January 16, 2021

Research Florida

High-Tech, Low-Carb: Profile of Ken Ford

Mike Vogel | 8/28/2018

The future

Ahead, Ford says his biggest worry is finding a successor at the institute, though he’s not planning to cut back his involvement any time soon. He talks a lot about the institute’s culture. “Institutional culture trumps nearly everything else” in an organization’s effectiveness, he says.

Meanwhile, Ford is at work on his first book for the public on “healthspan,” focusing on how to maintain strength and function into old age. He looks fit. He says 63 is a good age that allows plenty of activity, though he and his wife parted with their Ducati and BMW motorcycles over concerns about danger from distracted car drivers. They’re building a home in Wyoming for cooler summers and ski winters.

He holds his hand in the air and describes the ideal trajectory for the rest of his life by tracing a line in a high narrow range. “I want to be this guy — good, good, happy …” he says. Then his hand falls to the table. “Dead.” He smiles and as his smile widens his eyebrows arch in unison.

Says Ford, “The best way is you’re hopping along, singing a song, and then — you’re dead.”

From Cockpits to Exoskeletons

The Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition’s research interests span data science, robotics, human-centered displays, computing and knowledge modeling. But it all comes down to people and their ideas. Institute researchers tend to be polymaths — people with a wide range of interests and expertise. Some areas of institute query:

Concept mapping software

Shephered by institute cofounder, associate director and senior research scientist Alberto Cañas, this software is now used around the world, especially in education. Using technology in education is Cañas’ passion. Cmaps help visualize how subjects relate to one another.

Peak performance

Joe Gomes, former Oakland Raiders head strength and conditioning coach but also a Defense Department pioneer in human performance, recently joined the institute to take his insights on peak performance for gridiron and battlefield warriors in new directions, especially in helping high-performance people maintain their careers.

In similar research, Dawn Kernagis, a 2016 inductee into the Women Divers Hall of Fame who dove and managed a world-record breaking deep underwater cave exploration team, studies how to optimize performance for divers, high-altitude aviators, astronauts and others in extreme environments. The Office of Naval Research has funded her work, and she won an award from the American Heart Association for developing a neuroprotective therapeutic for acute brain injury.

Understanding speech

Bonnie Dorr, former University of Maryland faculty member and co-founder of a computational linguistics lab in Maryland, leads a concentration of people at the institute’s Ocala branch devoted to machine understanding of human speech — not just speech recognition, but allowing computers to understand humans. Recently, she was named a fellow of the Association for Computational Linguists.


Peter Neuhaus’ Mina v2 exoskeleton team, piloted by Mark Daniel, a paralyzed Pensacola man who was injured in a 2007 car accident, came in second in a powered exoskeleton competition at Cybathlon, a 66-team competition in Zurich for disabled athletes using wearable robotic devices.

Linking people and automation

Computer scientist Bill Clancey, who took classes in 13 different departments at Rice from music to philosophy, developed Brahms, an AI system for testing and managing complex environments involving both people and automated systems — interactions among air traffic controllers and pilots and autopilot systems during fl ights, for example. It’s been used for communication between the International Space Station and NASA. He holds six patents and founded two software companies.

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