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.

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