A Magazine for the George Mason University Community

10 Digital Innovations You Need to Know About

By Colleen Kearney Rich on September 10, 2021


Many of the technologies we use today were once the fodder of science fiction writers. Now these items are part of everyday life: the smartwatch on your wrist that tracks your heart rate, the global positioning and collision avoidance systems you use in your car, even the household printer that tells you when to order more ink.

These advances are all part of the growing field of digital innovation, and at George Mason University, we’ve created an institute to spur and support discoveries in this area. More than 300 researchers, innovators, and scholars in Mason’s Institute for Digital InnovAtion (IDIA) are engaged in the cutting-edge work that is shaping our digital society, while promoting solutions that move us closer to societal goals, such as equality, well-being, security, and prosperity.

The institute is led by Interim Director Kamaljeet Sanghera, professor of information sciences and technology in Mason’s new College of Engineering and Computing.

“We are making tremendous strides in all aspects of digital innovation, from wearable technologies to smart cities,” says Sanghera, a founding member of the Virginia Governor’s STEM Education Commission. “It’s my privilege to continue the momentum and accelerate it through internal and external partnerships so, together, we shape the future of tomorrow.”

IDIA’s work is organized across three themes:

· Technologies: Creating new algorithms, developing new digital techniques, and inventing new technologies

· Systems: Developing and deploying computing systems to advance fields as diverse as finance, agriculture, health, transportation, and social justice

· Digital Society: Examining the implications of digital innovation to ensure that innovators are designing responsibly and that key stakeholders—including users, innovators, policymakers, and the public at large—are informed about technology’s social, ethical, political, and economic impacts

With the new building on the Arlington Campus, the institute will not only support the university’s tech-based research and related educational programs but will also provide collaboration and convening spaces to the Arlington community—fueling the new innovation district.

Working with our academic neighbors—George Washington University, Marymount University, University of Virginia, and Virginia Tech—and our community partners, Mason will add strategic innovation assets to this three-mile-long corridor, including a more than $100 million research and development portfolio in computing, thousands of faculty and student innovators, programs that support high-growth ventures, and partners like MACH 37 and Smart City Works.

Even as the partnerships and new facilities have come together to support IDIA, the researchers at the heart of the institute have continued working, launching a number of exciting and innovative projects. Here are a few that showcase IDIA’s promise.

Precision War-Time Communications: The Rapid Prototyping Research Center is developing highly reliable and versatile networking and communications technology for the U.S. Department of Defense. Among its capabilities, this new technology allows warfighters to transmit precise and secure position, navigation, and timing information on the battlefield when traditional satellite-based GPS and similar systems become degraded or unavailable. Such information is essential to coordinate battlefield assets and launch precision weapons.

More than Just a Wristwatch: Researchers Vivian Motti and Anna Evmenova are pushing smartwatch capabilities to help neurodiverse individuals live more independent lives. They have a $700,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop a smartwatch application that will help young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in their daily lives

Scrolling to Offer Support: The CitizenHelper tool sorts through social media to identify behaviors that could assist emergency agencies during a disaster and give them an understanding of the population’s attitudes. The tool, developed with support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), uses artificial intelligence techniques to filter the posts and then determine the relevance and information level of each tweet

When Virtual Assistants Need an Assist: When people ask Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant a question, they expect the programs to understand them, but that is not always the case. A person’s language, accent, dialect, and even gender can have an impact, preventing the system from correctly interpreting an individual. With NSF support, Antonis Anastasopoulos and experts from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Washington are studying areas where there is bias in language technologies and measuring the discrepancies. Then they will attempt to fix the issues.

The Healing Power of Dragon’s Blood: Inspired by Komodo dragon blood’s germ-fighting abilities, researchers have created a new way to kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria while spurring the body’s cells to heal cuts faster. Developed with a Defense Threat Reduction Agency grant, the synthetic germ-fighter called “DRGN-1” is designed to help soldiers heal faster and protect them from bacterial bioweapons.

Hands-Free in D.C.: Driving three decked-out Toyota Corollas, researchers are taking to the busy streets of the Washington, D.C., area to test sensors and cameras they’ve installed to simulate a self-driving car. Duminda Wijesekera seeks to improve an autonomous cars’ ability to recognize potential hazards at night, in severe weather, and in construction conditions, making the roads safer for everyone.

Linking Data to Stop Corruption: A grant from Mason’s Criminal Investigations and Network Analysis Center (CINA) will enable researchers Maurice Kugler, Foteini Baldmitsi, and Jiasun Li to apply tools from economics, cryptography, and finance using groundbreaking blockchain technology in an effort to trace possible money laundering and financial fraud in cryptocurrency markets.

Robots Imitating Nature: It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a Lighter-Than-Air (LTA) robotic shark blimp named Bruce that Mason engineering students have used to compete nationally. Working with Mason engineering professor Cameron Nowzari, students perfect their designs by making these bio-inspired robots complete a variety of tasks, including playing soccer.

Spinning into the Future: A group of researchers from Mason’s Quantum Science and Engineering Center are working to study quantum phenomena that have potential to become building blocks for future spin-based electronic devices and quantum computing. Spintronic devices use the electron spin rather than its charge for computing, which offers significant improvements in processing speed and energy consumption.

See It Before You Build It: The College of Science’s Chi Yang leads a research group that has developed a computational tool called SimDShip, which allows researchers to efficiently explore and evaluate a wide range of novel ship hull forms through simulations. The tool ultimately shortens the design cycle and saves fuel consumption costs for the U.S. Navy.


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