The upcoming royal tour by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge is, in many ways, typical: There will be little girls with bouquets, a landau ride to Parliament Hill, an appearance at the Calgary Stampede, inspection of the troops, some native dancing and, in a nod to their youthfulness, a dragon boat race and a visit to the land of Anne of Green Gables.
But, in their carefully scripted itinerary, one event stands out: a visit to the Ward of the 21st Century at the University of Calgary's Research and Innovation Centre.
Why would a pair of 20-somethings want to visit a research institute during their summer holidays?
"Well, there's no other place in the world with a living lab like this one," said Dr. William Ghali, director of the Calgary Institute for Population and Public Health and co-director of the research program at W21C.
During the July 7 visit, William and Kate will observe several interactive displays but – to oblige protocol – participants are forbidden from discussing the details.
However, it is not too difficult to figure out the attraction. Prince William is a military helicopter pilot. In PEI, he will participate in a search-and-rescue simulation.
At the W21C lab, he will see first-hand some groundbreaking research using technology that pertains directly to his work. For example:
– The ASL Mobile Eye is an eye-tracking system that projects infrared light into the eye and uses corneal reflections to determine where a participant is looking. At W21C they are doing research in conjunction with the provincial air ambulance service that helps determine where and what pilots see in difficult landing conditions.
"Understanding this interface between technology and human factors is really important," said Dr. Barry Baylis, co-director of the research and innovation program at W21C. "Obviously this has applications in search-and-rescue and in many other areas like medicine."
– The Wireless Temporal Arterial Bandage Thermometer is a device that is fixed to a patient's forehead. It looks like an ordinary bandage but continuously monitors body temperature and other vital signs wirelessly.
– iStan is a human patient simulator (a life-like dummy that speaks, blinks, has bodily secretions, a heartbeat and so on) used to train and educate health-care workers and test new technologies. For example, at W21C, they observed people using automated external defibrillators (equipment now found in many public spaces) on iStan and found that there was a tremendous range in their ease of use.
"The research we do is about improving the quality of life and the quality and safety of care," Dr. Baylis said. "I think that interests people of every age."
He stressed that the Duke and Duchess will not be interacting with patients or even visiting the Foothills Hospital. "Our research and our tours can never interfere with patient care," Dr. Baylis said.
The W21C actually has two distinct sites. The innovation centre is on the university campus while there is a 36-bed ward in the hospital where adult internal medicine patients are treated. They are patients with "multi-system disease" meaning they can have, for example, heart disease, kidney failure and a serious infection.
The W21C ward features only private rooms with private bathrooms. The "one bum per toilet rule" has helped reduce the infection rate on the ward by 75 per cent.
Dr. Ghali said that technologies tested in the simulation lab are also used in the living lab that is the ward. For example, the beds are specially designed to minimize pressure ulcers (bed sores) and equipped with sophisticated motion sensors that can prevent patients from wandering and falling. (Broken hips from falls are one of the leading causes of death in hospitals.)
The W21C ward also features rolling cart with laptops and monitoring equipment so nurses and physicians can do their charting and research at the bedside, and even call-up patient X-rays and tests for them to see.
"We do a bunch of stuff that goes beyond technology," Dr. Ghali said. "Communication is important and so are the human factors."
It should be noted, too, that an integral part of what the Duke and Duchess will do during the royal tour is public relations for Canada. Aside from the fancy technology, a reason W21C was chosen is that it is a model for co-operation in health care and research – funding in equal parts by Ottawa, Alberta and private sector.
"It's neat when government stimulates innovation," Dr. Ghali said. "I hope that aspect gets some attention, too."
Schedule of events for royal couple's visit
Highlights of William and Kate's Canadian itinerary:
Thursday, June 30
Arrive at Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport.
Visits to National War Memorial, Government House.
Friday, July 1
Visits to Canadian Museum of Civilization, Canada Day events on Parliament Hill.
Saturday, July 2
Events at Government House, Canadian War Museum.
Depart Ottawa for Montreal
Events at Sainte-Justine University (Children's) Hospital Centre; Institut de tourisme et d'hotellerie du Quebec.
Depart for Quebec City aboard HMCS Montreal.
Sunday, July 3
Events in Quebec City area
Depart Quebec City for Charlottetown.
Monday, July 4
Events in Charlottetown, Dalvay by the Sea, Summerside.
Depart Summerside for Yellowknife
Tuesday, July 5
Events at Yellowknife's Somba K'e Civic Plaza, legislative assembly
Depart by float plane for Blachford Lake; events at Blachford Lake.
Wednesday, July 6
Thursday, July 7
Arrive in Calgary; visits to Ward of the 21st Century Research and Innovation Centre, BMO Centre for a reception hosted by Prime Minister Stephen Harper; Calgary Stampede activities.
Friday, July 8
Visits to Bow Valley College (Calgary Stampede Parade), ENMAX Conservatory/Calgary Zoo, Calgary Rotary Challenger Park.
Depart Calgary airport for Los Angeles