This NSF Computing Research Infrastructure grant supports the acquisition and maintenance of infrastructure for our socially assistive robotics (SAR)
research. The goal of SAR research is to develop autonomous robotic technology for augmenting assistive therapy. Our approach is to identify assistive therapies (such as post-stroke rehabilitation or socialization interventions for children with autism spectrum disorders) where human intervention can effectively be augmented with a robot in a socially assistive way. Our goal is not to replace the human caregiver in a given therapeutic situation, but instead to add a robot as part of an augmented/enhanced therapy regimen.
An area of growing interest is to our project is using a robot to compliment Constraint-Induced Therapy (CIT) for post-stroke rehabilitation. In this task, a human will give social encouragement to a user to maintain a rigorous therapy regimen. We are working to develop a robotic system (including lightweight motion-capture sensors) that can be used for effective monitoring and encouragement of a patient. Our work to date includes evaluating the performance of a robot in a rehabilitation environment, in collaboration with the USC Keck School of Medicine and the department of Biokinesiology, as well as exploring the role of personality matching for encouraging compliance with a therapy regimen. In addition, we are developing our upper-torso humanoid robot to imitate human motion observed using our motion-capture system.
Another area that we are developing is robot-augmented interventions for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The chief deficit of children with ASD is social and communication disruption. However, it has been observed that children with ASD interact, socially and communicably with robots in ways that they do not with other people. We have developed a robot system (including our upper-torso humanoid robot, and robot-control architecture) that can act as a catalyst for social interaction in an intervention setting. We are collaborating with Childrens Hospital Los Angeles and have already obtained pilot results for this research, which have utilized the infrastructure supported by this grant.
Finally, we are also exploring the use of socially assistive robots for aiding cognitive and physical exercises for individuals suffering from Alzheimer's Disease and other forms of dementia. We are collaborating with Silverado Senior Living and have also already obtained pilot results for this research, which have utilized the infrastructure supported by this grant.
We use this project as a way of inspiring and encouraging young scientists and engineers. This project supports the work of numerous graduate students, post-doctoral assistants, and undergraduate students. A significant portion of these students became interested in this project specifically because of the applied nature of this work, and the potential benefits to the therapeutic community.
Because the described work is inherently interdisciplinary and involves human-subjects evaluation, in the last year we have obtained internal review board (IRB) approvals for the above-described work for three areas: autism spectrum disorders, elder care (dementia) and stroke. All involved personnel (undergraduate, graduate, postdocs, and the faculty PI) were trained and certified.