Seminars at the Faculty of Informatics

Empowering technologies for children with disability and their caregivers

Speaker: Mirko Gelsomini
  Politecnico di Milano, Italy
Date: Tuesday, May 16, 2017
Place: USI Lugano Campus, room A24, Red building (Via G. Buffi 13)
Time: 10:30-11:30

 

Abstract:

Nowadays 3% of the world's population (200M) has some type of Neuro-Developmental Disorder (NDD). Characteristics of NDD include a significantly reduced ability to understand new and complex information, learn new skills, cope independently, and to recognize the results of own actions. NDD includes cerebral palsy, autism, down syndrome, disorders of attention and hyperactivity, learning disabilities and many others, but little is known about its causes. What is generally acknowledged is the importance of early interventions and the need of exploring more specialized treatments since early childhood. In this perspective, the use of digital interactive technology is regarded as a promising approach that does not replace current therapies but can be incorporated into them and can support the caregivers in their daily routine.

This research explores how innovative interactive technology can be designed to empower children with NDD and their caregivers. Various studies pinpoint that interactive technologies are attracting and motivating for children with special needs: they are predictable in their interactions - which is very important for the person’s sense of safety and relaxation - and offer various sensory stimulations to engage children and foster progress and mastery.

Our results, published in different ACM/IEEE International Conferences, workshops and books, led us to conclude that:

  • Our motion-based activities positively impacted on students’ engagement, social behavior, and motor skills. There are clear benefits of motion-based interactive technologies for children with NDD that move beyond didactic instruction to create more naturalistic social contexts. To that end, we found that interactions with virtual authorable peers support reciprocity and turn-taking in language-mediated interactions (conversations) between high functioning children with autism and their peers. 
  • Our robotic companions are characterized by a unique blend of features that may open new, still unknown directions in the interventions for NDD subjects. Some of our robot’s (Teo, Sam, Ele, Puffy) features are individually available in some existing robots used with NDD subjects: support to both touch and touchless interaction, huggability, mobility, multisensory body effects (light, sound, and vibration). Still, such features have never been combined and harmonized at the degree offered by ours, nor have been specifically designed and optimized for NDD subjects.
  • Our Smart Room provides an innovative multisensory, interactive environment that incorporates virtual scenarios on large display or projections with ambient music, smart objects (such as a soap-bubbles machine), smart luminous balls and cubes, ambient smart lights and a luminous carpet. The smart space reacts to users' movements and manipulation with a variety of visual, auditory and tactile stimulus, and offers the opportunity to engage children in many different activities, to relax, to play and to practice specific cognitive, emotional, motor, and social skills.
  • Our Wearable Immersive Virtual Reality (WIVR) platform supports new innovative forms of intervention. In cooperation with therapists at a local rehabilitation center, we developed and evaluated a system that exploits a low-cost VR visor and enables the child to "feel immersed" in 3D worlds, using eye focus and head/body movements to interact with the virtual items. Combining low-cost wearable immersive virtual reality with storytelling and strong customization features, our platform offers a unique set of features that have already shown their potential for the treatment of children with NDD. Additional benefits arise from the system’s customization features, which empower caregivers and give them a control at a degree which is not allowed by any other existing tool.

On a broader perspective, our results demonstrate that interactive technologies can not only close a big gap between the ordinary therapeutic practice and the caregivers’ goals but also can easily and transversally deployed across different therapeutic approaches so to support each of them in its own personalized way. This research and related studies concretize the wonderings of how many novel technologies are still under-exploited, and help asking our-selves which aspects we are still missing, wishing to inspire the community in order to empower those who need and deserve our attention.

 

Biography:

Mirko Gelsomini has a Degree with honors in Engineering of Computing Systems at Politecnico di Milano where he is currently a 3rd year PhD Candidate. His main research interests focus on innovative interactive technologies for children with special needs.  He also worked as Visiting PhD at the MIT Media Lab developing robot companions to empower children’s learning and as Visiting Researcher at Georgia Institute of Technology developing motion-based activities for children with autism. His work presented him the opportunity to publish to International Conferences and win prestigious awards such as: IBM Award, Microsoft Student Research Competition, Roberto Rocca Fellowship, 3 best paper awards and 1best video award.

 

Host: Dr. Monica Landoni