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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/N034546/1
Title: A Robot Training Buddy for adults with ASD
Principal Investigator: Aylett, Professor R
Other Investigators:
Rajendran, Dr G
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
ALDEBARAN Robotics Autism Initiatives UK NHS
Technology to Thrive
Department: S of Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Organisation: Heriot-Watt University
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 November 2016 Ends: 30 April 2020 Value (£): 711,763
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Human Communication in ICT Human-Computer Interactions
Robotics & Autonomy
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
28 Apr 2016 EPSRC ICT Prioritisation Panel - Apr 2016 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects 695,000 people in the UK, and about 547,000 of these are 18 or over (1.3% of the adults in working age). The unemployment rate among adults with an ASD is higher than 85%, nearly double the unemployment rate of 48% for the wider disabled population. One reason for this is that people with an ASD struggle to interpret social signals, those expressive behavioural cues through which people manifest what they feel or think (facial expressions, vocalisations, gestures, etc.). This project will develop a Socially-Competent Robot Training Buddy that will help adults with ASD to better deal with social signals in work-related scenarios.

The project is inherently interdisciplinary and falls in the new research area of Socially Assistive Robotics, at the crossroads between robotics, psychology, and social signal processing. So far, autonomous robots have largely been seen as functionally engineered to carrying out well-defined tasks in an efficient manner. However Socially Assistive Robots (SARs) must fit into normal human social environments and follow interaction rules that do not disrupt an office or a home or upset their human interaction partners. This project will focus on high-functioning adults with an ASD, and just as physically assistive robots enable people to make movements that are difficult because of physical impairments, the SAR of this project enables people with an ASD to perform social tasks that are difficult - if not impossible - due to social cognition impairments.

The main goal is to reduce the cost of Behavioural Skills Training (BST) through the development of a Robot Training Buddy. BST is recognized as one of the most effective approaches to alleviate ASD effects, but cannot be applied extensively because it is labour intensive. Using an autonomous robot would reduce the human effort and cost of BST and make it more widely available. The main technological challenge is the development of a novel affective architecture that makes a robot suitable for behaviour rehearsal, a critical stage of BST. In behaviour rehearsal, the robot must reinforce the use of appropriate social signals by its human interaction partner while inhibiting the use of inappropriate ones. The team will work with stakeholders involved with training for adults with an ASD to develop workplace-relevant scenarios in which to develop and evaluate the Training Buddy with end-users.

This work will develop the necessary scientific basis for the introduction of socially-competent robots into human social environments, opening the way to a multitude of domestic, educational and assistive applications.

Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Date Materialised
Sectors submitted by the Researcher
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Project URL:  
Further Information:  
Organisation Website: http://www.hw.ac.uk