Social & Cognitive Robotics Research Laboratory

The “Social & Cognitive Research Robotics Laboratory”, Sharif University of Technology, Center of Excellence in Design, Robotics, and Automation

The cross-disciplinary research group members include expertise in the areas of robotics, mechatronics, applied linguistics, cognitive sciences, and language/sound/ image processing:

Dr. Ali Meghdari, Dr. Minoo Alemi, Dr. HamidReza Pour Etemad, Dr. Bahram Vazirnejad, Dr. GholamReza Vossoughi, Mr. Alireza Taheri, Ms. Maryam Ghazi Saeedi, Ms. Nasim Mahboub Basiri, Mr. Arman Karimian, Mr. Majid Abedi, Mr. Ehsan Saffari, Mr. Ehsan Zakipoor, Mr. Mobin Khamooshi, Mr. Mostafa Asadzade, Mr. Mahdi Hatefipour, Mr. Amin Naghdloo, Mr. Amir Kashanian, Mr. Alireza Siyamy, Mr. Ali Ghorbandaeipour, Mr. Hojat Behrouzbeh.

Summary:

For over 50 years, a great deal of effort has been made to improve human efficiency by utilizing robots. Up until recently, researchers and industrialist believed the function of robotic technologies was comprised solely of its utilitarian role in the increase of qualitative and quantitative production. However, new improvements in robotic sciences and technology have opened new possibilities for effective uses in many new fields in social, cultural, therapeutic and economic terms. These possibilities have resulted in collaboration among humanities and engineering scientists and introduced the new science-research cross-disciplinary field of “Social Robotics”. Similar to personal computers, robots were developed to meet specific purposes and needs. However, due to advancements in technology and cost reductions the potential for new and innovative robotic usages in various educational, therapeutic, social and cultural areas are becoming possible. Building on our base in robotic education and research at Sharif University of Technology we decided to establish and launch the “social robotics” research laboratory with our focus on improving the quality of education, therapy, and culture by studying and developing novel ways robots may serve schools, rehabilitation centers for children and youngsters with pervasive developmental disorders (Autism) , and offering a range of robotic services to facilitate the elderly and the sick of our country.

As an example, we are currently exploring the design and application of humanoid robots such as the NAO, by the Aldebaran Company, as a modern tool for first and second language teaching (Robot Assisted Language Learning-RALL) in middle and high schools. For easier use in Iran this robot was renamed to a Persian name as “Nima”. This research is being conducted at one school in Tehran by a cross-disciplinary group including experts in TEFL and robotics with the goal of studying the pace, quantity, and retention of robotic assisted foreign language learning. Over the last two decades, with the proliferation of computers and mobile devices, Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) and Mobile Assisted Language Learning (MALL) have been in the limelight for improving second language instructional theories facilitated by new technologies. Robots not only have the features and interfaces already being employed in CALL/MALL, but are also capable of autonomous movements, visual/voice recognition, and physical /environmental interactions when equipped with various sensors. Although computers or mobile devices are capable of nonverbal communication by employing cyber characters/ videos, robots are notable in their capacity for nonverbal communication, such as facial expressions, gestures, and actions, while coexisting with users in real environments. Additionally, robots are different from computers and mobile devices as they possess friendly facades and are capable of successfully maintaining social relations. Therefore, using “RALL” in teaching a second language can be considered as the full-fledged version of “CALL” and “MALL”.  

 

Image 1: The robot (NAO) “Nima” in Iran, and a model of a “RALL” class.

Other research areas currently being studied in the laboratory are:

-   The design and application of humanoid robots as a therapist assistant in autism diagnosis and therapy”. For this purpose, the humanoid robot (ALICE) developed by the Hanson company is being utilized. This robot has extraordinary capabilities in facial expressions and gestures and has been recommended for research in the Autism area. For the ease of Iranian users this robot has been renamed “Mina”. Autism is diagnosed in behavioral terms by three qualitative disorders: impaired social interaction, impaired social communication and impaired imagination and social creativity. Autistic children experience dysfunction in originating and reacting to joint attention. Research indicates that unlike their ability to interact with other people, autistic children enjoy working with computers, smart toys, and robots. Most interact with technology quite naturally. As a result, employing robots in autism diagnosis and therapy could be therapeutic and a starting point for a whole new line of research in our country.

 

Image 2: The robot (ALICE) “Mina” and (NAO) “Nima” and the Social Robotics research group.

 -   The design and application of humanoid robots as an educator assistant in teaching religious concepts and Quranic sciences in middle and high schools. To add a little modern day spice to religious classes in schools and to improve the qualitative amount and retention while learning religious concepts, the design and application of humanoid robots as an educator assistant in the educational-cultural area is another research topic in social robotics which is currently being discussed under the title of “design and implementation  of movement patterns of praise in a humanoid robot and applying it in teaching religious concepts and Quranic sciences in schools” 

Image 3: The “Nima” robot teaching daily prayers (Namaz).

-    Human-robot interaction, face and voice recognition by robots, robot-human-internet interaction, human-machine interaction, and story teller and comedian robots (for entertainment) are some of the other research areas currently under investigation in this laboratory. 

  

 

 Image 4: The “Nima” robot performing entertainment as well as English teaching activities.

-   In another study, the effect of a humanoid robot (NAO), capable of communicating through speaking and body gestures, was evaluated in distress reduction of pediatric patients suffering from cancer. Distress is a multifaceted undesirable experience and can be a caused by many reasons, such as the assiduousness of treatment process or the limitations the affliction brings about for patients. Anxiety, depression, and anger were selected from different aspects of Distress, as the outcome parameters of study. With respect to these factors, eight therapeutic sessions were designed and held, with the robot being at center, as an assistant to a psychologist expert in kids’ problems. Each session was centered on a particular issue that was among patients’ main worries, such as fear of injection, the reason of their disease, and a salubrious food plan. It was expected that the baby tone of NAO and the sense of empathy it simulated, would elevate the level of children’s cooperation and the efficacy of intervention. Eleven patients took part in this project (from MARKAZ-E-TEBBI KOODAKAN, and MAHAK medical center) and the final results showed that the level of aimed parameters was decreased meaningfully.

   

 

Acknowledgment
We would like to thank the National Elites Foundation and the Research and Technology Vice-Presidency of the Sharif University of Technology for all their financial and spiritual support.

References:

A. Meghdari, M. Alemi, M. Ghazisaedy, A.R. Taheri, A. Karimian, and M. Zandvakili, "Applying Robots as Teaching Assistant in EFL Classes at Iranian Middle-Schools", Proceeding of the 2013 International Conference on Education and Modern Educational Technologies, 2013, Venice, Italy. PDF

 

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