INSIDE is an Entrepreneurial Research Initiative (ERI), funded by FCT under the Portugal|CMU Program. With a total budget of 600,000 EUR, INSIDE involves the collaboration of 8 Portuguese partners – INESC-ID, Instituto Superior Técnico (IST), Universidade Nova de Lisboa (UNL), Hospital Garcia de Orta (HGO) and the companies IdMind, PLUX and VoiceInteraction – and Carnegie Mellon University, in the United States. In INESC-ID, the team includes researchers from both L2F and GAIPS.

Research. Research in INSIDE falls in the general topic of human-robot interaction. The project explores symbiotic interactions between humans and robots in joint cooperative activities. The concept of symbiotic interaction was introduced at Carnegie Mellon University and is novel in two key aspects:

  • The robot takes into consideration its own ability to perceive and act upon its surroundings; in the process of performing its tasks, it explicitly contemplates and reasons about the possibility of asking humans for assistance;
  • This reasoning process, in turn, induces a fundamental change in the interaction between human and robot; the interaction no longer follows a master-slave paradigm, where the human provides tasks for the robot to accomplish. Instead, both robot and human may request assistance from the other in the realization of some activity.

In collaboration with the medical team from HGO, INSIDE also evaluates the impact of the technology developed in the context of the project in the therapy of children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Such ambitious application scenario requires the robot to be able to interact in a seamless and consistent way with its child users. As such, INSIDE also includes a strong research program in the area of speech and natural language processing.

INSIDE technology. Robotic technology is appealing to children with ASD, who have an intrinsic interest in technology. Children with ASD are more responsive to feedback mediated by technology than humans, and the advantages of using robots in ASD therapy is well documented. However, robots usually play the role of a “tutor” – coaching the child on specific activities – and remain mostly static.

The application scenario in INSIDE brings forth two main innovations. First, the interaction between the robot and the child takes place in the context of “play” activities. As such, the robot assumes more the role of a “peer” than that of a “tutor”. Second, the “play” activities involve the physical space, requiring the robot and the child to interact while moving in a physical space.

The new technology generated in INSIDE can directly be explored by the different industrial partners, while more generally benefiting industry that is focused on the need of people to simply and effectively access devices present in their daily life. This includes not only therapists but also, for example, the elderly population and others requiring assistance in the home for health reasons.

Education. INSIDE also includes a strong focus on exploiting the stimulating and multidisciplinary research environment in the team to attract young researchers and experts that can act, in the future, as the support for the line of work developed within the project.

In particular, INSIDE includes from its early stages graduating B.Sc. students, starting M.Sc. students and potential Ph.D. students, who are given the chance to collaborate, contribute, and actively participate in the activities in the project. The objective is to offer educational and networking opportunities and, through these, foster research, entrepreneurship, and employability.