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Saving lives by enhancing the flow of information

Creating a seamless integration between sensors, networks, and end users

Taieb Znati, Chair and Professor

Preventing disasters — whether that’s warning coastal residents about an approaching tsunami, or alerting healthcare professionals to vital details regarding a patient’s diabetes, hypertension or heart disease — are computational problems best solved through transdisciplinary collaboration. This collaboration leads to a clear understanding of all sides of an issue. It is only then that dependable and secure systems, plus the computing and communications infrastructure, can be built. 

The research by Taieb Znati explores networking and distributed systems.

Knowing that computer science does not exist in a vacuum, Taieb Znati uses contextually-situating thinking and collaboration to solve problems that will make a difference in human life.

For over 10 years, he’s been involved with building infrastructure for disaster management in coastal communities. The focus is on community resilience to hazard. Resilience is viewed as a “web of practice” in communities that is supported by “ecological-socio-economic-technical systems” that adapt and change in interaction with one another and the environment.

Dynamic processes must be in place to transform societal understanding of risk and enable self-organized, collective action to manage resilience to hazards at all levels. In this context, decision-making in disaster environments can be guided by a computational and communication infrastructure that integrates the science of the natural and physical environments with analysis of the interdependent conditions among geophysical, engineered, technical, computational, organizational, communication and socio-economic systems in communities at risk.

Znati and his co- researchers are looking at this as a system of complex systems. All of these complex systems come together as a mega-system, where the core strategy to disaster management rely on a scalable, disaster-tolerant and socially-aware information flow. The challenge is to capture and understand the dynamics of the environment and adapt to the interactions among the physical, engineered, and socio-economic systems that occur during hazard emergence and response, within existing resource and time constraints.

He’s also looking at new ways to harness the unprecedented advances in computing and sensing technology and the convergence of historically distinct disciplines to develop a context-aware computational platform to monitor patients, their diseases and everyday activities, for a personalized and to cost-effective healthcare delivery, and help chronically ill and elderly people live an independent life, beyond the confines of their homes, nursing care, or assisted living facilities.

Current healthcare practices are mostly reactive and disease-centric. By contrast, a patient-centric healthcare puts the patient at the center, extending care, when necessary, into the patient’s home and everyday life.

“Imagine having inexpensive disposable low-power body-worn wireless sensors and medical devices that continuously monitor a patient’s vital signs and environmental conditions and that are smart enough to know when to alert doctors if there is a problem,” says Znati. “Such a system can be tailored to — and responsive of– patient needs, allowing physicians and caregivers immediate access to patients’ medical condition and, if necessary, intervention in real-time.”

However, these systems raise the fundamental questions of whether it’s possible to deliver “tetherless care” that is commensurate with “tethered” care, and yet reliable, secure and privacy-preserving. The “tetherless patient” research project is just in its early stages, but it holds exciting possibilities to enable an ecosystem of external monitoring that contributes to early knowledge of complications, helps patients manage chronic conditions, and provides appropriate lifestyle feedback for preventive care.

Research Interests:

 Dr. Znati’s main research interests are in the design and analysis of evolvable, secure and resilient large-scale systems, focusing on both social and technical factors that influence the functionality and usability of these systems. He is also interested in cognitive and bio-inspired approaches to address complex computing and communications design issues that arise in large-scale heterogeneous wired and wireless networks.

Taieb Znati is chair and professor of the Department of Computer Science and has a joint appointment in the Graduate Program in Telecommunications at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Computing and Information.