EMAR Project Awarded NSF Grant

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The million-dollar grant will help develop a robot that can measure stress in teens.

The National Science Foundation has awarded a $1.1 million grant to fund the development of a robot that will be used to measure stress in teens. EMAR [Ecological Momentary Assessment Robot] is the brainchild of UW Tacoma Nursing & Healthcare Leadership clinical faculty Elin Björling and School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences Assistant Professor Emma Rose.

Björling and Rose enlisted UW Assistant Professor Maya Cakmak to help with the creation of an autonomous social robot. EMAR would be sent to schools to collect information about stress levels and moods in order to help students cope. “Teens suffer more stress than any other age group and they’re more negatively impacted by it in terms of mental health, physical health and suicidal ideation,” said Rose.

EMAR version 2.0

Björling and Rose spent the past year-and-a-half using participatory design sessions to better understand teens. The idea is to get a sense of what the young people would like to see in a robot. The three-year grant will allow them to expand upon their work. “A big part of our project includes outreach for underrepresented communities in STEM,” said Rose. “We’re looking into how we get voices into the conversation that aren’t normally included.”

Björling, Rose and Cakmak have a plan to go from prototypes to production. In the first year, they plan to cultivate relationships with a number of local high schools. Those schools will participate in a “design challenge” in which teens will create physical robot designs. Then, the teams will come together to share their designs and get feedback from a panel of experts. During the second year the team will work with two schools to develop educational activities around robot interactions to test out new technologies such as facial recognition, and to get input and ideas from students. Finally, in the third year, the researchers will send a fully autonomous EMAR to a high school for field testing and to explore the social impact of a social robot in a school setting.

The EMAR project is also gaining recognition from academic peers.  In August, Rose and Björling received a Best Paper Award at the ACM SIGDOC conference held in Halifax, Nova Scotia for their paper “Designing for Engagement: Using Participatory Design to Develop a Social Robot to Measure Teen Stress”.

Björling and Rose have already developed two iterations of EMAR. Both versions were built using suggestions from teens engaged in the participatory design sessions. “Each time we learn a little more and get a little closer to our goal,” said Rose. “This grant will be essential to helping us reach our goal of helping teens.”

Written by: 
Eric Wilson-Edge / October 12, 2017
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or johnbjr@uw.edu