Thursday, 2 April 2015

Autism - Social Robots - Robolution.Me

Few weeks back, I met a family with a 12 year old son who has been diagnosed with autism. In the afternoon we spent together, I noticed that he was most content when playing on his iPad. Similar thing happened with one of my friend's brother, who has been diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy.

Many researchers around the world debated/researched/expressed mixed opinions on the use of natural attraction to technology to help autistic children.

My observation is that devices like IPads can appear to help draw autistic kids out of their shell, but sometimes that attraction is not a good thing. Kids with autism ignore social interactions, so they often feel very comfortable with computers, because using them is a singular activity. They can sit with an iPad for a whole day and never look up even once.

I think the real trick is to leverage the attraction to technology into an activity to make the child more social.

Many autistic children have difficulty interpreting communication keys we take for granted. Facial expression, voice intonation, nuances in spoken pitch and speed can all become bewildering and act as a barrier to social interaction.

What if we remove some of these factors to allow the child to experience the basic elements of social interaction? Remove the facial expression confusion and use repeatable, consistent vocal patterns. Human Therapist are not always consistent and are not always available, and this confuses the children.

Photo Credits: From www.allaboutautismbni.com
I believe that a social robot can help, a robot with a consistent action and speech. This can allow the child to start to interact, and the other elements can be gradually reintroduced as they grow in confidence.

By developing robotic behaviors that mimic human movements and interactions, and offer rewards for social interaction, a positive reinforcement can be provided to the autistic child. This can lead to improved social interaction by breaking down the 'fear' element the child experiences and encourages them to be more extrovert than introvert.

If it sounds a little too good to be true let's just say we are at the start of this journey. There is a lot to learn and a lot of paths to travel along.

On this World Autism Awareness Day, I and my Team at Robolution.Me are very much excited to offer our help in creating that environment and to travel that path.

We want to start a small pilot project with 10 kids in Mumbai. We would be very grateful to you or any of your friends who can connect us with Parents,Therapists of these Special Children or to any Special Schools in your locality,

Together we can bring this change.
Join the Robolution, Be the Evolution ...

Monday, 12 May 2014

"To Err is Human" - Have we stopped making mistakes ??


What happened to the saying "To Err is Human" ....

Has the idea of losing made us so vulnerable that we have actually stopped making mistakes. The idea of being wrong in this world means that we are branded as losers as we are often compared to rights of the mighty technology. Since our younger days, the ramifications of potential failure are ingrained in us, and society only enforces these notions even more as we get older.

Technology was dumb when it started out, it is us who moulded it and gave it a character. The role of technology was to express human values and increase human understanding of the human-built world but not to change or influence the actual human behavior.

The human brain is more likely to remember cringe-worthy times than anything else. Otherwise, why else do I recall nothing about my history class on Mughal Dynasty but can recount every minute detail of the time I answered a question on Aurangajeb's Father? Believe it or not, however, this selective memory is quite beneficial; making mistakes can actually be a key to success.

In the 1930's, educational reformer John Dewey said, ‘Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.’ Maybe it is time to bring back the error in the classroom.

But its not just enough to bring back the error, it is also very important to make it look cool. It will never look cool, if a student makes mistakes in front of a teacher. In this scenario, technology as a companion can help. Imagine a robot, which cheers you up or rewards you when u give right answers and even encourages you towards the right answer when you make mistakes.

Recently we conducted a Knowledge Session at St.Jude India Child Care Center at Kharghar, St.Jude provides a safe and clean environment for children to recuperate during their Cancer treatment. These children, along with their families, travel to Mumbai from distant towns and villages, in the hope of being cured. Please visit their website at  http://www.stjudechild.org/.

At the session, we asked children to participate in different exercises with the robot "Abhirami".

"Abhirami" fell while performing a routine because of the slippery floor. Whenever she falls, she takes her own sweet time to wake up and stand.

During this we were really surprised by the comments we got from some of the kids. One of the girl from the group asked, whether Abhirami was tired. Then there were other comments like, since she was tired, she needs rest and that's why she is sleeping now.

We were really surprised by their show of empathy towards the robot. We dig a little bit deeper and understood the real power of human-robot interaction.

Robots don't intimidate children, they even help them to understand better. This context of not getting afraid to make mistakes actually makes it cool to make mistakes again. The robots provide instant feedback and the students don’t get upset when something goes wrong, but they instead say, ‘What happened?’ This gives them the opportunity to make hundreds of mistakes in minutes.

Let us bring robots inside the classroom, let us bring mistakes back to the classroom ....

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Bring Out the Robot Inside You!


Cyborg Art by Arisusandasu
So is there really a robot inside you ?

Just Imagine, you wake up everyday, and start your day by brushing your teeth. What will happen if you ever forget to brush your teeth?

You will have this feeling in your brain that you have missed something and than your brain keeps on bugging you and will in-turn make your mind uncomfortable. Ever wonder how is that a simple task like not brushing your teeth, can ruin your entire day ?

Brushing your teeth is one of your most regular habits you have since your childhood. You have been trained by your parents, society to adapt to that habit.

Now let us define a habit,
A habit is a way of behaving that is repeated so often that it no longer involves conscious thought.

A habit can be good or bad under different scenarios, circumstances and people's perceptions. Frankly habits are directly linked to people's personalities. A change of habit needs a lot of conscious training and the process can change your personality but it is highly impossible to track personality change.

Ok, now enough of human persona, lets talk about robot persona.
oh yeah, robots do have personalities, but they use it purely for functional reasons on pre-determined inputs and outputs. But they can't function well, when the situation or data is unclear.

Humans are very adaptable to conditions like that and that adaptability again depends on the personality. So is it possible to make the robots adaptable like humans. In a parent-child relationship, child observes and learns the basics of life from his parent. In the similar manner, humans can do the same thing with the robots, and give them social cues and small size scenarios of their life and teach them the basics.

Our Coverage in Mumbai Mirror, 3rd Jan 13
Now lets see this the other way around, when the humans are teaching skills to the robot, will there be a situation where humans can retrospect on their habits and personality. For example, if parents use bad language in front of kids, and when the kid also uses the same bad language, the parent will certainly change his behavior.

In the similar manner, while putting yourself inside the robot, you will certainly introspect your behavior patterns. Parents become better students when they teach their kids, likewise anyone can become a better version of themselves when they try to teach a robot about themselves.

Lets start simple, lets us give your emotional patterns to the robot i.e teach the robot how you show happiness, scary, sadness etc  and see the difference.

If you want to give it a try, we would love to invite to our research lab.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Robots and Traditions - A Personal Robotics View

video


We often view personal robots from the perspective of a master-slave relationship. I think this view really limits our vision of how personal robots can be useful for humans. If we can conceive this relationship as cooperation instead of master-slave, this would be more beneficial for both the user and the robot. Neither are all humans are perfect and nor all the robots completely dumb. Humans and robots need to help each other. This idea forms the core concept of our “Robot Companion Project - A Robot for Every Phase of Human Life”.


Robots can do wonderful things, if fed by human intellect. For this to happen, humans need to have the patience of teaching a robot, just as they are patient while teaching their children. But in this fast moving world, we tend to be preoccupied with business and technology, and often have no time and no interest to replicate the traditional knowledge and customs to the next generation. Thus age-old ways, age-old traditions, and anything that is age-old and culturally valuable is either forgotten or preached in a very bad or wrong manner. Robots are very good at doing repetitive tasks, while humans are always impatient and often do the same repetitive things in different ways. Our basic intention is to use robots to help solving this problem. We teach the robots once, and let the robots teach and motivate the next generation to take up these customs many times over.


When we talk about India, the first thing that comes to the mind is Yoga. Ancient Indians started their day with a salutation to the Sun God - “Surya Namaskara”. This form of Yoga has 12 different positions called “asanas”. 12 different syllables or words called “mantras” have to be pronounced with each “asana”. Using the robot to teach Yoga has many advantages; the robot looks human, has a very easy-to-use interface, looks very attractive, and because of all this it connects very easily with humans. We were successful in implementing the entire “Surya Namaskara”; the music really adds to the positive effect. Please watch the video to see Nao perform "Surya Namaskara".


I will soon reproduce many other Indian traditions for the benefit of the new world and the next generation to see and remember these traditions. And we will soon be working on skill exchange programs between Abhirami and students. The idea is that many students will get access to Abhirami and can teach it different skills. In return, these students would perfect their own skills.