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.
Automatic Agriculture. It seems no industry will stay untouched by the gradual crawl of automation. The University of Arizona-based technology company CyVerse has received a $1.3 million grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to help transform farming with artificial intelligence. With this funding, UA joins the Iowa State University-led Artificial Intelligence Institute for Resilient Agriculture. CyVerse will work with the institute to gather data such as when to plant and how to allocate fertilizer and irrigation resources while minimizing environmental impact.
CyVerse co-principal investigator and director of UA’s Data Science Institute Nirav Merchant says technology can help prepare us for a changing climate, as there are limits on how much water and resources we will be able to use, but we can use AI to optimize the planting cycles and use of resources to reduce the stress in agriculture.
“The University of Arizona’s participation in this institute is an expression of our land-grant mission, and it speaks to our commitment to tackling some of the world’s most pressing challenges and improving people’s lives through innovation and thoughtful collaboration,” said UA President Robert C. Robbins. “The work of AIIRA also aligns perfectly with our continued focus on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, in which the digital world, including cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics, converge with the physical and biological worlds.”
The Artificial Intelligence Institute for Resilient Agriculture is just one of 11 new artificial intelligence research institutes formed by the National Science Foundation.
Electrical Efficiency. Tucson Electric Power is working with technology company Shifted Energy to better forecast electrical loads. Shifted Energy uses machine learning and Internet-of-Things communication retrofitted onto electrical water heaters to better manage energy assets. Over the course of 16 weeks, Shifted Energy will demonstrate their technology in order to “accelerate decarbonization, electrification, grid modernization, and other electric power industry innovation imperatives.” The collaboration is part of the Electric Power Research Institute’s Incubatenergy Labs program that pairs 20 startup technology companies with electric power utilities throughout the nation. The 2021 Cohort runs from June to October, with results presented during interactive Incubatenergy Labs Demo Days in October 2021.
“This program advances our ongoing effort to provide our customers with tools to make smart energy choices,” said Ted Burhans, TEP director of emerging technologies and innovation. “By making slight adjustments to shift their usage away from peak times, they can save money and make the most of our renewable energy resources, while helping us keep our service reliable and affordable.”
Sleep Apnea Trial. Researchers at the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine are launching a clinical trial to assess the effectiveness of breathing exercise known as “inspiratory muscle training” for reducing blood pressure and improving cardiovascular health in adults with obstructive sleep apnea. E. Fiona Bailey, a professor in the UA Department of Physiology, previously conducted a study that showed a specialized respiratory workout entailing 30 breaths a day can lower blood pressure. Now using a $3.4 million grant from the National Institute on Aging, UA researchers are looking to implement the breathing exercise over six months on a group of 50-to-80-year-olds with obstructive sleep apnea and above-normal blood pressure. According to UA, study participants will undergo initial screenings of cardiovascular, respiratory and sleep health. Eligible participants will be randomly assigned to one of two training groups, one emphasizing high resistance training, the other emphasizing low resistance training. Participants in both groups will perform their training at home and complete 30 breaths per day, five days a week, for 24 weeks.
“High blood pressure is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, which is the No. 1 cause of death in America. Five minutes a day of inspiratory muscle training, consisting of just 30 inspiratory efforts against resistance, offers a low-cost, non-pharmacologic means of improving both sleep quality and blood pressure,” said Bailey.