Thursday, November 05, 2015

Recent Social Robotics Conferences

In the past couple of weeks, I've been fortunate enough to attend a couple of conferences concerned with social robotics - one of the main foci of my research work. Attending conferences is always an enlightening experience for a range of reasons - catching up with familiar faces, meeting new ones, and getting new insights and perspectives on various aspects of my work.

The first of these was a new conference, called New Friends. It is generally focused on social (though not always) robots for therapy and education applications, though the majority of work seemed to be more related to therapy, with quite a number of practitioners present, in addition to the more robotics-oriented researchers and organisations. As the first iteration, it was relatively small, though I am intrigued to see how it develops: for now, the second edition has been arranged to take place in Barcelona next year. I presented a short paper on some ongoing work I'm conducting on the potential use of touchscreens to characterise behaviour of children with ASD as they interact with a robot. If you're interested, you can find the paper here (paper number 27 in the oral sessions section). The abstract is as follows:
Robots are finding increasing application in the domain of ASD therapy as they provide a number of advantageous properties such as replicability and controllable expressivity. In this abstract we introduce a role for touchscreens that act as mediating devices in therapeutic robot-child interactions. Informed by extensive work with neurotypical children in educational contexts, an initial study using a touchscreen mediator in support of robot assisted ASD therapy was conducted to examine the feasibility of this approach, in so doing demonstrating how this application provides a number of technical and potentially therapeutic advantages.
The second conference was the International Conference on Social Robotics, a far more established conference, this time in its seventh iteration. Bigger, but not by much, this conference does cover a wide range of topics and approaches, with nominally social robots being the common factor. Both the PhD students I co-supervise presented papers (which can be found here and here), which was great, and which seemed to be received well. I myself presented at the WONDER workshop some random thoughts squished into the semblance of a coherent argument about the wider implications of robots in classrooms. The paper can be found here, with the following abstract:
Robots are being increasingly used in schools by researchers keen to assess how they may be used to facilitate learning and provide support. Based on 15 school experiment visits at 9 different schools in the U.K., we outline our observations, specifically focusing on the broader implications of robots in the classroom primarily from the perspective of the teacher. We then outline the basis for future research considerations in HRI, centred around the three themes of pedagogy, methodology, and ethics. For further application of robotics to education, we suggest that these three themes need to form a central part of continuing research.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Social HRI Summer School: talk on experimental challenges

I'm in Aland, Finland, at the moment taking part in the 2nd Summer School on Social Human-Robot Interaction (the first one took place in Cambridge in 2013). We're at the end of the first day, and what a fascinating first day it has been. Great talks from Tony Belpaeme, David Vernon and Yiannis Demiris. Between these I played support-act, and filled a slot in the programme with some background and observations on performing HRI experiments. The title/abstract of my talk:

"Experimental HRI: a wander through the challenges"
Running HRI experiments is difficult. Running HRI experiments outside of the lab, in the real world, can introduce even more difficulties. Having to deal with real people's quirks and foibles just adds to the challenges! However, there is so much of interest in doing just that: the development of better social robots, and to support the creation of robotic assistants and tools that can help people in their daily lives.
In this talk, an overview will be given of some of the constraints and trade-offs that may be encountered when implementing and running HRI experiments, but also of the opportunities that arise, and effects that can be taken advantage of. Examples from Child-Robot Interaction studies will serve to highlight these, including robots to help children learn, and running experiments in schools and hospitals.
Some of these issues may already be familiar or be intuitive, and will certainly be non-exhaustive, but the intention is to outline the basis of a toolkit of experimental HRI considerations that can be thrown at any attempts to release experiments into 'the wild'.

Monday, December 15, 2014

New Frontiers in Human-Robot Interaction CFP

I'm involved in the organisation of a symposium that will be held in April 2015: New Frontiers in Human-Robot Interaction. Part of the AISB 2015 convention in Canterbury (U.K.), this symposium seeks to bring together HRI researchers to present and discuss their work in the context of ongoing and emerging challenges in the field. It will be a two-day event, which will be held between the 20th and 22nd of April 2015 (the actual two days within that have yet to be confirmed).

In previous years there has been an emphasis on facilitating discussions on the various topics raised by the speakers, and this year is no different. There will be a couple of keynote talks, a range of talks based on accepted papers, and panel sessions - all interspersed with ample time to pick up and discuss the issues that come up. I went to the symposium last year, and found it an enjoyable and thought-provoking event. I therefore (somewhat predictably perhaps!) thoroughly recommend it.

We would be very happy to encourage anyone in the field to submit a paper - indeed, even those from outside the field if they have something interesting/relevant to say! Please see the submissions page for more instructions. And then when you would eventually like to submit a paper, then you can use our submission system (hosted by EasyChair).

Looking forward to seeing you at the symposium!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


At the beginning of this month, I formally started work on the EU FP7 DREAM project (although the project itself started in April this year). Given that ALIZ-E finished at the end of August, this fit very well for me personally, as it means that I am able to stay in Plymouth. It is coordinated by the University of Skovde (Sweden), with Plymouth (PI Tony Belpaeme) as one of seven partners who between us cover a wide range of expertise. There are two standard robot platforms that will be used as part of the project: the Aldebaran Nao (with which I have plenty of experience in ALIZ-E), and Probo (a green soft-bodied and trunked robot developed by VUB), although the Nao will be the primary focus of development.

(From the nice new flashy project website) The DREAM project...
...will deliver the next generation robot-enhanced therapy (RET). It develops clinically relevant interactive capacities for social robots that can operate autonomously for limited periods under the supervision of a psychotherapist. DREAM will also provide policy guidelines to govern ethically compliant deployment of supervised autonomy RET. The core of the DREAM RET robot is its cognitive model which interprets sensory data (body movement and emotion appearance cues), uses these perceptions to assess the child’s behaviour by learning to map them to therapist-specific behavioural classes, and then learns to map these child behaviours to appropriate robot actions as specified by the therapists.
My work on this will be on the (robot) cognitive and behavioural aspects of this goal. While this is a slight departure from my memory-centred work in ALIZ-E, it remains in the context of child-robot interaction, retains a focus on application-focused development (though for autistic children rather than diabetic children), and maintains an emphasis on achieving autonomous operation (although in the context of supervised interactions). There is an exciting programme of aims and goals in place, and a very good group of partner institutions, so I'm looking forward to it!