Tech Talk

With a major research university right in our backyard, a strong military presence and innovative companies throughout the metro region, there’s often a plethora of interesting science, medical and technology news to be found in Southern Arizona. Here’s a breakdown of the most interesting recent developments.

Virtual reality in retail 

The University of Arizona John and Doris Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences was gifted $5 million from Terry and Tina Lundgren to support students in business and retail. Part of this contribution will be used to design a lab for retail learning technology. The lab will be equipped with the latest in virtual reality technology like eye-tracking and heat-sensing software. It will also be equipped with cameras and display hardware to simulate retail scenarios for students. “People often dismiss the importance of retailing, until retail is disrupted,” said Laura Scaramella, head of the UA John and Doris Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences, in a statement. “Think about what happened during the COVID-19 pandemic; what other industry turned so quickly, on a dime, to meet the needs of consumers?” The pandemic hit the retail industry like a ton of bricks, leading most businesses to consider online retail spaces. The industry needed to pivot fast, and the most innovative business leaders came out on top during the pandemic. Scaramella said in a UA statement that laboratory spaces shouldn’t only be reserved for STEM students; retail students should use technology to innovate in their field. The lab will also be used by researchers in retail and marketing to study consumer behaviors at the intersection of technology and perception. This lab will be crucial for the UA to increase scientific innovation for the Consumer Sciences School. One aspect of the retail experience that is expected to increase since the pandemic is the contactless point-of-sale system. This type of technology allows customers to walk out of a store and get billed automatically instead of touching self-checkout machines or going through a normal checkout process. “To me, the question is: Are consumers going to adopt something like this? How do we educate consumers about how contactless point of sale works and help consumers overcome their hesitancy to walk out of a store without having physically paid for something or checked out?” said Lance Erickson, a consumer psychologist and associate professor of practice in the Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences said in a statement.

Kim creates copycat cells 

Minkyu Kim, a UofA assistant professor of biomedical engineering and of materials science and engineering, recently received a $600,000 award from the National Science Foundation to mimic red blood cells in a lab. Kim wants to imitate red blood cells to improve doctors’ abilities to create more targeted treatments and drugs tailored to specific patients. Working with red blood cells for drug delivery was inspired by Kim’s love for the red blood cells’ structure. Red blood cells are perfectly tailored to human blood vessels, making them a good option for getting past the body’s natural filtration system. Conventional drugs have to pass through this filtration system but red blood cell delivery methods could deliver drugs more effectively. 

Spaceflight upgrade

Paragon Space Development Corporation’s Humidity Control SubAssembly (HCS) was successfully tested and operated on the Boeing CST-100 Starliner Orbital Flight Test-2. The Starliner docked at the International Space Station before returning to Earth on May 25. It has been 60 years since the standardized humidity control technology was updated. “Our team is excited that the HCS system passed its debut flight to the ISS and will support the transport of humans back and forth for years to come,” said Paragon’s President and CEO Grant Anderson in a press release. The HCS system provides necessary life support for astronauts and Paragon’s system will be featured on future spaceflight missions.