Announcing our new initiatives – CITRIS newsletter for June 2011


It has been an exciting couple of months. We have worked hard to plan how CITRIS can continue to successfully bridge the gap between the world-leading researchers of the University of California and the major challenges faced by California, the United States, and the world.  This work was triggered by CITRIS’s 10-year review, which posed us with some interesting questions.  I would like to take this opportunity to thank my colleagues within CITRIS, particularly Hugh Aldridge, Steve Demello, Heidi Hallett, and Anthony St George for all their efforts.

In 2000 CITRIS was a new type of organization, which needed to identify those societal issues where its researchers could make a tangible difference. Our strategy, therefore, was not to be too narrow in the topics we researched; we let a thousand flowers bloom. Given the quality of our faculty, we supported an amazingly exciting array of projects; projects that have led to new research programs, major publications, and new companies.

We have learned a lot over the past decade and are clear now where we can make a significant difference going forward.  We call our new approach ‘Big Bets’, because these initial initiatives will, if we really put our shoulders to the wheel, bring huge benefits to California, to the U.S., and to the world. CITRIS’s ‘Big Bets’ emerge out of our strategic planning work and address problems that are of significant importance.  They each address a fundamental requirement for human life: Health, Sustainability, and Energy.

California must address differences in healthcare provided to the more urban, coastal communities and the easterly and rural parts of the state.  UC Davis has led the creation of the California Telehealth Network, which aims to address this issue by creating a network that extends excellent medical care to the most remote parts of the state.  CITRIS’s ‘Big Bet’ in healthcare is being led by Professor Thomas Nesbitt and is building on this network by creating new applications and services that will enable it to achieve its vision in a profound way.

California faces a serious, multi-faceted water crisis: over-drafting of aquifers, early snowmelt causing floods, and the potential catastrophic failure of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta levees, which would result in the poisoning of Southern California’s water supply with salt from San Francisco Bay.  Our Water Information Systems Big Bet is to create a state-wide information system that will enable the better management of the state’s limited water resources and, for example, save the state billions of dollars by averting the need for new water storage facilities. This initiative is being led by UC Berkeley Engineering Professor Steven Glaser and UC Merced Hydrologist Professor Roger Bales.

Water is only one essential resource flowing into our urban areas.  Our Adaptive Cities Big Bet aims to significantly increase the knowledge we have about our cities’ essential resources and functions; knowledge that will protect the quality of urban life and advance cities as engines of prosperity. Successful cities of the future must be able to adapt as climate changes and respond to more acute problems such as earthquakes and flooding.  For example, a city that knows where air quality is compromised or noise has reached unacceptable levels could redirect traffic and people until the problem has dissipated.  Similarly, sensors could identify potential infrastructure failures by tracking subtle physical changes throughout the system. I am very glad to announce that Professor Steven Glaser, a world leader in sensor technology, will be the faculty leader of the Adaptive Cities program. 

Third, we are making a ‘Big Bet’ on our ability to equip the Smart Grid with sensors and controls that will serve as an adaptive and evolving ‘nervous system’ that will enable the transformation of our energy systems from a demand-led paradigm to one where supply and demand are both flexibly managed. CITRIS’s Marvell Nanofab Laboratory will be a key resource in developing the technology essential to this new approach to understanding and managing energy.  i4Science and LoCal are two already well-established CITRIS programs that will give us terrific traction on this front, and I am very excited to announce that UC Berkeley Engineering Professor David Culler has agreed to lead this activity.

The four initiatives I have just described are major problem-driven programs; the next two will to some extent underpin these activities.  They are, however, equally demanding and will, I am confident, create an equal interest in the stakeholder community. I am delighted that Professor Ken Goldberg has agreed to lead our Data and Democracy Big Bet. This program will address fundamental questions relating to how citizens are able to act democratically in a world where there is so much information that it’s often difficult to see the ‘wood for the trees.’  Further, the program will build upon work Professor Goldberg and his colleagues have already done applying new technology to enable better and more democratic idea sharing online.  

All of CITRIS’s work is about data, vast quantities being generated from sensors in the mountains, in clinics, or from mobile phones. The  IT Tools and Processes program will develop the analytical tools that can ‘crunch’ that data to provide usable real-time ‘knowledge’ to decision makers responsible for managing limited resources and making the most efficient and productive use of them. CITRIS’s IT Tools and Processes focus will be led by UC Berkeley Professor Stuart Russell.

The first story in this month’s newsletter, “The Examined Life: Tracking Power in SDH,” looks at work making the CITRIS Headquarters as green and sustainable a building as possible. One of our students, Jason Trager, is making sure we mind our Ps and Qs when it comes to recycling and composting, and is also on the team of researchers studying the use of energy throughout the building in order to create a Demand-Response system that allows for automated, centralized and most importantly more efficient control of energy use within the building. The study will also make all of the building’s users aware of how much power they are using at any given time, information that has already begun to drive better consumer behavior.

The second story, “Engineering Design that CARES” describes another CITRIS-supported project, CARES, that matches engineers, planners, designers, and architects with native California communities that seek help on sustainability projects. The piece focuses on one venture, a collaboration with the Pinnoleville Pomo Nation in Mendocino County, that has culminated in the building of five innovative, energy-efficient, prototype homes that reflect their inhabitants’ particular Californian vision of sustainability. CARES is as valuable for the students—who get real experience thinking, designing, and building on the ground and outside the box—as it is for the clients, whose new houses, in this case, are simply beautiful, energy-efficient, and culturally rooted in place. It is another innovative project that CITRIS is proud to support.

Keep up the good work.

Best wishes,

Paul K. Wright
Director, CITRIS and the Banatao Institute@CITRIS Berkeley