Posted October 31, 2008 Atlanta
Research News and Publications
Contact Abby Robinson
Dennis Folds brings his background in human-machine interaction to position
The new chief scientist at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) has an unusual technical background - engineering psychology.
"I have spent my career studying how people interact with and use technology - whether it's simple technology, like a telephone, or complicated technology, like a ship, aircraft or automobile," said Dennis Folds. "Since GTRI researchers frequently develop new technologies, I realize the importance of thinking about how people will use the technology from the beginning of the design process."
Folds earned his Ph.D. in engineering psychology from Georgia Tech in 1987 and he has more than twenty five years of experience in research and development related to human factors engineering. His unique academic background has provided him the opportunity to work with researchers in many of the GTRI laboratories.
As chief scientist, he will meet with current and prospective customers and oversee GTRI's independent research and development (IRAD) program, which fosters exploration and accelerates entry into new research areas. Folds has several ideas for improving the program, including making it easier for researchers in different laboratories to collaborate on projects.
"The IRAD program allows us to expand into hot areas like energy, the environment, biotechnology and sustainable development," explained Folds, who recently succeeded Jeffrey Sitterle as chief scientist.
Another way he hopes to expand cross-laboratory collaboration is by creating 'communities of interest' around technical areas, such as high-performance computing or information security. The groups communicate online or hold weekly or monthly meetings to discuss developments in the field and possible IRAD projects.
As chief scientist, Folds also plans to encourage collaboration with academic faculty at Georgia Tech and increase the number of scholarly publications authored by GTRI researchers.
"While our sponsored projects don't typically require publishing papers, I want to encourage researchers - especially the younger ones - to develop the skills required to write scholarly papers, such as journal articles and conference proceedings, and present their research at conferences," he said.
In addition to his new position as chief scientist, Folds will remain chief of GTRI's Human Systems Integration Division in the Electronic Systems Laboratory. In this position, he leads a variety of research efforts.
The goal of one major research program is to develop training and technical assistance related to the accessibility of electronic and information technology for individuals with disabilities. Folds' research team has examined the ability of persons with disabilities to use items such as photocopiers, ATMs, cell phones, televisions, printers and scanners.
The Division is also the sole independent laboratory authorized to test products for the Ease of Use programs of the U.S. Arthritis Foundation, the Arthritis Society of Canada and Arthritis Australia. The researchers evaluate products based on an arthritis-specific set of accessibility guidelines, as well as user testing by people with arthritis. If a product passes rigorous testing and its manufacturer chooses to participate in the program, the company can use the Arthritis organization's logo in its advertisements and on its packaging.
Additionally, Folds is currently involved in projects to determine the crew requirements for an unmanned aerial vehicle program, to create guidelines for how the military should design and build the next generation expeditionary medical treatment facilities, and to develop better ways to display sonar information.
Since he joined GTRI in 1983, Folds' favorite research project involved transforming a complex older aircraft, which required a three-person crew into a state-of-the-art system that could be successfully flown by a two-person crew.
"We worked on this project with the Royal Australian Navy for 10 years, starting in 1997, and it was a lot of fun to redesign the cockpit of the Super Seasprite helicopter to fit Australia's requirements," he said. "GTRI has the perfect blend of technical know-how and practical understanding of how to make something work and work in a way that's affordable and supportable."
In addition to his roles as chief scientist and division chief, Folds is also a teacher. He frequently leads a three-and-a-half day course on human systems integration. Demand for the course is high - just this year Folds has taught it seven times, with plans to teach it at least three more times before the end of the year.
Folds earned a bachelor's degree in psychology and master's degree in applied psychology from Jacksonville State University. He lives in Carrollton, Georgia with his wife, Renita, and daughters Ria, 17, and Caroline, 16. He also has twin daughters, Jessica and Elizabeth, age 20, who are attending college. Folds' hobbies include vegetable and flower gardening on the 130 acres of property he owns in Carrollton, and playing brass and keyboard instruments.
"It is striking to me how much I enjoy doing what I do at GTRI. I get to do something different every day and I'm constantly learning - I love that," added Folds.
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