RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Back in 2016, Cary – a city of about 162,000 people – had five fatalities due to overdoses during the Thanksgiving period.

With a nation-wide opioid epidemic underway, the city decided to hold a community meeting on the issue, and about 300 people turned up.

“Someone had asked how many people had personally been impacted, and I’d say 99 percent of the hands went up in the room,” recalled City of Cary’s chief information officer Nicole Raimundo.

“That’s when we really knew that there was a crisis in Cary. It’s happening not under bridges; it’s happening in bedrooms.”

She was among a handful local innovators who took the stage at this month’s RTP180 series on Thursday night, sponsored by RTI International.

More than 200 people packed into The Frontier to listen to the discussion on all things “smart” tech – from Internet of Things and civic engagement to immersive technologies, textiles and health.

In a bid to address the problem, Raimundo said, Cary teamed up with Biobot Analytics, a startup based out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that collects data from raw wastewater to monitor opioid use.

City of Cary’s chief information officer Nicole Raimundo presented at RTP180 series on Thursday evening.

Funded by a $100,000 grant, the city selected 10 catchment areas – around 10,000-16,000 households — using Biobot’s filter device to track drug use and provide up-to-date information to public officials.

“When there is a suspected overdose, we don’t really know if there’s a determination of death until later. This is as close to as real-time as we can get to see what’s in our community,” said Raimundo.

The city is expected to release a report of its collected data later this year.

“We’re hoping that we can collect enough data over time to work with the country on programs that might be tailored to impact whatever areas this may coming from,” she said.

Smart garments

Dr. Jesse Jur, associate professor at North Carolina State University, was also on hand to talk about “smart garments”.

As the principal investigator for NEXT (Nano-Extended Textiles) research group, he is working to develop self-powered, wearable devices.

“How about wearing a smart garment that tracks your vitals?”, he asked the audience to laugher.

The thing is, he was absolutely serious.

“We’re trying to collect as much data as humanly possible. But there are also these opportunities for safety and improved comfort.

“The textiles industry for thousands of years has been trying to make textiles as humanly possible in whatever environment that human is in, and today is no different.”

The “smart” era comes with a warning

But while such innovations are exciting, the era of “smart” technology also comes with a warning.

Dr. Kristen Wynns, child psychologist and author of The No Wimpy Parenting Handbook, spoke about the dangers of being so obsessed with our latest gadgets.

“There are all kinds of studies showing connection between how much time you spend on screen – particularly TVs and computers – and links to depression and anxiety,” she said.

”We really have this potential for 24/7 stimulation now. The TV never really goes off like it used to. Social media never shuts down. You can basically have something stimulating your brain all the time, and we still need to have that rest and break from it.”

Others speakers included K4Connect Engineering Operations and Quality director Shannon Smith, and RTI Head of Immersive Technologies Lab Lucas Blair.

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