A University of Texas at Arlington computer science researcher is developing a robotic system to help people with spinal cord injuries perform everyday tasks, and she’s involving members of the UTA Movin’ Mavs wheelchair basketball team in the effort.
Fillia Makedon, a distinguished professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, received a $218,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Disability and Rehabilitation Engineering (DARE) program. The Collaborative Research: DARE: A Personalized Assistive Robotic System that Assesses Cognitive Fatigue in Persons with Paralysis project represents a collaboration with Professor Maria Kyrarini of Santa Clara University, who received a similarly large grant to find her research.
“Assistant robots can play an important role in supporting people with disabilities at home by improving independence and everyday quality of life,” Makedon said. “For example, a robot can assist a person with motor disabilities to complete a task such as preparing lunch or getting ready for a meeting or work. That would be a huge plus for older people who need assistance but are not ready or unwilling to move into a full-fledged assisted living facility.”
Makedon’s goal is to develop a personalized assistance robot system, which she has dubbed Intelligent Robotic Cooperation for Safe Assistance (iRCSA), that can detect, assess, and respond to a person’s level of cognitive exhaustion during tasks such as cooking. To accomplish these human-robot collaboration (HRC) tasks, Makedon and her team will develop a multisensory system that collects physiological data such as facial expressions of the human teammate during an HRC task. The system then applies advanced machine learning/deep learning methods to automatically assess the person’s cognitive fatigue.
“Based on the cognitive fatigue assessment, the iRCSA system will adjust the robot’s behavior to provide personalized support,” Makedon said. “We will develop human-robot collaboration scenarios where a paraplegic person and a robot can easily work together to perform everyday tasks.
“For the design, development and evaluation of iRCSA, we will take a participatory action research approach by involving students suffering from spinal cord injuries in the system design. UTA’s Movin Mavs basketball team will participate in the project from the start. Their valuable insights and feedback will be critical to ensure the adoption and usability of the proposed system.”
Hong Jiang, Wendell H. Nedderman Endowed Professor and Chair of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, said Makedon’s project can greatly help people with spinal cord injuries or mobility difficulties.
“Collecting and using data that could be immediately used to help people has the potential to transform lives,” Jiang said. “This grant makes that important connection between data analysis and helping people.”
Makedon, who joined UT Arlington in 2006, has received numerous NSF grants for research projects in human-computer interaction, human-robot interaction, pervasive computing, machine learning, computational multimedia, disability computing, and cognitive computing.
She currently directs the Heracleia Human-Centered Computing Laboratory, which applies advanced artificial intelligence methods to develop technologies for human behavior monitoring, risk assessment and rehabilitation. She is a member of several editorial boards of journals and chair of the international conference PETRA. She is currently supervising a large team of PhD students, several research students and masters students.