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Extreme research: IHMC studies how to extend a human's ability to survive in extremes

For nearly three decades, the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition has conducted advanced research in artificial intelligence and robotics.

More recently, IHMC co-founder Ken Ford has begun building a team to search for ways to extend the capabilities and resilience of humans in extreme environments.

In April, Pensacola philanthropist and developer Quint Studer donated $1 million toward IHMC’s research in this field.

Ford and Joe Gomes, former head strength and conditioning coach for the Oakland Raiders and IHMC’s new high-performance director, recently talked with Florida Trend about the team’s research and goals.

Ford: “One of the reasons we're interested in extreme environments is that high-performing humans often fail in these environments, and you can learn a lot by studying failure mode. If you take a high-performing human, like an astronaut, and put them in space ... things can go bad very quickly. It's true under the ocean, and it's true in a fighter jet.”

Gomes: “What I’m passionate about is studying how to provide the best environment to support career longevity in high-performing populations. What makes a guy last 18 years in the NFL?

“Or take warfighters or firefighters who have been on the job for 20 years and can still perform on the ground; what separates them from the others?”

Ford: “The research we’re doing for NASA and the Department of Defense is teaching us things that can be applied to the general population. For example, astronauts that spend an extended time in space show signs of accelerated aging, such as bone and muscle loss.

“So if we find more efficient exercise methods, or nutrition ideas, and they are helpful to the elite warfighter, or to NASA, they are also likely to be helpful to the aging population.”

Gomes: “Our research goal at IHMC is to help humans that operate in extreme environments make the most accurate decisions in the shortest amount of time and then have the physical capabilities to support their skill set. The more physically better prepared you are, the greater you’re able to execute a cognitive skill when it matters most.”



  • Beach Community Bank has been sold to Illinois-based Hovde Group, an investment banking firm, in a $100-million stock transaction. The sale will recapitalize the bank, which has been under stress because of foreclosed real estate and underperforming loans, says bank President Tony Hughes.


  • Jackson County commissioners have approved the creation of a Film Permit Advisory Group because of concerns over a television production company’s plan to shoot an episode of the reality TV show “Floribama Shore” on Spring Creek in Marianna.


  • Triumph Gulf Coast has approved $1.5 million for Okaloosa County that will pay for about a third of the costs of improving water and sewer infrastructure for the Shoal River Ranch industrial park near Crestview.


  • The Triumph Gulf Coast board has approved $10 million for the Port of Panama City to expand its east terminal facilities. The east terminal expansion, which is on track for a July groundbreaking, is estimated to cost nearly $60 million. Triumph will pay for 17% of the project, with remaining funds coming from the Port Authority, the Florida Department of Transportation and the Florida Seaport Transportation Economic Development Council.


  • Panama City Beach council members have approved an ordinance that increases the town’s impact fees. The action stems from a study conducted earlier this year by the Public Resource Management Group that showed a need to raise impact fees for police, fire and rescue, library and recreation operations. Panama City Beach impact fees have not been raised in more than a decade, council officials say.


  • Frontier Airlines launched its inaugural flights from the Pensacola International Airport to Denver and Chicago in April.


  • City and county planners are reviewing a proposed $30-million housing and retail project in downtown Tallahassee. The multi-level project, submitted by Phoenix-based Charles Street Investment Partners, calls for 224 housing units, including 194 apartment units and 30 townhouses, along with13,000 square feet of restaurants and 14,000 square feet of retail space.


  • The economic impact of tourism in Walton County topped $4.4 billion in 2017, according to a report recently presented to its Tourist Development Council. Data compiled by Tallahassee- based Downs & St. Germain Research showed that more than 4 million people visited the county in 2017, supporting some 20,000 jobs. Downs also reported the county collected $23.8 million in tourist development taxes.

INNOVATION: Battery Power

Tallahassee startup General Capacitor recently won a Department of Defense contract and opened a dry room production facility. The room is designed to reduce ambient moisture to less than 1%, a crucial threshold in the manufacture of its lithium-based capacitors. Lithium corrodes rapidly and can combust when exposed to moisture. “This year, we’ve managed to get a pretty formidable contract with the Department of Defense,” says Jonathan Shih, director of business development.

The company is working with the Army to develop an internal hybrid battery/capacitor power system for soldiers using hand-held radios and mobile power sources in the field.

Shih says the addition of the dry room enables the company to make “production ready” capacitors. It plans to add 10 jobs to its 17-employee workforce.

Before it installed the dry room, the company was producing 10 super capacitors per day by hand. Now, says Shih, the production line can manufacture up to 150 capacitors each day.


  • Scott Campbell is the new CEO of Bay Medical Sacred Heart in Panama City. Campbell was CEO of Providence Health’s hospital in Columbia, S.C., and previously worked with Health Management Associates for more than two decades.


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