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Socially Assistive Robots (SAR)

Socially assistive robots are poised to become a ubiquitous and essential tool in promoting the education and health of a wide range of populations and in the everyday care of individuals with special needs and disabilities.  The need for this technology, which provides assistance through social rather than physical interaction with the user, is driven by critical societal problems including overcrowded schools and rapidly increasing diagnosis rates of developmental disorders.  While the range of applications for this technology is broad, this NSF Expeditions project focuses on new ways of characterizing, modeling, enabling, and assessing human-robot interactions necessary for enabling robots to teach cognitive and social skills to preschool-aged children, including those with cognitive or social deficits.  This ambitious proposal requires an Expedition-scale, integrated, longitudinal, and multi-disciplinary effort among researchers in the fields of computer science, robotics, educational theory, and developmental psychology.
This Expedition is a collaboration between Yale University, University of Southern California, Stanford and Massachusettes Institute of Technology. It has the potential to substantially impact the effectiveness of education and healthcare, and to improve the care and treatment of children with social and cognitive disabilities. The technological tools developed will serve as the basis for enhancing the lives of children and other groups that require specialized support and intervention.  The research is tied to a comprehensive student training program, bringing a compelling, engaging, and grounded STEM experience to K-12 students through in-school and after-school programs.  It also establishes an annual training summit to provide undergraduates with the multi-disciplinary background to engage in this promising research area in graduate school.  Finally, by establishing a brand name for socially assistive robotics, this effort will create a central authority for the distribution of high-quality, peer-reviewed information, providing a coherent focal point for enhancing outreach and education.

Check out the Science Nation video “Socially assistive robots for children on the autism spectrum” about the NSF-funded research of Maja Matarić and Gisele Ragusa and their team at USC.


Funding Agency: National Science Foundation
USC Affiliation: Maja Mataric, Pricipal Investigator

Gisele Ragusa, Co-Principal Investigator
                             Fei Sha, Co-Principal Investigator
Donna Spruijt-Metz, Co-Principal Investigator