Saturday, September 13, 2008

Historical Perspective Essay-VChaisson

Theory and Research in HCI – Historical Perspective Essay
9-13-08 Valerie Chaisson

Even before the 1920’s, we have been creating, designing and developing calculators. Vannevar Bush worked toward the evolution of computers, leading science and technology in the direction of what we have today. By 1959, researchers at the MIT Servomechanisms lab were demonstrating computer-assisted manufacturing. In 1957, at the St. Erik International Trade Fair on Automation in Stockholm, Sweden, the Planet Company had commercialized their Universal Transfer Device (UTD). They marketed it as PLANETBOT. It was hydraulically powered, and the polar coordinate arm had five axes of motion, which allowed for 25 individual movements. Eventually, they sold eight units to General Motors, which used the robot to handle hot castings in their radiator production operation. Though this model was redesigned many times for durability, the process and idea had arrived.
I believe this was a turning point for the greater good for all humanity. Not only were we inspired to automate, create and press forward, we learned by trial and error how to progress. There is a unique role with-in the field of HCI. This is the role to create and build a Human-Robot to interact with children who have Autism. Autism is a developmental disability that impacts individuals. It can impact their social function in areas of empathy, basic interaction and communication. The differences within each individual can vary greatly. There are some who can function at a ‘high level’ with only some delays in communication and socialization. While others function on a ‘low functioning’ spectrum and have a greater challenge of interacting. Other characteristics of Autism include, but are not limited to, repetitiveness, preferences to being alone, spinning objects and/or obsessive attachments. While there are many people studying this topic, I’d like to discuss a few that I found impressive.
One person who is on the front line of research and awareness in this topic is Dr. Gregory Abowd. Dr. Abowd is the Distinguished Professor in the college of computing and GVU Center at GA Tech. He is also a co-director of the Aware Home Research Initiative. His research explores both the human-centered and technology-driven research themes. Since 1995, he has led several influential computing projects; including Cyberguide, eClass (Classroom 2000), Aware Home, and created tools to support caregivers for children with autism and other developmental disabilities. Dr. Abowd is a co-author of a major textbook on HCI and has published over 150 peer reviewed scientific articles in the area of Ubiquitous Computing, HCI and software engineering. Not only is Dr. Abowd accomplished in his profession, he is also a strong advocate for technology research in relation to autism, and he also serves on the Scientific Advisory Committee for the Cure Autism Now Foundation. He encourages computer scientists to explore the applications of their work to help with the problems of relevance for the community with developmental disabilities.
The President’s report (Vol 15, No.1, July 2005) states in the Health and Nutrition section that autism therapy is bedeviled by unpredictable outcomes. Even with the best behavioral treatments, which are the only ones to have been scientifically demonstrated to work, says Laura Schreibman, who is a professor of psychology and also director of UC San Diego’s Autism Research Program. Dr. Schreibman says that some children can improve, while many families try one thing after another. Months can go by before finding any intervention that is best suited for the child. With that being said however, many more people are trying and gaining ground in this area of research. Joshua Halipern, a student at the University of Illinois is another pioneer in this field as well. Joshua is examining the existing of HCI research on those with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD); he also proposes a new direction for investigation in this area. With HCI, they want to develop new techniques that will use technology that can assist practitioners and parents to teach their children with ASD to be able to talk and develop on a more normal level. A treatment that was started around 1960 by Ivar Lovaas, called ‘applied behavior analysis’ that began to teach children with autism new behaviors thru a technique that relied upon using objects, food and actions as rewards to achieve behavior. Thru trials and sessions, the children eventually learned to respond to the researcher in such a way that they would with people in their environment. This research has drawbacks however, such as requiring many sessions with a trained professional, the time it takes for a practitioner or parent to do the training and finally and most important here is the need for the child to interact with a human being. Many with ASD are anxious, they demonstrate the need to be alone, and if this is the primary way of teaching it does pose many degrees of difficulty for the child with ASD.
HCI researchers have approached ASD in three primary areas. Work by Dr. Abowd and others have explored the benefits of technology to aid the diagnosis process of ASD. Furthermore, they are developing the effects of technological environments and their impact on the children with ASD. Their work uses virtual environments as well as virtual peers. They then try to integrate another person in the room after the child is comfortable with their virtual peer. With the introduction of Human-Robot interaction, the desire here is to encourage the child to ‘play’ with the technology. Thru technological methods of interaction (visual display and physical robots) the child may be able to have comfortable interactions and have a feeling of safety. Furthermore, the goal here is to ultimately let the child, rather than a third-party, have control of their interactions.
The goal here is to help the child with ASD, and any gain to their success should be a milestone in their lives and their families. To further the progress and success here I want to bring attention to Kerstin Dautenhahn and her studies in the area Human-Robot interaction. Since 1998, Kerstin has been working on the ‘AURORA project’ which investigates the use of a robotic platform as a tool for therapy use with children with autism. The Aurora project (Autonomous Robotic Platform as a Remedial Tool for Children with Autism) was started to investigate the use of a robotic platform to aid the children in therapy, mainly in the areas of social interaction and communication. The thought here is that a robot will allow the child to interact in an unrestrained manner. They used a wheeled robotic platform, thinking this is the most familiar and reassuring visual for children since it has similarities with television. Similar settings here will allow the child to be more relaxed. A long-term goal of the Aurora project is to help the educators learn how to interact with the children. The short-term goal – ultimately is for the children to be able to experiment and interact with the robot so we can gauge the response this platform elicits from the kids. Studies like this have allowed the researcher to come to realize that children are comfortable interacting with the robots. This is the basis for a great foundation for further work to be done to develop the robot as a research therapy device. The Aurora project grew from a robot that was mainly a wheeled robot on a platform to a more life-like agent. Kerstin Dautenhahn reports in her proceedings in the 3rd Cognitive Technology Conference CT’99, August, San Francisco, that robots may or may not necessarily have to look like a human. She goes on to argue, that we may not have to make the robot look so human like to be effective in working with children with ASD. The interaction with the human-robot has many benefits here. They use the robot as a remedial toy, this takes up the challenge of bridging the gap between the variety and unpredictability of human social behavior and predictability of the repetitive behavior in which children with ASD prefer, and which can be performed by the mobile robots. The study for a cure or remedy for autism is not new. During the 50s and 60s, a Freudian theory for autism blamed the parents lack of attention and warmth shown to the children. Fortunately this theory has been dismissed along with many other misconceptions. Focusing on what we can do, what is positive is the approach she uses here. The language disorders of children with ASD are widely understood as having cognitive, social and linguistic deficits.
Behavioral approaches use a conditioning technique in structured therapy that would begin with teaching a child to sit in a chair for a specific length of time and make eye contact on command, to imitate motor behaviors of the trainer. This extends to vocal, verbal sounds and words. If progression is made, the child may be able to communicate when asked, what is this, with a ‘this is a cup’. However, this behavior intervention showed little development towards what we do in everyday communication. The robot used in Aurora is used similarly in the turn taking approach of interaction, but the children are free to move around. The main teaching objective is to encourage the child to ‘ask’ in order to help, assistance, food, etc. The interactions with the robot address issues such as; gaining the attention span during interaction with the robot, as compared with other subjects; robot-child eye contact, which can be read by the robot sensors on the front of the robot; a pro-active behavior is given towards the robot to elicit certain behavior and interaction; verbal cues, turn-taking and imitative interaction games and an increase in play and language skills. The success of the Aurora project depends on careful design and investigation of a robot as a social mediator that can help the children with autism get used to different styles of interaction, which are typical for human beings. We can also gain insight from this project in general issues of human-robot interaction. This application for example can show us how the interaction can be exploited in successful social interactions. Many children enjoy interacting with the robot and many efforts were being made to enhance the behaviors that the robot can exhibit. This includes physical and speech recognition as well as a developed vision system will enhance the sensory capabilities of the robot. The vision system is necessary again to access information on the location and movements of the child. It is hoped to develop a robot to become a social buffer for the child, much like a seeing-eye dog helps the blind person.
The humanoid robot can help in many ways. A humanoid body is desirable for face to face communication with another human; also to study hand-eye control, imitation; using them as an interactive agent where humans expect and actually enjoy a natural interface, giving natural gestures in language, eye contact, allowing the robot to explain and express its actions thru facial expressions and story telling. A humanoid robot can make things more interesting for people with physical or learning disabilities who don’t have specific impairments of imagination or social skills.
There is a robot that was developed in 2006 by the Adaptive Systems Research Group at the University of Hertfordshire. They named their beloved child-sized humanoid robot KASPAR (Kinesics And Synchronization in Personal Assistant Robotics). Little KASPAR is used to study human-robot interaction as part of their RobotCub Project. The robot may also be used for developmental studies and interaction games. KASPAR is one of many robots used in the IROMEC project, which shows that an important role of play is beneficial in the study of ASD. The IROMEC projects targets children who are prevented from playing, from either a cognitive, development or physical impairment. It investigates how robotic toys can help discover the range of play, from either solitary to social and cooperative play. They are not looking to have a real life-like robot but one that offers optimal realism. KASPAR has 8 degrees of freedom in his head and neck and 6 degrees of movement in his hands and arms. The face is a silicon mask supported on an aluminum frame. Additionally, it has 2 DOF (drawn on display) eyes fitted with video cameras and his mouth can open and smile. Within the IROMEC research, they will conduct research into how robotic toys can be tailored in becoming social mediators, that allow children with disabilities to play and discover the range of play styles from solitary to social and cooperative play. This will help to prevent dependency and isolation, and will help to develop the potential of new skills learned by robot-supported play. This will help enhance quality of life, social inclusion and learning and therapy. Their goal is to use him as an open-platform for cognitive development research. KASPAR is used in the AURORA project as well.
According to Reeves and Nass (1996) humans will treat computers and media in general as people. The ‘media equation’ is particularly relevant for robots whose appearance stresses realism. Although robots are not part of our daily life like computers are, they do have the power to change our attitude, behavior, motivations and worldview. The ‘media equation’ means to treat as ‘real life’. Do we respond to the media as if it were human? If we ignore the power of outside influences, does it make us more susceptible to them? Reeves and Nass say that media makes us full participants in our own social and natural world. Let us hope that this proves correct for the research with human-robot interaction and children with ASD. It does seem like we have come full circle from the 1920’s development of the PLANETBOT. There are robots being used in operating rooms for surgery even today. There is much to be discovered and undiscovered in this world.

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