REALM

The ScienceStudio projects (NEP01 and NEP62) have developed web-based platforms to: (1) provide remote real-time access for scientists to major research tools at national facilities, (2) provide access to novel and dedicated high performance computation for the highly complex data sets resulting from experiments accessed in the first platform. These CANARIE-sponsored projects produced software and hardware that led to the creation of remote scientific experiments and on-line parallel processing services for the data. Parts of the software have already been spun off to a synchrotron facility in Brazil and a major computation department at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. The ScienceStudio (SS) framework was built around a hub connected to an expandable number of "science production sites" where the complex data is being acquired (or has already been acquired). This SS software provides an end-to-end management process that involves sample handling, experiment control and data sharing by an experiment team through RESTful web services web application which can be accessed by a browser. These connections rely on powerful networks, such as CANARIE's national network to deliver data to processing engines and, in turn, results to scientists.

We propose to use these aspects heavily in a new NEP project: "Research and Educational Activities using Laboratory Mechatronics (REALM)". The longer term objective for REALM is to generalize its characteristics so that it can be used by a wide range of researchers to observe, control and collect data from remote experiments in environments that are not easily accessible by reason of distance or danger. In addition to providing tools to overcome these impediments to research, REALM could be used to enhance the experiences of students in early levels of learning about science. Because of funding, safety rules and student numbers it is increasingly difficult to conduct "live" experiments. One solution to this is the use of robotic equipment to carry out some or all parts of the research or the teaching. As a first stage in the development of remote access to teaching experiments, we propose to begin by providing remote training of the mechatronic components of robotic devices for engineering students in universities and colleges across Canada. We would migrate the ScienceStudio remote software to a cloud environment and adapt it to allow students to have round the clock live access to mechatronic experiments that are to be housed at Western University. We would hope to have REALM hosted on CANARIE-based servers. To our knowledge there has been no laboratory component available for any of the countless online courses offered by universities and colleges. We have engaged the faculty and students needed to produce the laboratory components and the team of software specialists that produced ScienceStudio is available to continue to this new level. The generalized software produced in the REALM project would be transferred to CANARIE's depository for use by other researchers where it could be used adapted for remote access to other devices.

This new area of research would involve control of several advanced teaching mechatronic devices with requirements for high resolution video cameras and touch-sensitive controls. As well, the messaging service in the software needs to much faster, particularly where fine feedback is required. Acceptance of the software by students would be monitored and compared with actual contact and simulation packages. The range of software services would be made more general to allow easy accommodation of new applications, and more intuitive linkages must be developed between the user and central data processing and storage services. As part of this project ScienceStudio would be moved to a cloud environment.

With the experience gained in this project, we would propose, in a subsequent NEP phase to extend ScienceStudio to improve the experience of geological and environmental scientists for monitoring in harsh northern environments and/or high school students in their daily contacts with science experiments at the Grade 11-12 level. There is certainly also a distinct possibility of adapting the software to assist many industries, such as those involved in mineral exporation and processing, where there are long distances between analysis equipment, minesites and experts.

The project will also inaugurate a collaboration with the Victoria E science Research Initiative (VERSI) in Australia. This group has broad experience in initiating user projects with universities and schools but lacks the more advanced web technology that we have been developing. Thus there is a solid advantage to work closely together. If our proposed project is approved, we would sign a Letter of Agreement with VERSI to exchange information in several areas.