The College of Engineering -- University of Wisconsin-MadisonAnnual Report 1998

Big Letter flexible interface developed at UW-Madison's Trace Research and Development Center is helping Minnesota residents with hearing, sight and reading limitations access job information at public kiosks. With more than 35 of its terminals located throughout Minnesota (including two at the Mall of America), kiosk manufacturer Innovative Solutions has incorporated this improved interface as part of its basic package.

Developed by Industrial Engineering Professor Gregg Vanderheiden, director of the Trace Center, the interface provides several innovative functions. Its "point and hear" feature allows people with Vanderheiden observes kiosk in use limited vision or dyslexia, as well as those who can't read, to touch any object on the computer screen and have the function read to them. Using "speed list," people with no sight can run a finger down a list on the side of the screen and hear each item read out loud. The "captions" feature, for people who are hard of hearing or deaf, provides a text version of whatever audio is playing.

This technology exceeds requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The cost increase is less than one-percent and the new technology does not affect the standard interface.

Pictured, Vanderheiden watches instrumentation specialist Neal Ewers demonstrate the software.

Recently, the Trace Center received a five-year, $6.75 million grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. The $1.35 million per year will support student, staff and faculty projects to make next-generation information technology usable by everyone.

Risk communication subject of studies

A decision by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to use more risk analysis in its regulatory decision making has brought that organization some "risk communication" challenges. Associate Professor Vicki Bier is helping the NRC address these issues.

First, she is studying how to explain the detailed results of risk analysis to decision makers. "We don't want these studies to end up as multi-volume reports on a shelf somewhere," she says. "We want them to actually be used and understood by regulators."

Additionally, she's looking at how to explain the idea of risk-informed regulation to the public. "A utility may get regulatory relief by demonstrating that previous regulatory requirements had little actual relationship to risk, but how can this be explained to the public without their worrying that the utility is getting away with something?" Bier asks.

Funding for this project is part of an "umbrella" grant to the Center for Human Performance and Risk Analysis. Other studies being conducted include assessing "fitness for duty" technologies (Barrett Caldwell); and teamwork in nuclear power plant control rooms (Mary Waller).

In June, Bier organized a one-day workshop involving experts on decision theory, risk communication, risk analysis and public participation processes.

Study addresses communication in space

During a Space Shuttle mission, NASA personnel interact simultaneously with dozens of commercial and research personnel in the U.S. and throughout the world. This "giant party line" of communication could lead to confusion and, in the worst cases, accidents. Associate Professor Barrett Caldwell and Assistant Professor of Business Mary Waller (now at the University of Illinois) want to make sure that during these missions, the right information is getting to the right people at the right time.

With a $460,000 NASA grant, they have begun studying how communication patterns change during a critical event. Over a three-year period they will examine 72 simulated mission cycles, identifying factors that create communication bottlenecks and suggesting strategies to make communication more effective. Caldwell and Waller will meet with astronauts and mission control staff, observe the teams in action, and study audio and videotapes of shuttle simulations.

"Our concern is that during a crisis, mission control needs to be able to respond quickly and efficiently," says Caldwell. Findings from the study could improve communication for construction of the International Space Station and missions to Mars.

Harold J. Steudel, Chair

Harold J. Steudel
360 Mechanical Engineering
1513 University Avenue
Madison, WI 53706-1572

Tel: 608/262-2686
Fax: 608/262-8454

Copyright © 1998 University System Board of Regents

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1998 Annual Report Contents