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Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Grant

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Ritchie School Communications Team


Our very own Mohammad Mahoor recently was awarded an Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I grant.

This Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I project will demonstrate the feasibility of developing and deploying of emotionally intelligent light-projected life-like conversational robots for improving the quality of life, self-efficacy and cognitive abilities of elderly individuals with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and dementia. Older people with AD and other dementias have significantly more hospital stays, skilled nursing facility stays and home health care visits than other older people. There is thus a critical and growing demand in society and in our healthcare system to find efficient, effective and affordable ways to provide care and improve the quality of life of elderly individuals with dementia. This project will create an innovative, empathic social robot which will engage elderly individuals in assisted living facilities in a variety of activities, including exercises, games, and especially natural spoken dialogs that relevant to their interests and needs. The project extends the capabilities of current social robots through research that integrates computer vision, spoken dialog, character animation and robotic head movement technologies to develop an emotionally intelligent and empathic robotic caregiver and companion. A pilot study will be conducted, in collaboration with health care practitioners and residences of senior living facilities, to study how naturally and effectively the social robot communicates with elderly individuals and engages them in therapeutic activities (e.g. Montessori-based activities and Spaced Retrieval memory care techniques), and whether interacting with the robot over several weeks improves their self-efficacy and sense of well-being.

The broader impact/commercial potential of this project is the development of a social robot that will provide initial evidence for the feasibility and promise of a new generation of life-like animation-based and emotionally intelligent robots that provide companionship for individuals with cognitive disabilities (e.g. Dementia and AD) and increase their happiness and independence. The application and the potential societal and commercial impact of the project is not limited to aging population and dementia therapy and can be used in a variety of applications such as science, math & reading tutoring in classrooms or homes, language and speech therapy, autism therapy (e.g. special Ed programs in school districts), and even as concierges and front desk receptionists in hospitals, museums, hotels, and restaurants.