferson Mental Health/Mental Retardation Program. With an annual budget of $4 million from federal and state sources, this organization provides a wide range of mental health services including housing. Participant Susan Hartzfeld, Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) Director points out that her organization’s name will soon change to reflect legal and other requirements that the “r word is an inappropriate and insensitive designation.”

JEVS Human Services, based in the Philadelphia area,  serves more than 20,000 individuals each year. According to participant and JEVS Director Jill Rogers, the organization plans new housing construction for the up to 25 elderly and disabled residents and is looking forward to learning how virtual reality “can be a useful tool.”

Spectrum Community Services, based in Berks and Carbon counties, was originally founded in 1979 by a group of parents who were looking for living arrangements for their grown children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In addition to a variety of housing options, SCS also provides support services.

Allied Services, serving the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area, provides rehabilitation medicine, senior care, home health care, and vocational and residential services. The organization, which serves nearly 5,000 people a day, is the largest employer in northeastern Pennsylvania.

# # #

Tomorrow is Thursday--It is never too late to combine 3-D with rehabilitation

3-D Resident in virtual reality kitchen

3-D Resident takes a virtual shower

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Praise for Charlotte Ames’ 30 second television report on the benefits of virtual reality

I write to praise television reporter Charlotte Ames. In 30 seconds, using 84 words and directing the camera to show six brief vivid images, WTAJ Nightly News for Central Pennsylvania ran the story at 6 PM, Tuesday, May 3, 2011 on Channel Six: PSU Using Virtual Reality to Help Seniors & Disabled.
Working, as I do, in PSU’s virtual reality lab, one of the most complicated and detail oriented places I have worked in my many decades working, I cannot help but admire Ames' ability to summarize the story so briefly and to the point.
            The camera shows the following images:
1.     Charlotte Ames introducing the story. Ames presents herself as an attractive serious reporter wearing a blue jacket, a black blouse, and a suitably informal necklace. Behind her are images of the news room. Other visual information reveals that WTAJ is the CBS affiliate in Altoona, that this is the 6 pm newscast, and local weather information streams below her. She speaks quickly and clearly in a manner that conveys that during a busy day, this is something you should know. (She says, Researchers at Penn State are helping to design affordable high tech homes you can safely stay in as you age. The camera then takes over showing images from Penn State’s Immersive Construction [Icon] lab where Ames continues her voice over.)
2.     A wide angle view of the cavernous, dark virtual reality lab showing an audience looking at multiple large brightly-lit screens.
3.     Graduate research assistant (to Professor John Messner) Sonali Kumar (whose 3-D model may very well establish the national standard for designing future elderly and disability housing) sitting at the controls at the rear of the lab.
4.     A close up of the 3-D virtual reality housing model as an avatar moves closer into a clearly visible kitchen.
5.     Two members of the audience, which includes elderly and disabled residents of State Colleges’ Addison Court, watching.
6.     Robert Walters sitting on a real Amigo Mobility Power Operated Vehicle (POV) scooter shown on a live video screen to McKeesport (a two and a half hour drive away) where he and John Bertoty at Blue Roof Technologies are currently building low cost, high technology homes in a Bruce Springsteen town where over 20 per cent of the population is elderly.

None of the lab’s video images are identified with the specificity I have provided, but the totality of the experience conveys the gestalt in a way good television can only do.
Eighty-two words—six television images all in 30 seconds. The message: Some very smart and talented people are working to make life better for elderly people in a state that after Florida has the highest percentage of elderly population in the country. [See for yourself. Count the words. Brilliant reporting.]


Friday, April 29, 2011

Celebration of the Use of Virtual Reality to Improve Housing for the Elderly and Disabled

Department of Architectural Engineering
104 Engineering Unit A
                                                                                The Pennsylvania State University
                                                                                University Park, PA 16802

Contacts:  Amy MacIntyre, PHONE: (814) 863-0075, E-MAIL:
              Joel Solkoff, PHONE: (814) 272-0130, Cell: (215)818-7847, E-MAIL:

Celebration of the Use of Virtual Reality to Improve Housing for the Elderly and Disabled         
University Park, PA - On Tuesday, May 3, at 10a.m. Penn State’s Department of Architectural Engineering and its Smart Spaces Center for adaptive aging in community will be celebrating progress made in a coordinated effort to reduce the cost of housing for Pennsylvania’s elderly and disabled residents today and in the future. The media are invited to attend the celebration at the virtual reality display lab on the third floor of Engineering Unit C, in the Immersive Construction (ICon) Laboratory.
The celebration will:
  1. Demonstrate the use of full-scale 3-D virtual models on large display screens for evaluating cost-effective designs to allow for aging in place. The animated model based on the Blueroof housing initiative in McKeesport, Pa., is the work of graduate student Sonali Kumar. The virtual reality approach allows for an avatar to enter the wheel-chair accessible cottage and evaluate tasks such as making coffee in a kitchen to appropriately design for residents who desire housing where they can grow old without having to move to a costly institution.
  1. Allow participants to meet the leaders of Blueroof Technologies in McKeesport, via a live video connection.  Blueroof is using prefabricated housing with embedded sensors for improving user interaction with their residence.  The environment can inform a resident when to take medication, monitor for falls (e.g., calling 911 if the resident slips in the shower and does not get up); and provide televised links to medical facilities reducing the costs for routine medical care.
  2. Show the work of the Computer Integrated Construction Research Program directed by John Messner, associate professor of architectural engineering, which is focused on applying advanced computer modeling to improve the design, construction and operation processes for buildings.
  3. Present the work of architectural engineering students who are being trained in using 3-D experienced-based design.  Virtual modeling is rapidly becoming an important tool for the construction industry, providing the ability to make changes in health care and other facilities before construction actually takes place.
  4. Provide an opportunity for residents of Addison Court, a State College independent living facility for elderly and disabled individuals, to see what the future will bring and serve as critics who can use their life experiences to aid in the design process.
  5. Highlight, among others, the work of Richard Behr, director of Penn State’s Smart Spaces Center, who has been leading an interdisciplinary effort to address the needs of the rapidly increasing number of baby boomer Americans who wish to age successfully in their own homes.
  6. Recognize contributions made by the Raymond A. Bowers Program for Excellence in Design and Construction of the Built Environment, the Smart Spaces Center, the Partnership for Achieving Construction Excellence, and other private and public organizations who are working with Penn State to improve life for Pennsylvania’s elderly and disabled.
  7. Using a scooter from Amigo Mobility International, Blueroof will begin to experiment on how to help residents with mobility disabilities make better use of the technology around them. The Amigo scooter will have an iPad 2 and other remote devices so residents can turn the lights on and off and perform other functions without leaving the chair.
After Florida, Pennsylvania has the highest per capita of elderly of any state in the union. Not all news about health care costs is bad news. Come learn about some of the good news.

Computer Integrated Construction Research Program:
Immersive Construction Lab (ICon Lab):
Smart Spaces Center:

Immersive Construction Lab
306 Engineering Unit C
University Park, PA 16802

Directions to ICon Lab from College and Allen:
Cross College Avenue at the Allen Street red light in front of Corner Room and walk straight up behind the Hammond Building. Walk towards the Foundry Park parallel to Engineering Units A and B. You will then see a park on your front and a 3 story brick building on your right (the Engineering Unit C). Turn right and proceed straight on the sidewalk until you see the elevator lobby on your left side. Take the elevator to the 3rd floor.  Turn right when exiting the elevator and proceed down the corridor. The ICon Lab is on your right side (306 Engineering Unit C).

Wheelchair Accessible Directions:
Cross College Avenue on the right side (in front of Moyer Jewelry) on Allen Street and take the ramp to the main gate entrance.  Continue straight up the main gate entrance in front of Sackett until you get to the end of the building.  Proceed left at the end of Sackett and bear left again to go behind the building.  Then proceed parallel behind Sackett following it until you reach a small alleyway behind the Engineering Units A and B.  Turn right down the alleyway and proceed straight until you reach the end of the Engineering Units.  Bear left and on the immediate right you will see a door with the elevator lobby.   Take the elevator to the 3rd floor.  Turn right when exiting the elevator and proceed down the corridor. The ICon Lab is on your right side (306 Engineering Unit C).

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Second Life: Virtual World Special

The following article was written by John J. Meier, the Science Librarian at Penn State's Physical and Mathematical Sciences Library. John introduced me to Second Life as a quick and free way of being immersed in a virtual world through the use of an avatar who shares this world with millions of avatars controlled by millions of global immersed participants. Penn State has a virtual island in this astonishingly large 3D universe.

My avatar's name, above, is Speedy Przhevalsky. Speedy is getting ready to change his appearance. I once spent two days trying to decide among a startling number of options regarding the size and shape of his ears, nose, eyes, and so on until there was too much to decide and I decided to send him off to walk, run, fly, explore, buy, create, receive virtual therapy, and eventually convince me that he is more real than I am. The story of how John came to write this article and how his enthusiasm for the joy of play and the real world practicality of doing so is not yet ready to be told.

Second Life's Virtual World Includes a Detailed Alternate Reality at Penn State
John J Meier, Science Librarian, Physical and Mathematical Sciences Library at Penn State

The future has made a great deal of promises, mostly through the voice of science fiction films and books, but we have yet to see flying cars or man on mars or The Matrix.  Or maybe we do have that last one after all.  In the eponymous film, The Matrix was a fictional world generated by computers, a virtual reality where every living person existed and some could fly and dodge bullets.  There is actually a computer generated virtual world where anyone CAN fly and interact with other people in another Earth, it is Second Life.

Second Life is a computer program available for free download, which allows anyone to enter and interact in the virtual world of Second Life via broadband Internet access.  Unlike some online worlds, such as the popular World of Warcraft, Second Life has no monthly fees for the basic user.  The money used in game, "Linden dollars", can be purchased with real money and provides the company behind the game with a source of income.  They also lease the virtual real estate to individuals and organizations on a monthly basis.  You must be 18 years or older to play Second Life, though there is a Teen Second Life is a similar virtual world for 13-17 year old users.  Second Life has considerable "adult content", which has areas specifically set aside in the game recently.

Each user sets up an avatar to use in the game, which is a representation of them in the game world.  These avatars are often human looking, but can be anything such as an animal or fantastic creature or even an inanimate object.  The avatar acts as the person controlling
them:  conversing with other avatars by chat, sometimes known as instant messaging; walking, flying or teleporting around the virtual world; or interacting with other objects in the world, such as chairs or buildings.  Objects are created for the world by the users of the game and through a special programming language called the Linden Scripting Language these objects can also move and operate on their own.  This allows for creation of items like cars, clothing with moving images, or almost anything imaginable.

While Second Life could be called a computer game, there is no winner or official goals.  Success is measured in some similar ways to real life, such as money and property as well as respect in the community.

Creativity is highly prized and since the cost of creation is mainly time it is possible for anyone to be successful.  Interactions in the game can even be recorded as videos, which spread outside the game as movie shorts or music video remixes.  Since avatars can also be customized, the appearance of other users in itself reflects a dramatic diversity and can challenge the expectations of a novice user.  Despite the seemingly limitless possibilities, Second Life seems more like the real world than many other virtual worlds and online games.  Most avatars look human and objects are often those found in the real world at their normal scale.

Much of the real estate in Second Life is the property of organizations or companies, which often purchase one or more of the standard "island" sized properties.  They often use this land to create a virtual presence in the world as a way to engage customers, interest potential employees, or to conduct meetings and informational events.  In a global economy and worldwide commerce distance is often the limit, though it has no meaning in a virtual world where travel is instantaneous.

Penn State has a number of islands in second life: two main islands, an island for the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST), an island for the Penn State Berks Campus, an island for the Penn State World Campus, and an island in Teen Second Life for the Penn State Admissions Office.  Since almost any object can be created in second life for only the cost of time, it is often used to create a presence for a real institution or service.  It can also allow users from across the world to interact in a similar environment to the real world.
Research projects in Second Life can also take advantage of the large scale social and economic interactions going on between the millions of registered users.


Copyright © 2011 by John J. Meier. This is the author's unedited blog posting. An edited version originally appeared in Voices of Central Pennsylvania with the title, "PSU's Second Life Encourages Students to Get One."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Aging Baby Boomers Like Me Need Housing—An Evolving Introduction to this Blog

I have been reading about my childhood and contemplating my old age (which has already begun). Especially noteworthy is the Baby Boom generation. of which I am a part (at 63) born two years after the end of World War II.
Some questions are: Where will we live and die?
It is possible that if I take my pills, follow my doctors other recommendations, exercise regularly, and take advantage of astounding advances in medicine that did not exist when I was born (such as kidney transplants and hip replacements) I could live another 30 years and maybe even live a satisfying and productive life.
This essay (call it a blog posting if you please) is about housing primarily. It is about the kind of housing which my generation will have, the largest generation in the history of the United States. Baby boomers have also had sizeable impacts throughout the industrialized world, a thought worthy of concern at the least when one considers the physical and economic disasters taking place in Japan and Europe, for example.
One out of every four Americans is a part of the Baby Boom generation which the U.S Census Department defines as those 76 million Americans born between 1946, the year after World War II ended, and 1964 when prodigious use of birth control and other factors caused the annual birth rate to fall below 4 million.
The first baby boomers have already begun to retire despite the fact that most jobs in the United States are held by baby boomers. When the members of my generation give up their jobs a whole slew of disaster scenarios appear—whether you go to the U.S. Census Bureau’s excellent website or consult Google’s index and find:
Before we get too caught up in the pessimism, which certainly has cause for rational concern, the purpose of this blog is to suggest that solutions are already being put into place, that these solutions use sophisticated technology ranging from sensors in apartments which tell (the apartments talk) seniors when to take their medication and the world of virtual reality where off beat tools will dramatically change the way housing for the elderly is designed, reduce the cost of construction, and offer hope.
I am awfully fond of hope. I have been reading David Halberstam’s marvelous book about the 1950s (called The Fifties) Many of us in my generation were born nine months after our fathers returned after winning the war in Europe and Japan. These veterans returned confident in themselves, eager to make their wives pregnant as quickly and often as possible. They returned in great swarms—hundreds of thousands of them suddenly crossing the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans (let out of military service far more quickly than many generals thought prudent).
Much has been written about what made these veterans (primarily our fathers) so confident that they could support large families, educate them, and create levels of affluence undreamed of in our history—levels that economists had failed to predict, creating societal changes that literally transformed our country.
For example, the year I was born most Americans lived in cities. There were no suburbs. Less than a quarter of the population lived in rural areas (the figure now is less than 3 percent) either on farms or in small towns that served the farm community.
By the time I was 23 not only had the suburbs been created, but most Americans lived in the suburbs.
Why do I go on and on about suburbs? Because the same techniques that created suburbs dramatically, often overnight, will be needed to solve the housing, health and other needs of aging baby boomers. This blog will be looking at the post-war factury-like house building phenomenon known as Levitown, a company which transformed the 1950s with techniques that may very well be duplicated and improved upon by Blue Roof and others for housing to age in.
Right now, most domestic non-discretionary money the United States government spends is on the elderly and disabled—Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid being the principal examples. Whether there will be money left for the healthy and the young very much depends upon how we answer the question: Where will retiring baby boomers live and who will pay to support them as they live for decades?
Right now, the country spends about 17 percent of its gross domestic product on health care. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), if current trends continue, our economy will go from spending one out of every 4 dollars for health care in 2025 to one out of every two dollars by 2082.
This blog will focus primarily on two interrelated experiments and the tools they use. There is the “smart housing” (a term to be defined) Blue Roof Technologies experiment in McKeesport, near Pittsburgh There is ICon Lab at Penn State, a 3 hour drive to the east of Blue Roof, where members of the architectural, engineering, and construction industries, end users (the unavoidable word for people like me who actually live in housing for the disabled and aged) and students will be able to review and even change the design of new health care and aged housing facilities before the foundations are dug
In many ways I am an advance man—a sort of scout, looking at the new territory called Old Age and reporting back to other people my age on what it will be like in the decades to come. Other people my age have dominated our society since we were born, changing everything to suit the tastes our parents gave us.
I have had the advantage of being unable to walk for the past 15 years, able to take advantage of the liberating scooters, power chairs, and other durable medical equipment that make a life of independence possible for those of us with serious physical disabilities, equipment that can save the country a fortune by keeping the disabled out of breathtaking expensive assistive housing.

Think of this blog posting as a centerpiece for this blog (to be revised, changed, updated, and robustified). One task requiring consideration is what will happen to the generations after us who will be supporting us, working long hours in jobs where there are too few workers. We must consider the necessity to harness the productivity of my generation and to free our children and grandchildren from having to spend large quantities of the country’s resources while their lives suffer.
Remember hope; we’ll get there.

In the interim, enjoy the work John J Meier, Science Librarian at Penn State’s Physical and Mathematical Sciences Library who describes the virtual world of Second Life in a posting coming to this blog before you can ask What is a virtual world and why do I want to be in it?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Elderly and disability housing

High-tech elderly and disability housing in the real world; namely McKeesport, Pennsylvania:

McKeesport is the home of Blue Roof Technologies.

Yes, it is wheelchair accessible.

This is a floor plan of the inside. I have driven my scooter through all of it, so I know it exists. I also know that right now there is an elderly individual living in a cottage of this design and more cottages are becoming available for residence as I key in these words.

Sensors command that 911  be caslled automatically if a resident falls. The apartment reminds (the apartment reminds? here walls talk) the resident when to take medication.