Professor Caroline Cao has received the International Ergonomics & Human Factors Association (IEA) Fellow Award

5/30/2024 William Gillespie

Professor Caroline Cao has received the International Ergonomics & Human Factors Association (IEA) Fellow Award, researches empathy training

Written by William Gillespie

Caroline Cao
Caroline Cao

Professor Caroline Cao has received the International Ergonomics & Human Factors Association (IEA) Fellow Award. The award will be presented at the upcoming IEA2024 Congress in Jeju, South Korea. IEA states that the award “is given in recognition of outstanding and sustained performance in the field of ergonomics and human factors at an international level, as well as an extensive publication record in international journals or international consulting or service at a high level”.


Caroline Cao joined the ISE team last year, after a career that took her around the world, starting in her hometown of Vancouver, then Toronto, with certifications in Helsinki and Milan and professorships in Boston, Dayton, Adelaide, Australia and Brest, France, where she was International Chair for Industry of the Future and Professor of Computer Science at IMT Atlantique from 2021 to 2023. Her origins as a refugee could hardly be more humble nor her accomplishments as an engineer more impressive.


At Illinois, Cao now carries a wealth of responsibilities and titles. In the Department of Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering (ISE) Cao is professor. In The Grainger College of Engineering, she is director of applied health technology initiatives. In the Carle Illinois College of Medicine, Cao is health innovation professor and director of engineering innovation and medical simulation.


Cao is a researcher, educator and entrepreneur in the design and development of medical systems and devices, and enabling or immersive technology (AR/VR, simulation and training, decision aid, haptics, sensory substitution, navigational aid, robotics, etc.) for laparoscopic—also called “minimally invasive”—surgery and robotic surgery[1] .


Sometimes called “keyhole surgery”, laparoscopic techniques involve using imaging technology to view and guide the manipulation of tiny instruments inside the human body. This deprives the surgeon of the sense of touch as well as depth perception. Cao explains, “I started my academic career studying how people manipulate remotely… and looking for ways to enhance that, restoring the haptic feedback that’s missing, the depth perception that’s missing… and of course designing the surgical tools for laparoscopic surgery, and looking at how we can scale up—how we can make all surgeons perform at the top level.”


Cao’s new project is XR+AI for Empathy Training (XAI4ET). XAI4ET is massively interdisciplinary and promises a kinder world. Cao and colleagues are leveraging simulation training and immersive technology to teach empathy to doctors and first responders—such as EMTs, police or firefighters. This project is funded by Strategic Research Initiatives and involves colleagues in ISE; the College of Education; the School of Art & Design; the College of Applied Health Sciences; the College of Media; the College of Medicine; the Police Training Institute; and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications.


According to the project site, “Healthcare and law enforcement are two domains where empathy plays a central role in life-or-death situations that can also be unpredictable and emotionally charged.”


XAI4ET is envisioned as a combination think-tank, design studio and R&D laboratory that researches and teaches empathy using simulation technology and artificial intelligence (AI). Healthcare and law enforcement will be the foundation, as the project grows to tackle empathy training in other domains, with one possible goal being the deployment of innovative technologies in the marketplace.


Congratulations to Professor Cao on her fellowship, and her bright future of world-changing research in human factors at Illinois!


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This story was published May 30, 2024.