Robots to Help Children Touch the Outside World

CSE Professor Laurel Riek is part of a UC team developing better telepresence robots, equipped with robotic arms
Sep 17, 2020
CSE Associate Professor Laurel Riek

A team of University of California researchers is working to improve telepresence robots and the algorithms that drive them to help children with disabilities stay connected to their classmates, teachers and communities. The effort is funded by a $1 million grant from the National Robotics Initiative at the National Science Foundation.

The project is unique in that the team is working with telepresence robots equipped with an arm that will allow children at home to interact with the outside world by touch. These mobile tele-manipulator robots will also be equipped with cameras, microphones, a display and other sensors that will enable children to interact with people in places where they can’t usually go, especially schools.

Even before COVID-19, there were over 2.5 million children in the United States who were unable to attend school in person due to medical conditions. The current pandemic has both increased this number and isolated them even further.

"The robots we build on this project will provide an exciting, enabling technology for millions of people with disabilities and others who are isolated during the pandemic, especially children at high risk of infection," said Riek, an associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering and Emergency Medicine who also directs the Healthcare Robotics Lab at UC San Diego.

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