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PhD Defense: CARL-SJR: A Socially Assistive Neurorobot for Autism Therapy and Research

Name: Ting-Shuo Chou

Date: May 21, 2015

Time: 3:00pm – 5:00pm

Location: Social & Behavioral Sciences Gateway 2200 Conference Room

Committee Chair: Jeffrey Krichmar (Chair), Nikil Dutt, Alexandru Nicolau


Neurodevelopmental disorders, such as Attention-Deficit–Hyperactivity
Disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), have core clinical
symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity (often hyper-
and hypo- responsiveness. These symptoms are often accompanied by
reduced motor coordination and impaired sensory processing. We introduce
a Socially Assistive Robot (SAR) with the goal of automating therapy for
children with neurodevelopmental disorders. The novel robot, which is
called Cognitive Anteater Robotics Laboratory – Spiking Judgment Robot
(CARL-SJR), is designed for therapy and diagnosis. CARL-SJR is
autonomous and capable of tactile sensing and interaction. A spiking
neural network model and neurally inspired algorithms controls
CARL-SJR’s behavior. By providing a large tactile sensing surface that
encourages touching with hand movements, CARL-SJR especially addresses
impairments in tactile sensitivity and social interaction observed in
children with neurodevelopmental disorders. Using CARL-SJR, we conducted
a pilot study where children with different neurodevelopment disorders
show different behavioral metrics and tactile movements. The results
suggest CARL-SJR might serve as a diagnose tool for developmental
disorders. Second, we showed that the information carried by temporal
coding is higher than the traditional rate coding when decoding spike
trains in response to tactile movements. Third, we implemented online
learning capabilities on CARL-SJR, where the robot could associate a
user’s preferred color pattern displayed on the robot with the user’s
hand sweep across the robot’s body. The emerged behaviors and neural
activities in the SNN are consistent with biological recordings. The
underlying neural mechanism in the SNN also serves as an alternative
explanation of how brains encode timing and associate (or learning) two
temporal separated events.