Digital Media Researchers Receive Grants to Collaborate with Portuguese Universities

University of Texas at Austin researchers together with collaborating Portuguese researchers have received six grants totaling about $1.5 million U.S. ($1.2 million Euros) from the Science and Technology Foundation of Portugal (FCT) to expand the presence of advanced digital media through educational and research exchange.

University of Texas at Austin researchers from the departments of Advertising, Communication Studies and Radio-TV-Film in the College of Communication, the School of Information and the Cockrell School of Engineering will conduct the projects with principal investigators at Portuguese universities through the UT Austin | Portugal International Collaboratory for Emerging Technologies or CoLab.

"This grant reflects the fact that digital media is multidisciplinary and to do meaningful work you need talent and insight from people across multiple areas," said Sharon Strover, director of CoLab's Digital Media program and the Philip G. Warner Regents Professor in Communication in the Department of Radio-TV-Film. "We hope this project will create a foundation for developing and working with the future leadership in the area of digital media."

Strover, in collaboration with Assistant Professor Louis Francisco-Revilla of the School of Information and principal investigator João Miguel Costa Magalhães of the New University of Lisbon, will examine Portuguese video content consumption trends. The ImTV project (On-Demand Immersive-TV for Communities of Media Producers and Consumers) aims at offering consumers a personalized combination of mainstream TV content and online user-generated content based on algorithms that process content metadata, user and community feedback

Radio-TV-Film Associate Professor Laura Stein and advertising Assistant Professor Michael Mackert, with principal investigator Manuel José Carvalho de Almeida Damasio of Lusofona, will conduct the iDTV Health project to evaluate the potential of digital interactive television (iDTV) to promote health care and wellness services and information to Portuguese age 55 and older with low technology literacy. The results will give researchers a better understanding how to present and distribute health information in the U.S.

Communication studies Assistant Professor Jorge Peña and principal investigator Rui Filipe Fernandes Prada of the Computer Science Department of Instituto Superior Técnico - Technical University of Lisbon will use "serious games," a video game-like interface, to study social identification and intercultural cooperation in virtual environments. The goal of project INVITE (social Identity and partnership and VIrTual Environments) is to understand how human partnerships are created, maintained and terminated in virtual environments.

The School of Information's Francisco-Revilla received two additional research grants. REACTION (Retrieval, Extraction and Aggregation Computing Technology for Integrating and Organizing News) will take computational journalism to the next level by developing a set of new algorithms, tools and methodologies for media analytics. This research project, in collaboration with Assistant Professor Matt Lease in the School of Information and principal investigator Mário Jorge Costa Gaspar Silva at the University of Lisbon, aims to help journalists and researchers make better sense of what is news and what is not among the massive amounts of data produced every day.

Francisco-Revilla's third research grant, in collaboration with Lease and principal investigator Álvaro Pedro de Barros Borges Reis Figueira of the research institute INESC at the University of Porto, will capitalize on public participation in the global news cycle to enable journalists to harness reader participation. Titled Breadcrumbs, the project will build bridges between online news and social media so journalists can understand the interests of their readers and the implicit relationships that readers perceive between different articles and events in order to identify valuable contributors and follow new leads for further writing.

The sixth grant was awarded to Jake Aggarwal, the Cullen Trust for Higher Education Endowed Professor in Engineering at the Cockrell School of Engineering. The research project, led by Verónica Orvalho of the University of Porto, is titled LIFEisGAME: LearnIng of Facial Emotions usIng Serious GAMEs. The project will embed real-time computer vision/graphics-based facial expression analysis/synthesis into a serious game. The games will be used to teach individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to recognize facial emotions and possibly help in the mitigation of ASD. Significant numbers of children worldwide, including the U.S. and Portugal, suffer from this debilitating communicational, behavioral and social disorder.

CoLab is a partnership between the FCT and The University of Texas at Austin in conjunction with several Portuguese universities. Started in 2006, one major goal of this five-year project is to expand the presence of advanced digital media through educational and research exchange. This takes place in three different program areas: digital media, advanced computing and mathematics, in addition to the IC2 Institute's University Technology Enterprise Network, which focuses on training Portuguese technology transfer offices at Portugal's leading research universities and research centers.