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Even after all of their symptoms are gone, people who have had a concussion take longer to regain complex reaction times, the kind you need in most real-life driving situations on the road, according to a preliminary study released today that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s Sports Concussion Virtual Conference from July 31 to August 1, 2020. The preliminary results could have implications for how quickly experts recommend drivers get back behind the wheel after a concussion.

Should You Really Be Behind the Wheel After Concussion

Image credit: Pixabay (Free Pixabay license)

“People who have concussions often have slower reaction times as a result, and do more poorly on tests of thinking skills after their injury than their peers without concussions,” said Julianne D. Schmidt, Ph.D., ATC, of the University of Georgia in Athens. “Our study suggests that complicated driving skills, the kind involving split-second reaction times that could mean the difference between life and death, are the ones that may take the longest to regain after you have a concussion—even when all of your symptoms have resolved.”

The study involved 28 college students with valid drivers’ licenses and an average age of 20, including 14 with concussions and 14 without. Ten of the 14 concussed students experienced concussions while playing sports. All college students were matched by age, sex, and driving experience. Participants completed both a simulated driving reaction time test and a computerized neurocognitive test within 48 hours of their concussion symptoms resolving, which occurred an average of 16 days after the injury.

The driving reaction time test consisted of two simulated driving scenarios. The first scenario involved a stoplight reaction time simulation in which the stoplight changed from green to yellow and participants had to rapidly choose to brake or accelerate. The second scenario involved a child running in front of a vehicle and participants needed to brake or swerve to avoid collision.

The computerized test consisted of four measures of reaction time including simple, complex, and Stroop reaction time, which is the lag that occurs when you are asked to select a word like “blue” that is printed in a different color.

The drivers who had concussions demonstrated slower computerized complex reaction times than those who did not have concussions by an average of 0.06 seconds. When reacting to a change in stoplight color, it took those with concussions 0.24 seconds longer to react, or the equivalent of 15.6 feet in stopping distance, compared to those without concussions. During the driving simulation involving a child running in front of a car, it took those with concussions 0.06 seconds longer to react, or the equivalent of 3.3 feet in stopping distance, compared to those without concussions. Slower reaction time is a strong predictor of crash risk, and these additional split seconds and feet needed to change the vehicle’s movement could be critical for avoiding an accident. Interestingly, only the computerized complex and Stroop reaction times moderately related to the driving stoplight reaction time, and no other relationships were observed, suggesting computerized reaction time measures are not a perfect replacement for measuring real-life driving reaction times.

“Overall, after the symptoms of the drivers with concussions resolved, their reaction times were similar to drivers who didn’t have concussions. However, when we looked specifically at stoplight reaction time, we saw lingering deficits in the drivers who had concussions,” Schmidt said. “This could mean traditional reaction time tests aren’t the best measure of driving responsiveness and readiness. And that could have important public safety implications, considering more than three million people have sports-related concussions in the United States each year.”

Learn more about traumatic brain injury at BrainandLife.org, home of the American Academy of Neurology’s free patient and caregiver magazine focused on the intersection of neurologic disease and brain health.

Source: American Academy of Neurology




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Open source: Why governments need to go further

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Commentary: Yes, governments should open source their custom code. But more than that is needed.

Image: lucky-photographer, Getty Images/iStockphoto

For Drupal (and Acquia) founder Dries Buytaert, “the default [in government] should be ‘developed with public money, make it public code.'” That is, if a government is paying for software to be created, that software should be available under an open source license. While he acknowledged there might be exceptions (e.g., for military applications, as I’ve called out), his suggestion makes sense.

Years ago I argued that government mandates of open source made no sense. I still feel that way. Governments (and enterprises) should use whatever software best enables them to get work done. Increasingly, that software will be open source. But when good open source alternatives don’t yet exist, it makes no sense to mandate the use of suboptimal software. 

But software that governments create? There’s no compelling citizen-focused reason for closing it off. Instead, there are many reasons to open it up.

SEE: How to build a successful developer career (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Of the people, by the people, for the people

This topic of why countries should embrace open source is an easy argument to make. As Buytaert pointed out, if public money pays for the code to be developed, why wouldn’t that code be available to the public (except, as mentioned, in the case of sensitive military software)? 

Some countries have already gone this route. As I detailed in 2016, Bulgaria is one of them. A few years later, Bulgaria has been preparing its own national source code repository, based on Git (as required by law: “administrative authorities shall use public storage and control systems for the source code and technical documentation for development, upgrading or deployment of information systems or electronic services”). 

This is a significant step toward greater transparency. However, it’s not enough.

SEE: Open source can thrive in a recession says Drupal creator Dries Buytaert (TechRepublic)

Collaborating on common government issues

As much as I understand Bulgaria’s desire to build its own source code repository, there’s even greater need for governments to collaborate on code beyond their borders. Think about it: Governments tend to do the same things, like collecting taxes, issuing parking tickets, etc. Currently, each government builds (or buys) software to tackle these tasks. Obscene quantities of custom code are created each year by government organizations operating in silos.

Why isn’t the city of Bogota sharing software with London, which shares software with Lagos, which shares software with Pocatello (that’s in Idaho, by the way)? 

As IBM president (and former Red Hat CEO) Jim Whitehurst said way back in 2009, “The waste in IT software development is extraordinary….Ultimately, for open source to provide value to all of our customers worldwide, we need to get our customers not only as users of open source products but truly engaged in open source and taking part in the development community.” This is particularly true in government, where there isn’t even the competitive pressure (e.g., Bogota doesn’t compete with Pocatello) that might prevent large financial institutions from collaborating (though even they partner on open source).

So, yes, we need governments to open source the software they pay to have built, to Buytaert’s point. But we also need those same governments to share that code beyond their borders, thereby driving greater innovation at lower cost for their citizens. 

Disclosure: I work for AWS but the views expressed herein are mine, not those of my employer.

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Elastica: A Compliant Mechanics Environment for Soft Robotic Control

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Soft robots can be used in various spheres, such as agriculture, medicine, and defense. However, their complex physics means that they are hard to control. Current simulation testbeds are insufficient for taking the full advantage of elasticity.

A recent paper on arXiv.org proposes Elastica, a simulation environment tailored to soft robot context. It tries to fill the gap between conventional rigid body solvers, which are incapable to model complex continuum mechanics, and high-fidelity finite elements methods, which are mathematically cumbersome. Elastica can be used to simulate assemblies of soft, slender, and compliant rods and interface with major reinforcement learning packages. It is shown how most reinforcement learning models can learn to control a soft arm and to complete successively challenging tasks, like 3D tracking of a target, or maneuvering between structured and unstructured obstacles.

Soft robots are notoriously hard to control. This is partly due to the scarcity of models able to capture their complex continuum mechanics, resulting in a lack of control methodologies that take full advantage of body compliance. Currently available simulation methods are either too computational demanding or overly simplistic in their physical assumptions, leading to a paucity of available simulation resources for developing such control schemes. To address this, we introduce Elastica, a free, open-source simulation environment for soft, slender rods that can bend, twist, shear and stretch. We demonstrate how Elastica can be coupled with five state-of-the-art reinforcement learning algorithms to successfully control a soft, compliant robotic arm and complete increasingly challenging tasks.

Link: https://arxiv.org/abs/2009.08422