NSF grant allows researchers to explore use of co-robots in teaching

9/16/2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Conrad Tucker, assistant professor of engineering design and industrial engineering, and Timothy Brick, assistant professor of human development and family studies, were awarded a National Robotics Initiative Grant of $342,574 from the National Science Foundation.

Tucker and Brick are co-principal investigators on the three-year project titled, “Observation, Inference and Intervention: An Adaptive Co-robot System that Provides Individually Customized Performance Feedback Based on Students’ Affective States.”

“This research will lead to a better understanding of how students interact and function with co-robots during potentially stressful activities,” said Tucker.

Co-robots are robots that work side-by-side with humans, assisting them with tasks and adapting to their needs. The two-way exchange of knowledge between students and co-robots creates a relationship in which each party learns from the other in service of a common goal.

The purpose of this research by Tucker and Brick is to test the hypothesis that the repetitious cycle of observation, inference and intervention by co-robot systems enhances and improves students’ moods and their performance of tasks in an engineering lab setting.

“Affective states, such as frustration and engagement, play a constant role when students complete everyday tasks,” said Brick. “So a student who is overly stressed or distracted one day may make more mistakes than they would any other day. A co-robot system that is cognizant of students’ affective states can intervene when a student’s state-of-mind isn’t positive to prevent those errors from occurring.”

In order to test their hypothesis, the researchers will: acquire facial, auditory and body gesture data from students using the integrated visual, audio and depth sensory system of the co-robot; make statistical inferences of students’ affective states, based on machine learning classification of facial and body language data; use the visual feedback display of the co-robot systems to present students with visual instructions and commentary intended to enhance their affective state and improve their performance on laboratory tasks; and assess the impact of the co-robots’ ability to improve students’ affective states and enhance students’ performance on laboratory tasks over repeated iterations of learning and testing.

“There is currently little scientific knowledge that exists in terms of how positive or negative affective experiences during engineering-related tasks impact students’ interest in STEM-related majors and careers,” said Tucker. “The co-robot systems proposed in this work will help close this knowledge gap by uncovering the correlations that exists between students’ affect and task performance.”

Tucker and Brick hope that the results of their work will provide a template for skill-based instruction on topics well beyond engineering, such as teaching a student how to play a musical instrument or demonstrating the technical skills necessary to play sports. In many cases, personality mismatches between instructor and student can lead to frustration, learning difficulties and eventually the student dropping out of the activity.

“Co-robot learning systems will be able to mitigate these challenges by opening the door to both real-time and scalable feedback systems that adapt to the individual needs of students while optimizing the time each student needs with the instructor in order to master the skill being taught,” said Tucker.

The following College of Engineering students are contributing to this research: Matthew Dering (doctoral candidate, computer science and engineering), Aakash Sharma (doctoral student, computer science and engineering), Alex Kohler (senior, computer science and engineering), Adam Mohammed (junior, aerospace engineering) and Torre Viola (sophomore, electrical engineering).

 

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MEDIA CONTACT:

Pamela Krewson Wertz

pmk128@psu.edu

NSF National Robotics Initiative Principle Investigator Conrad Tucker calibrates the data acquisition functionality of co-robot Pennie's sensing system.

NSF National Robotics Initiative Principle Investigator Conrad Tucker calibrates the data acquisition functionality of co-robot Pennie's sensing system.

NSF National Robotics Initiative Co-Investigator Timothy Brick sets up the facial detection system for real-time effect quantification.

NSF National Robotics Initiative Co-Investigator Timothy Brick sets up the facial detection system for real-time effect quantification.

Penn State engineering students working while co-robot Pennie learns from their actions.

Penn State engineering students working while co-robot Pennie learns from their actions.

The NSF National Robotics Initiative team at Penn State next to the student-assembled co-robot, called Pennie.

The NSF National Robotics Initiative team at Penn State next to the student-assembled co-robot, called Pennie.

Co-robot Pennie in the SEDTAPP Engineering Design Workshop, ready to learn from students and provide feedback so that they can learn from their mistakes.

Co-robot Pennie in the SEDTAPP Engineering Design Workshop, ready to learn from students and provide feedback so that they can learn from their mistakes.

“This research will lead to a better understanding of how students interact and function with co-robots during potentially stressful activities."

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Conrad Tucker
ctucker4@psu.edu 
814-865-7580
School of Engineering Design, Technology and Professional Programs and Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering
 
 

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