Conventional mechatronic, hydraulic and pneumatic motors and actuators are used for large-scale robots from ≥10 cm to the human size. At the other, nanometric end of the length scale, nano-robots are powered by molecular motors. However, a number of applications in compact environments require robotic devices in the size range of 10 µm to 10 mm, but these are too small to be powered by the conventional mechatronic systems, and too large for molecular motors. Such a length scale ideally suits a few types of high-performance stimuli-responsive actuating materials that are emerging out of a very active research field in the past two decades, with examples including shape-memory polymers and metals, nanoporous noble metals, reactive polymers and liquid-crystal elastomers, carbon-based materials and transitional metal oxides. In addition to high actuating power densities, some of these materials also offer built-in sensory functions such as resistivity responses to mechanical, heat and humidity changes in the environment, and even energy generation capabilities. Integration of these materials and their signal flows in compact designs thus poses a novel strategy for robotics at the micro length scale. This talk will review some recent progress in this field.
TechTalk is a series of forums and dialogues given by engineering researchers of diverse academic backgrounds to share their insights on innovation-related topics.
The vision of “Cyber-Physical Internet (CPI)” is to establish a new paradigm for sending and receiving manufactured goods just like sending and receiving instant messages over the internet using online chatting platforms. Four innovations are critical to achieve this ultimate vision: (1) digitization architecture for entangling the flows of information and materials into one flow of cyber-physical objects for manufacturing and logistics operations; (2) network services for configuring local aera network (LAN), wide area network (WAN) and catchment area network (CAN); (3) value mechanisms to motivate and facilitate participation and collaboration between multiple stakeholders including shippers, carriers, forwarders; and (4) decision analytics for synchronized logistics planning, scheduling and execution. These innovations are based upon some fundamental breakthroughs of CPI routers and TCP/PIP protocols that are yet to be developed.
Tech Talk – Innovation of Originality for Solving Sand Shortage Crisis around the World including Hong Kong
Sand is the most exploited raw solid material in the world and used for construction of buildings, roads, railways, bridges, tunnels and beaches. It is also used to make the glass and silicon chips. The annual consumption for use in glass, concrete and construction materials has reached 50 billion tones, which is extremely high. Consequently, according to United Nations’ reports, the world is facing a shortage crisis of sand, as one of the greatest sustainability challenges of the 21st century. Such sand shortage crisis around the world has affected the use of sand in Hong Kong since Hong Kong does not produce any sand and all the sand used in Hong Kong is imported from Mainland China. In this Teck Talk, Professor Yue will present his technological innovation of originality. His innovation can solve this global sand shortage crisis. More importantly, his innovation can provide a stable supply of quality sand for construction and industry and offer new raw material resources for developing new industry in Hong Kong. Professor Yue has discovered that the local ordinary soil in Hong Kong can be converted into the materials of sand and clay. The sand is silica sand and mainly quartz mineral. The clay is mainly kaolinite mineral. Both materials can be used as the raw solid materials in construction and other industry. Professor Yue will demonstrate that his technical innovation is simple, environmental-friendly, sustainable and cost-effective and can be applied to many places around the world for producing quality sand materials.
In the past 10+ years, laser microscopy has successfully made it permeated not only in biochemistry and cell/molecular biology research, but also in numerous preclinical and clinical applications. However, our understanding of health and disease is still very limited. This lecture will introduce the latest breakthrough in laser microscopy technologies developed at HKU that can address some of these challenges. Especially these technologies can generate unprecedented views and understanding of the living biological cells. They include: capturing high-resolution motion picture of the swift-flying brain signals in a living animal; visualizing the inner workings of biological cells and organisms in 3D without killing them; and detecting rare cancer cells in millions of blood cells. Not only can these technologies impact new biological discovery (e.g. neuroscience), but also creating many new opportunities in cost-effective clinical diagnosis, especially cancer screening.
The diamond has been well known as the gem stones in jewellery market, and the same material with various atomic defects, i.e., fluorescent impurities in diamond lattice, shows unique quantum behaviors even at ambient conditions. A diamond, not just a best friend of ladies, but also the best friend of scientists. Due to their unique quantum properties, these atomic defects has been demonstrated to achieve nanometric measurement of various physical quantities such as electromagnetic fields, temperature and etc. with unprecedented precision. Here, I will firstly review the development of diamond-based science and technology, and discuss its potential applications in diverse fields. Specifically, I will introduce the on-going research activities in my group, mainly including the high figure-of-merit diamond materials synthesis, advanced quantum diamond microscope development and diamond quantum sensing in single living cells. In addition, I will also share my journey in exploring beyond academics, e.g., we apply quantum diamond microscope for authenticity identification in local jewellery industry.
Membrane separation technology is increasingly used for water and energy related applications. Pressure-driven membrane processes, such as microfiltration (MF), ultrafiltration (UF), nanofiltration (NF), and reverse osmosis (RO), have received great attention, fueled by the increasing needs for water purification, wastewater treatment and reclamation, and seawater desalination. In parallel, many novel membranes and membrane processes are being developed. In this TechTalk, Prof. Chuyang Tang will share his personal journey in the amazing membrane world. He will highlight some of his previous and ongoing research works covering topics on water reuse, seawater desalination, resource recovery, energy production, and beyond.
Precision manipulation of various liquids is essential in many fields, including DNA analysis, proteomics, cell assay and clinical diagnosis, chemical synthesis, and drug discovery. Their divisible, sticky, and sometime infectious features impose, however, great challenges on processing them, particularly when their volume is down to nano-/subnano-liter. A blood droplet from an Ebola patient can for example infect medical workers through the skin. For diagnosis, medial workers have to crash, filter, and purify a patient’s blood sample to obtain the virus’s genetic materials. This series of operations, very often in a fluidic medium, is highly infectious. Moreover, fluids stick to surfaces, which will contaminate containers and handling tools, causing potential dangers if the medical wastes are not properly managed. In this talk, Prof. Wang shall demonstrate how a simple light or fiber touch functions as a “magic” wetting-proof hand to navigate, fuse, pinch, and cleave fluids on demand, being capable of reducing and even replacing the usage of disposable plastics in the biomedical and pharmaceutical industries.
In Hong Kong, the number of elderly citizens is estimated to rise to one third of the population, or 2.37 million, in year 2037. As they age and become more frail, the demand for formal support services (e.g., providing domestic or escort services) will increase significantly in the coming years. However, there is a severe lack of manpower to meet these needs. Some elderly-care homes reported a 70% shortage of employees. There is thus a strong need of voluntary or part-time helpers for taking care of elders.
In this talk, Prof. Cheng will introduce HINCare, a software platform that encourages mutual-help and volunteering culture in the community. HINCare uses the HIN (Heterogeneous Information Network) to recommend helpers to elders or other service recipients. The algorithms that use HINs and AI technologies for matching elders and helpers are based on our recent research results. This is the first time that HIN is used to support elderly care.
HINCare is now downloadable in Apple and Google Play Store, and has been serving more than a thousand of elders and helpers in NGOs (e.g., SKH and CSFC). The app is originally designed for elderly users, but has now expanded its services to support the Community Investment and Inclusion Fund (CIIF) and 10 NGOs engaged in teenage and family services. The system won the HKICT Award 2021, Asia Smart App Award 2020, and the HKU Faculty Knowledge Exchange Awards 2021 HKU.
In recent years, there has been a trend towards integrating small, soft and deformable structures into surgical robot systems. Target applications include endoscopy or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)-guided intervention, where researchers take advantage of soft and flexible robots for their inherent mechanical compliance. However, these flexible robotic systems are often controlled in an open loop or with positional feedback from 3D tracking devices. Not only the real-time feedback of flexible/soft robot configuration or morphology itself is of importance, but also the robot manipulation modelling, as well as its intelligent control, become an area of interest in the field. To this end, this talk will present various robot prototypes, which attempt to resolve unmet clinical and technical challenges for image-guided intervention or surgery, either in strong magnetic field (1.5-3T) by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner or in confined anatomical space through endoscopy. Machine intelligent approaches, and also the recent advances in continuum robot design and learning-based sensing/control will also be overviewed. These robots have to incorporate with efficient mechanical transmission, thus enabling delicate mechanical force/motion transmitted from actuators to surgical tools in a long and flexible route. The ultimate goal is to provide high-performance control of robotics instruments for safe, precise and effective surgical manipulation. The speaker will not only share his research outcome, but also various difficulties in his up-and-down research journey, from R&D in university, (pre-)clinical trials in hospital, then technology transfer for clinical applications.
Infectious diseases are one of the grand challenges to the public health today. The ability to rapidly monitor the spread of diseases in a large scale is the key for prevention, intervention and control of these diseases. Wastewater-Based Epidemiology (WBE) is based on the wastewater of a population, which means the pooled samples from thousands of people, to monitor the disease outbreaks at the community level. In the past two years, COVID-19 sewage surveillance has been applied to provide the early warning signal, to monitor the spread trend of the virus, to uncover the infected persons, and to trace the spread of different variants. In Hong Kong, the sewage surveillance technology developed by the multidisciplinary team of Civil Engineering and Public Health of the University of Hong Kong has been incorporated into the whole control strategy against COVID-19 since December 2020. Currently, the routine sewage surveillance programme of the Hong Kong Government covers more than 150 regular sampling sites in different areas, providing monitoring results for over 5 million people. Similar WBE surveillance systems have also been well-established in many countries, including USA, EU members, Australia, Singapore, etc. In the future, the wastewater surveillance systems are not only helpful in the fight against SARS-CoV-2 but also will be an essential part of the smart city to protect people’s health from known pathogens and unknown emerging new pathogens. In summary, wastewater tells us the health of a city, and we are learning how to listen to it carefully.
Living cells need to undergo significant shape changes during processes such as cell division, migration and tissue formation. Therefore, it is commonly believed that the deformability of cells is intimately related to their capability in executing different biological duties as well as the progression of diseases. In this talk, I will discuss how irreversible deformation of cells ensures proper axial extension of embryos during their development and how the plastic response of tumor cells can be used in monitoring the progression of cancer. Specifically, I will show that the presence of active intracellular/intercellular contraction will trigger the severing and re-bundling of actin filaments in cells (leading to cellular anisotropy and plasticity), elevate the internal hydrostatic pressure of embryo and eventually drive its elongation. In particular, the gradual re-alignment of F-actins must be synchronized with the development of intracellular forces for the embryo to elongate, which is then further sustained by muscle contraction-triggered plastic deformation of cells. In addition, I will also introduce a microfluidic setup developed in our lab allowing us to impose precisely controlled cyclic deformation on cells and therefore probe their plastic characteristics. Interestingly, we found that significant plastic strain can accumulate rapidly in highly invasive cancer cell lines and circulating tumor cells (CTCs) from late-stage lung cancer patients with a characteristic time of a few seconds. In comparison, very little irreversible deformation was observed in the less invasive cell lines and CTCs from early-stage lung cancer patients, highlighting the potential of using the plastic response of cells as a novel marker in future cancer prognosis and monitoring.
The conventional understanding of active volcanoes is based on the theory of hot magma (molten rock) from mantle. Although this magma theory has been widely believed in Earth Science, the prediction of volcano eruption can be incorrect. For example, the recent massive eruption of the Tonga Hunga volcano was not predicted. The devastating eruption of the Mount Ontake volcano in Japan on Sept. 27, 2014 was also not predicted and/or warned at all, consequently caused 55 fatalities, 9 missing and more than 60 injured.
In this Tech Talk, Professor Yue will present his re-understanding of active volcanoes using his methane gas theory. This methane gas theory of active volcanoes is original and can interpret all the observed phenomena associated with active volcanoes. It can be used to correctly predict and effectively reduce the occurrence of damaging volcano eruptions. It can be further used to obtain the huge amount of natural gas resources from gas chambers of active volcanoes at several kilometers below the ground rocks
Tech Talk – Unravelling the transmission of vertical outbreaks: Each drainage stack is an aerosol factory
More than 10 vertical outbreaks of COVID-19 have been observed in high-rise housing in Hong Kong. Together with the 2003 SARS Amoy Garden outbreak, these outbreaks suggest the roles of building drainage pipes in the transmission of infection, probably not limited to SARS and SARS-CoV-2. In collaboration with the Environmental Protection Department (EPD), we conducted field measurements in some of the infection venues and explore the transmission mechanisms. In this Tech talk, Professor Yuguo Li, Chair Professor of Building Environment, shall demonstrate how his proposed chimney effect explains most of these infections, how the drainage pipe was poorly ventilated, what one can do to protect our family, and what society can do to provide healthy housing.
The Managing Directors of two Health@InnoHK and AIR@InnoHK projects at the Faculty of Engineering, Professor Anderson Shum and Professor Norman C. Tien gave the Inaugural Tech Talk with the theme “Digitization” and introduced insightful research projects and their future development plan.
In computer science, a graph is a network modeling objects and their unique interactions. The graph learning model is a specialized machine learning model that learns on graphs. Similar to traditional machine learning models, a well-performed graph learning model can capture the global data distribution with sufficient and unbiased training data. However, in a distributed subgraph system, most data owners only possess small amounts of the data (small subgraphs) in their local systems and can have unpredictable biases.
In this talk, the speaker will introduce this novel yet realistic setting – subgraph federated learning, which aims to let distributed data owners collaboratively train a powerful and generalized graph learning model without directly sharing their subgraphs. Towards this setting, two major techniques are proposed by the research team. (1) FedSage, which trains a GraphSage model based on FedAvg to integrate node features, link structures, and task labels on multiple local subgraphs; (2) FedSage+, which trains a missing neighbor generator along FedSage to deal with missing links across local subgraphs. Empirical results and theoretical analysis of proposed models respectively demonstrate the effectiveness and prove the generalization ability.
Stainless steel (SS) is one of the most extensively used materials in many public areas and hygiene facilities but has no inherent antimicrobial properties. Additionally, the SARS-CoV-2 exhibits strong stability on regular SS surfaces, with viable viruses detected even after three days. Undoubtedly, this has created a high possibility of virus transmission among people using these areas and facilities. Here, this talk presents the inactivation of pathogen microbes (especially the SARS-CoV-2) on SS surface by tuning the chemical composition and microstructure of regular SS. It is discovered that Pathogen viruses like H1N1 and SARS-CoV-2 exhibit good stability on the surface of pure Ag and Cu-contained SS of low Cu content, but are rapidly inactivated on the surface of pure Cu and Cu-contained SS of high Cu content. Significantly, the developed anti-pathogen SS with 20 wt% Cu can distinctly reduce 99.75% and 99.99% of viable SARS-CoV-2 on its surface within 3 and 6 h, respectively. Lift buttons made of the present anti-pathogen SS are produced using mature powder metallurgy technique, demonstrating its potential applications in public areas and fighting the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and other pathogens via surface touching.
Tech Talk – dPRO: A Generic Performance Diagnosis and Optimization Toolkit for Expediting Distributed DNN Training
Distributed training using multiple devices (i.e., GPU servers) has been widely adopted for learning DNN models over large datasets. However, the performance of large-scale distributed training tends to be far from linear speed-up in practice. Given the complexity of distributed systems, it is challenging to identify the root cause(s) of inefficiency and exercise effective performance optimizations when unexpected low training speed occurs. To date, there exists no software tool which diagnoses performance issues and helps expedite distributed DNN training, while the training can be run using different machine learning frameworks. This paper proposes dPRO, a toolkit that includes: (1) an efficient profiler that collects runtime traces of distributed DNN training across multiple frameworks, especially fine-grained communication traces, and constructs global data flow graphs including detailed communication operations for accurate replay; (2) an optimizer that effectively identifies performance bottlenecks and explores optimization strategies (from computation, communication and memory aspects) for training acceleration. We implement dPRO on multiple deep learning frameworks (PyTorch, TensorFlow, MXNet) and representative communication schemes (AllReduce and Parameter Server architecture). Extensive experiments show that dPRO predicts performance of distributed training in various settings with<5% errors in most cases and finds optimization strategies with up to87.1%speed-up over the baselines.
Prefabricated construction is an emerging construction approach to produce prefabricated components in the off-site factory and transport them to the construction site for assembly, which provides enhanced quality, productivity, and sustainability. On-site assembly is an uncertain and complex stage in prefabrication projects, due to high variability of outside conditions, organization of multi-contractors, and geographic dispersion of activities. Information technology is adopted for the management of precast on-site assembly, such as Internet-of-Things (IoT), Cyber-Physical Internet (CPS), and cloud computing, which generate massive digital twins of construction resources and activities. This tech talk introduces a digital twin-enabled real-time synchronization system (DT-SYNC) with a robotic testbed demonstration for smart prefabricated on-site assembly. On-site resources are converted into Smart Construction Objects (SCOs) attaching with UWB and RFID devices to collect and integrate real-time nD data (e.g. identity, location, cost, and construction progress). Through smart mobile gateway, various on-site resources and activities could be real-timely interoperated with their corresponding digital twins. Cloud-based services are provided for real-time monitoring through high-fidelity virtual models, and robotic control with automatic navigations and alerts. Supported by the cyber-physical visibility and traceability provided by digital twins, a real-time synchronization model is designed to organize and coordinate operations and resources with simplicity and resilience, which guarantees that the appropriate resources are spatiotemporally allocated to the appropriate activities.
Balance ability is human’s basic physiological ability that ensures stable standing and walking. Falls are major threats to the health and independent living of the elderly. 10% of the falls in the elderly are associated with fractures, and some can lead to head injuries and deaths. A highly effective human balance sensor is invented, which can capture high-resolution dynamic pressure distribution under human feet. The variation of the pressure distribution can be used to solve the dynamics of human motion while standing on the balance sensor. The algorithms using artificial intelligence are developed to assess the risk of falling for elderly people to help them prevent falls. Furthermore, this sensor can be used to measure balance ability of athletes, such as weightlifting, golf and gymnastics. In medical diagnosis, balance ability tests can provide important information for diagnostics of neural disease. It can also be used to identify drunk driving.
Debate and scientific inquiries regarding airborne transmission of respiratory infections such as COVID-19 and influenza continue. Exposure was investigated under a face-to-face scenario, where people experience the highest risk of respiratory infection. The short-range airborne route was found to dominate exposure during close contact. Based on the fact that most of the outbreaks occurred in indoor environments, we built the link between long-range airborne transmission and short-range airborne route. Results suggest that effective environmental prevention strategies for respiratory infections require appropriate increases in the ventilation rate while maintaining a sufficiently low occupancy.
The application of stainless steel (SS) as an alternative construction material has been developing in the last decade. SS construction has an outstanding structural performance, excellent corrosion resistance, and long-term durability. Moreover, the SS construction has a relatively low maintenance cost with possibility of a longer occupancy period, and thus it promotes sustainability in the construction industry. In combination with the cold-forming technique during the fabrication process, SS structures offer additional strength and a faster construction speed. However, the available international design standards for cold-formed stainless steel (CFSS) structures have not been developed thoroughly, specifically on the strength prediction of a member under concentrated bearing loads, which causes a web crippling. Therefore, a series of laboratory testing and computational simulations were conducted in this research to evaluate the existing design standards. The reliability analysis shows that the available strength predictions in the design standards are not safely used even though they are conservative. This research proposes new strength predictions that are safe and conservative, and it can be used for an improvement of the design standards.
Diamond, the most famed of all gemstones, is unique in many ways. However, beyond the sparkle, diamonds have many unique properties for copious applications. In particular, nanoscale diamond particles, generally known as nanodiamonds (NDs), have several outstanding material qualities, offering a wide range of potential for basic science and industrial applications. The practical applications of the quantum NDs are highly dependent on obtaining a well-defined surface through cleaning. Here, this talk will first present a simple, reliable, and reproducible purification method, namely, the salt-assisted air oxidation treatment, which enables scale-up manufacturing of clean NDs. At the same time, it is discovered that NDs could work as an effective agent against oral infections. These findings will significantly enhance the scope of these little gemstones in diverse scientific and industrial fields, particularly in demanding areas such as biomedical and quantum sensing.