Connaught Innovation Awards recognize promise and potential of two computer scientists’ research

March 10, 2020 by Chris Sasaki - A&S News

Two researchers in the Faculty of Arts & Science’s Department of Computer Science are among 10 University of Toronto scientists who have won prestigious Connaught Innovation Awards for 2020.

Eyal de Lara is a professor whose research interests include cloud and mobile computing. Karan Singh is a professor whose research spans augmented reality, computer animation and graphics, human-computer interaction and virtual reality.

“This year's Computer Science recipients, professors de Lara and Singh, exemplify the breadth of innovation of our researchers and the tremendous socio-economic benefits they bring to real-world problems,” says computer science chair Marsha Chechik. “We are very proud of this recognition.”

In addition, Hoi-Kwong Lo of the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering (FASE) and A&S’s Department of Physics is among the recipients.

Awarded annually to U of T researchers, the Connaught Innovation Awards support innovative projects that show both commercial promise and the potential for significant social impact.

The innovation awards are a program of the Connaught Fund, the largest internal university research funding program in Canada. Founded in 1972, the Fund’s roots lie in the Connaught Medical Research Laboratories and the co-discoverers of insulin, U of T researchers Frederick Banting and Charles Best.

Eyal de Lara’s ready-to-wear research

De Lara has been recognized for his work developing wearable and mobile technology for use in research in multiple disciplines and applications.

Through their startup Tabiat Research — de Lara and his collaborators have been exploring the use of smartwatches to monitor individuals with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), a disease that affects millions of Canadians. The approach collects and analyzes sensor data from a device worn by a patient. A machine-learning based algorithm then extracts information such as respiratory rate or coughing from the data which can then be used to predict worsenings, or exacerbations, of COPD before they occur.

In psychiatry, the technology can detect mood changes in people with seasonal affective disorder or bipolar disorder; in oncology, monitoring how patients recover after radiation therapy; in neurology, monitoring people with multiple sclerosis; for pharmaceutical companies, evaluating the efficacy of new drugs.

“I am very grateful for this award and see it as a great opportunity that will accelerate the development of our wearable sensing platform,” says de Lara. “We've seen lots of interest in the platform we are developing and the sooner we can make it available to others, the sooner we can enable them to leverage wearable sensing to conduct new, cutting edge research in their domain.”

Karan Singh’s game-changing technology

Singh won the award for the development of a system named JALI that automatically animates a computer-graphic 3D face synchronized to recorded speech. The system translates the speech into jaw and lip movements — creating a lip-synched, computer-generated character, which can be further enhanced with additional JALI tools.

JALI is primarily designed for video game developers, particularly in the “AAA” or “Triple-A” market in which large studios with large budgets produce blockbuster games like Halo, Zelda or Call of Duty. The system provides an alternative to existing performance capture systems and manual animation techniques used in producing lip-synched character animation.

“My team and I are honoured and grateful to win this award, given the highly innovative and diverse research happening at the University of Toronto,” says Singh. “It will help us commercialize our work, taking it from the domain of disruptive research to a suite of commercial products.”

“We have an impending announcement on the extensive use of our technology in a much anticipated game title,” he says. “And while we have been focused on the AAA game market, our technology has great untapped potential in film and TV, virtual assistants, chatbots, accessibility, speech therapy and training.”