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The research aim is to create novel artificial intelligence technologies that allow robots to coexist harmoniously with the environment and socially interact with human beings, empowering these individuals, not replacing them.

The research is carried out by the Smart Interactive Technology (SIT) group led by Dr Alessandro Di Nuovo. The group focuses on two main research and innovation streams:

  • Neuro-Developmental Robotics - an area of research on how machines can learn by simulating child-like brains that can be embodied into humanoid robots and then educated and develop their cognitive skills like children.
  • Socially Assistive Robotics - an area of societal impact of artificial intelligence and robotics that aims at supporting healthcare and social workers in the care of the children, the elderly and the disabled.

Neuro-Developmental Robotics

In Neuro-Developmental Robotics, the EPSRC NUMBERS (2017-2020) project delivered the first step toward the vision of robots that lean like children by creating a developmental neurorobotics model of number understanding. The research evidenced similarities between children and robotic embodiment in the early development of numerical cognition (Di Nuovo & McClelland, Nature Machine Intelligence, 2019).

The modelling of numerical abilities in artificial cognitive systems can help to confirm existing child development hypotheses and define new ones through computational simulations. New research will help to discover innovative principles for the design of artificial agents with advanced reasoning capabilities and clarify the underlying algorithms (e.g., deep learning) that can be highly effective but difficult to understand for humans.

This area of research counts prestigious national (Prof. Cangelosi, University of Manchester) and international partners from the USA (Prof. McClelland, Stanford University).

Socially Assistive Robotics

We collaborated with the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre to utilise cutting-edge technologies to develop an intelligent robotic assistant to support caregivers in early diagnosis and treatment of individuals with autism spectrum disorder associated with intellectual disability (H2020 MSCA-IF CARER-AID).

The research is being applied to support children with autism in Sheffield in collaboration with the Sheffield Children's Hospital. A prototype of a robot-led psychometric Cognitive Assessment Through Human-robot Interaction (CATHI) system that has won the IBM SUR Award and a best application paper award.

Currently, the group is involved in the H2020 MSCA-ITN European Training Network on PErsonalized Robotics as SErvice Oriented applications (PERSEO, 2021-2024), a multidisciplinary project that received a 4 million grant from the European Union to train a cohort of 15 outstanding doctoral candidates to be the new generation of interdisciplinary researchers and professionals for the forthcoming market of personal robots.

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