Creativity & Innovation
Things have changed since Associate Professor of Computer Science Marc Pomplun arrived on the University of Massachusetts Boston campus ten years ago.
“When I arrived, only a few colleagues were conducting research,” Pomplun says.
Now, he says, most faculty members are active researchers, conducting a wide variety of research. Pomplun, who is the director of the Visual Attention Laboratory on campus, has worked with doctoral, graduate, and undergraduate students; many of those students are now published authors.
“Besides being a research facility, this lab is also a place for teaching and mentoring post-doctoral fellows, graduate and undergraduate students, and even high school students,” he says.
To better understand the human visual system, Pomplun and his students use remote (SR Research EyeLink-2K) and head-mounted (EyeLink-II) systems to study eye movements and build computer models. Pomplun has been working with these systems since they were developed.
“The insight into cognitive processes gained through eye-movement recording is mainly derived from the close correspondence between eye movements and visual attention,” Pomplun says. “In visual tasks, eye movements are always preceded by shifts of attention and thus are excellent indicators of the time course of a person’s spatial attention while performing a given task.”
Tracking eye movements can be helpful to both a company looking to see how users are utilizing their website and scientists looking to treat things like Parkinson’s disease. The Visual Attention Laboratory is focused on the latter; the lab conducts clinical eye-movement research on schizophrenic patients in conjunction with the Brockton campus of the VA Boston Healthcare System. The lab also builds interfaces so physically challenged users can write using their eyes, and, because not all eye movements are control-related, the lab works to improve these gaze-controlled interfaces. The lab also constructs interfaces involving visual-control-related tasks for those who are not physically challenged.
Conducting research on the university campus has its benefits. Pomplun says UMass Boston’s proximity to downtown Boston creates opportunities for collaboration with other Boston universities; the fact the Venture Development Center (VDC) is on campus also provides avenues for researchers. The VDC is home to startup technology and life science companies that take advantage of the expertise of faculty researchers, an experienced entrepreneurial community, and a top-tier angel and venture capital investor network.
Pomplun now has a chance to inspire more students to research, create, and develop computer vision systems; his computer science textbook Hands-On Computer Vision will be published in 2013.