Robotics grant will fund ASU summer internships


Adams State University students will have a unique opportunity to develop artificial intelligence and social-emotional programming for robots through a three-year grant of more than a half-million dollars from the Department of Defense Army Research Office (ARO). Their work will tie together with similar projects underway across the world, through scholarly collaborations developed by Dr. Matthew Ikle, professor of mathematics.

Faculty members (from left) George Sellman, Dr. Comfort Cover, and Dr. Matt Ikle demonstrate their robots' capabilities and describe goals for the Summer Research Internship Program in Artificial Intelligence and Social and Emotional Robotics.

Today's robots are light years ahead of the Jetsons' "Rosie" and Star Wars' "C3PO." Adams State students will be involved in advanced programming to take such devices to an even higher level, thanks to the $501,159 grant. The 24" NAO model looks like Rock'em, Sock'em robots, an overgrown kid's toy. With a few taps on her laptop, Dr. Comfort Cover activates the NAO, which blinks its eyes and performs a precise tai chi form. It can obey pre-programmed commands, recognize objects and faces, and track objects. Buttons on the Robokind's chest prompt different facial and body expressions - happy, sad, surprised, angry. Its "face" is made of "frubber," which mimics the malleability of the human face. Because robots like this are programmed to speak and focus on human faces, they are useful in therapy with autistic persons.

International Collaboration

For three years beginning in 2016, students in the Summer Research Internship Program in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Social and Emotional Robotics will interact with research groups around the world, according to Ikle. Interns will engage in hands-on, directed research opportunities to encompass numerous Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies and their integration with robotics.

Ikle has been involved in robotics research for the last 20 years, collaborating with Embry-Riddle Aeronautics University and colleagues in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as well as in the U.S., Bulgaria, France, Germany, and other nations.

During his sabbatical last spring, he spent four months in the computer laboratory at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Working with Dr. Gino Yu and Dr. Benjamin Goertzel, Ikle continued his research and development work on the open-source artificial intelligence platform, OpenCog. ASU interns will assist Ikle and his partners in developing programming to integrate robot vision, object classification, social and emotional robotics, reasoning under uncertainty, and attention and resource allocation. The ultimate goal is to develop robots that can interact with humans, Ikle said.

Stimulating Innovation

Funded through the DOD's Army Research Office (ARO) grant for Research and Education Program for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority-Serving Institutions (HBCU/MI), the project is directed by Ikle in collaboration with Cover, asst. professor of management information systems, and George Sellman, asst. professor of mathematics/computer science. Ikle said the project will build on previous research and leverage recent infrastructure improvements in ASU's undergraduate robotics lab that were funded by the DOD, US Army, and other external sources.

Each summer, four interns will earn $15 an hour, 40 hours a week, for eight weeks, in addition to a 12-credit tuition waiver for STEM courses and a two-month, $1000 housing allowance. In addition, the grant will fund student travel to professional conferences. Next summer the group will attend the Artificial General Intelligence Conference in New York City, an organization Ikle has belonged to since its inception.

"The DOD can only make grants to U.S. citizens. They want to encourage young people with ideas to get into research," noted Sellman. "If you are an undergraduate at a large university, you wouldn't get to touch equipment like this; maybe a little, in your junior or senior year . . . But at Adams State, you can be part of a small group of students working side by side with faculty who are collaborating with others around the world on cutting edge research."

Selection for the internships will be competitive, Ikle said. "Our goal is to motivate students, to cut through the attitude of 'why math?' We put a lot of thought into making this super attractive to retain students through the summer and into fall, to keep them connected and build excitement around the program." The program's ultimate goal is to increase bachelor's degree completion in engineering, computer science, and mathematics.

Email for more information about the internship program.

By Julie Waechter