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DP4: Informatics Project




  1. Informatics faculty become conversant in RERC context (Yr 1).

  2. Outline user requirements and system capabilities (Yr 2).

  3. Develop system components (Yr 3).

  4. Develop operational pilot system (Yr 4).

  5. System evaluations by users (Yr 5).


During the first two grant years, this project will focus on defining user requirements and system capabilities, in partnership with faculty from UB's School of Informatics. Data from our four Research Projects will provide a baseline of information for this informatics system, by identifying the types of information exchanged, how it should be organized, and the tools required for access, analysis, and extraction.

System development and testing will occur in years three and four, to deliver a functional system for use and evaluation in year five. The software platforms available to us will undoubtedly change by year three, but here are illustrative examples. One option is to use a commercial product such as Sharepoint by Microsoft, which permits users to organize and readily access information, manage documents, and enable collaboration, all in a Microsoft Office-integrated environment.[5]

A second option, which is preferred by the development team, is to use open-source products to build a system uniquely designed for the Pilot Informatics project. This approach uses web technology to combine tools that perform functions such as translating different search lexicons into one another, providing "suggestive" database search retrievals, automatically updating the system from distributed RERC databases on a daily basis, and storing searchable threaded discussions. DSpace is a good example of an open-source system created as an institutional repository for the intellectual output of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.[6] The T2RERC may couple DSpace to tools being developed through the Open Archives Initiative (OAI), which is an effort dedicated to facilitating document management among academic institutions, supported by the Digital Library Federation, the Coalition for Networked Information, and the National Science Foundation. Some OAI tools are likely to prove useful for the knowledge-management components of the envisioned informatics system.[7]

Data Collection

The operational pilot system will provide the following information to RERC's and their stakeholders who receive password-controlled access:

  • Progress reports on development projects in process at each RERC;

  • Summaries of past and planned RERC research and development projects;

  • Summaries of past, active, and planned A/T development projects outside the RERC program but funded by Federal agencies (e.g., USDE, NIH, NSF, and VA R&D);

  • Relevant core technology projects underway in Federal and university laboratories and links to select technology developers in Federal labs, universities, and corporations;

  • Information on the state-of-the-practice in the A/T industry, including indexed links to the Abledata and AssitiveTech databases, and links to industry associations/conferences;

  • Requirements to improve the features and functions of existing products, extracted from the RERC on Technology Transfer's Stakeholder Forums.

Most of the required information exists in databases and project reports. Other information will be collected through requests to the RERC Project Directors. Simply compiling the information into a more complex database would not deliver the capabilities envisioned. The informatics system will provide some of the integration, translation, and brokering functions traditionally reserved for human operators. For example, the relational query function will be capable of linking seemingly unrelated projects through key word lexicons. The active blackboard system will update shared information at all user sites and post new opportunities as they are identified. Once users identify items of interest, they will leave the Informatics system and pursue interpersonal exchanges.

Much of the work of technology transfer brokers involves translating material developed in one culture/context/language into a different set of parameters. The reference and communication capabilities of informatics will demonstrate how to deliver that capability automatically. Overall, the informatics capabilities must support the integration, analysis, access, and management of knowledge, maintain current content, provide full and equal access to people with disabilities, and remain efficient as information content grows and diversity increases complexity.

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