UMBC’s Nirmalya Roy receives NSF CAREER Award to advance smart home and wearable technologies

UMBC’s Nirmalya Roy, assistant professor of information systems, has received a prestigious CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to advance his research on smart home technologies and wearable devices. The grant, totaling $550,000 over five years, will support Roy’s work to design, develop, implement, and evaluate in-home technologies with applications related to healthcare and smart computing.

With many smart home technologies and wearable devices on the market — such as Google Home, Samsung SmartThings, Amazon Echo, FitBit — collecting data on human behavior is easier than it has ever been. The information collected via these devices can be used to support elderly adults and people with disabilities in living more independent lives, in their own homes, Roy notes. However, he explains, building computational methodologies for longitudinal health assessment can also be challenging due to the availability of emerging multimodal heterogeneous data sources.

Through this NSF award, Roy will develop algorithms and create Cross-domain Autonomous Health Assessment (CATS) technology that can account for the broad range of information reported by diverse users and their devices. CATS will build upon previous work by Roy and his collaborators (through a UMB-UMBC Research and Innovation Partnership Grant), but will take a closer look at how combining multiple smart home technologies and wearable sensors can offer a more comprehensive understanding of a user’s everyday activities, particularly relating to the long-term health of older adults and people with disabilities.

Nirmalya Roy, right, and one of his students discussing some of the wearable devices they use in their research.

Roy will focus on analyzing consistencies and variations in habits among people who use smart home devices and wearable sensors. Tech developers must better understand people’s behaviours in order to build technologies that can more effectively help users, such as elderly adults, complete daily tasks, Roy explains. “The smart home technologies proposed in this project can decrease the number of medical specialist visits and overall healthcare costs, and increase patient satisfaction and quality of life,” Roy emphasized in his CAREER proposal.

Research related to technologies that are now so intertwined with everyday life involves navigating through complex challenges. “Making these internet-of-things devices work in unison and mitigating the disparities across their sensing, sampling, energy, privacy, and accuracy inference are significant issues,” he says. “The research will focus on developing cross-domain smart home technologies, and human behavior and activity recognition methodologies which will go beyond a single home, user, or specific device.”

Each NSF CAREER Award includes not just research, but also an educational component, and Roy will use his grant as an opportunity to increase student participation in computer science research with the goals of retaining more diverse students in computing majors.

Roy will work with UMBC’s Meyerhoff Scholars Program, Center for Women in Technology, and Shriver Center, as well as Baltimore City Public Schools, to connect with student researchers and with community members who might want to participate in or learn about his work on smart home health technologies and eldercare. He will also develop a new multidisciplinary graduate course that will be offered through UMBC and the University of Maryland, School of Nursing, and he will work with undergraduate students on senior design projects connected to real-world health topics, such as smoking behavior, stress, and physiological health.

“We congratulate Dr. Roy on his NSF CAREER Award,” says Karl V. Steiner, vice president for research at UMBC. “It recognizes his passion for improving the lives of our fellow citizens through his innovative and potentially impactful technologies by integrating embedded sensors and data analytics into a smart environment, and by involving both graduate and undergraduate students in his research.”  

Roy’s award also represents the continued success of UMBC’s junior faculty, who are emerging as national and international leaders in their fields. This is the twelfth CAREER award earned by a UMBC faculty in the past 10 years.

Image: Nirmalya Roy. All photos by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.