USC News

Menu Search
Science/Technology

USC joins $10 million effort to build social robots

Maja Matarić, vice dean for research and professor at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering
Maja Matarić, vice dean for research and professor at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, will serve as co-principal investigator. (Photo/Philip Channing)

The Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering at the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded $10 million on April 3 to a team that includes USC researchers as one of four new Expeditions in Computing awards.

Over the next five years, the team led by Yale University will work to develop a new type of sophisticated, socially assistive robot to help children learn to read, overcome cognitive disabilities and perform physical exercise.

The aim of the federally funded effort, part of one of the largest grants ever awarded by the NSF, is to create self-adapting machines capable of cultivating long-term, interpersonal relationships and assisting preschool-age children with educational and therapeutic goals.

Robots used in the project will not replace human caregivers or teachers. Instead they will supplement them, working with children in need of individual attention. Scientists will attempt to model the dynamic nature of social interaction and develop novel algorithms that endow the robots with an array of behavioral options.

The video above is the first episode in USC Viterbi’s “Inventing the Future” series, revealing glimpses of life in the future.  In this video, Mataric’s work with socially assistive robots is featured, showing us what life might look like with robot companions who can monitor, coach and motivate – not replacing, but bridging the gaps in human care.  For more information about robotics at USC Viterbi, visit cres.usc.edu.

Maja Matarić, vice dean for research and professor at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, will serve as co-principal investigator (PI) with Cynthia Breazeal of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Brian Scassellati of Yale, who will serve as lead PI.

USC Viterbi assistant professor Fei Sha will provide expertise on machine learning while research associate professor Gisele Ragusa of USC Viterbi and the USC Rossier School of Education will work on bringing the results of the project to preschool classrooms.

“I am thrilled to have the importance and promise of this work recognized by the Expedition in Computing award,” Matarić said. “The term ‘socially assistive robots’ was defined in our Interaction Lab at USC in 2004 [by David Feil-Seifer, now a postdoctoral fellow at Yale]. Less than a decade later, it has grown into a recognized and expanded community attracting top-notch computer scientists, roboticists and human-machine interaction researchers. It is especially satisfying to receive significant, long-term support to pursue research on socially assistive robotics for children.”

In total, the team comprises 17 principal investigators from four universities – USC, Yale, MIT and Stanford – representing a diverse group of disciplines, including computer science, robotics, educational theory and developmental psychology.

For more information, visit robotshelpingkids.com

The robots are also part of the 2012 USC Robotics Open House, held on April 12, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. in Ronald Tutor Hall, 4th Floor (Hedco Neuroscience Bldg., HNB 10.)

More stories about: ,

USC joins $10 million effort to build social robots

Top stories on USC News