Alex Mihailidis, PhD, PEng
Born: 1974 in Toronto, Ontario
Entry into the AT field: September, 1995 (as an undergrad student working on a thesis)
How I got into the field
I was introduced to the field through Dr. Geoff Fernie. I was looking for an undergraduate thesis topic while in the 4th year of my Mechanical Engineering degree, and Dr. Fernie had a project available on the design of AT to help elderly travellers. The topic fascinated me for some reason and so I took it on. The rest is history as they say.
Important event(s) that influenced my early decision to get into the assistive technology field
Learning about the AT field and in particular about technology to support older adults from Dr. Fernie really set me on my path. It was this initial encounter that got me interested in the field. Later on in my graduate work I met an individual who was taking care of his wife who had dementia. During this meeting he discussed the possibility of using technology to support her at home. This discussion inspired me to further develop my research into the use of technology and smart home systems for people with dementia.
Why I chose the AT field
I really wanted to apply my engineering skills to an area that would help people. Immediately after finishing my undergraduate degree I worked for Chrysler. Four months of that convinced me that my engineering skills could be used in a better way.
My inspiration and mentor
See answers above about Dr. Fernie.
Why the field is important to me and the central focus of my work
My whole career and research program is centred around rehab engineering and AT. All of my projects are about developing new technologies to help older adults and their caregivers.
My memorable successes and greatest contributions to the field
My initial work on the COACH prompting system for older adults with dementia is really seen as one of the pioneering technologies and research projects in my field. It is still references today and when I travel people still bring it up with me as one of the inspirations for them to also be in this field.
My greatest accomplishment would be the training of new researchers and students in this field.
I have trained over 50 new people, many of whom are still working in the field in some capacity.
My most memorable failures
Too many to describe. Research is all about failures and learning from them.
Significant changes and advances in the field since I first entered it
The biggest change that I have seen in the increase in the use of ICT (Information and Communications Technology). When I first came to RESNA, I was the only one presenting on the use of smart home systems, artificial intelligence, etc and now it is all around!
The advances and use of new concepts from computer science, such as artificial intelligence and computer vision have really started to play a big role in the field of AT. These new advances are allowing us to develop new and intelligent systems that are useable by a wider variety of client.
On the future of rehabilitation engineering and assistive technology
Robotics is starting to become pervasive in the AT field and I feel will continue to play a more significant role as they become cheaper and easier to obtain. Almost anyone today can buy a simple robot and program it to do amazing things.
My role within RESNA and what it gave back to me
I am now a Past President of RESNA. RESNA has been my primary professional affiliation throughout my career and has taught me not only invaluable lessons in the fields of RE and AT, but also has helped me to learn and grow my leadership skills. There are such wonderful people within the organization from whom I have learned many a value lesson.
On the future of RESNA
RESNA needs to continue to play a significant role in growing our field. RESNA has the capability to be a leader in the development of new leaders in the field and in helping to establish a strong international presence.
My suggestions for those just entering the field
Get involved as much as possible. Your experiences in RESNA will only add value to your careers.