International travel may still be curtailed due to the global pandemic, but anyone can time-travel around the world using free teletours on the Flyover Zone platform. Flyover Zone, a virtual tourism company, was founded by Indiana University Professor of Informatics Bernard Frischer. Frischer is a digital archaeologist who, among many other projects, has led a collaboration between IU and the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy, to digitize the museum’s ancient artifacts and sculptures in 3D. He founded Flyover Zone to take his study of virtual heritage from an academic setting to a broader international public. The app and website allow virtual travelers to explore ancient cultural and historic sites that have been digitally reconstructed to look as they originally did many thousands of years ago. Currently, the platform offers experiences of the ancient ruins of Rome, the villa of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, chariot racing, and most recently, the grand Roman temple ruins in the ancient city of Baalbek in Lebanon. At Baalbek today, Frischer says, there are only the sandy ruins of some of the biggest temples the Romans ever built, but using the “Baalbek Reborn: Temples” tour, people can see the ruins spring to life as they appeared in the third century. Highlights of the tour include the sanctuary of Jupiter, one of the largest temple complexes of the Roman world, and the shrines called the Temple of Bacchus, the Temple of Venus, and the Temple of the Muses. Flyover Zone’s virtual tours are immersive and interactive, giving participants the chance to hear experts explain what they are seeing. But while the Flyover Zone virtual reality tours let visitors see the ancient world from their laptop, smartphone, or VR device, Frischer says the teletours are not meant to discourage real-world travel. He says virtual tourism is not designed to replace real-world tourism, but to enhance it.
In other news, whether we realize it or not, as we use devices like smart watches or treadmills that collect health data, we’re generating the type of big data that helps researchers like Wendy Miller develop interventions to improve patient care and quality of life. Miller, a professor in IUPUI’s School of Nursing, uses artificial intelligence to find the true patient voice in big data, learning about patient concerns that are not yet captured in the scientific literature. Currently, Miller is working with IU colleagues to develop an online, personalized platform designed to improve the self-management behaviors of people living with epilepsy. The tool will allow patients to curate their own information, while also learning skills to help manage their epilepsy. Working with IU’s Kinsey Institute, Miller has looked specifically at relationship satisfaction among people with epilepsy, finding that when people with epilepsy are more satisfied with their intimate relationships, they are also more likely to manage their condition better. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Miller also used AI and big data to capture the voices of nurses who served on the frontlines of the pandemic as they shared about their experiences on Twitter -- information that can help hospitals better prepare for the next time such an outbreak occurs. In 2020, Miller’s research found that nursing was being talked about in military terms on social networks. She’s now working on a follow-up study to categorize how talk about nursing has changed, including looking back 100 years to see if the same types of terms were being used during the 1918 flu pandemic. Overall, Miller says, big data and AI research tools are instrumental to answering a wide range of questions in health research.