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On The Move: Women Engineers of USC Interaction Lab

Snapshot of the dynamic team of women engineers behind human-robot interaction for socially assistive robotics at USC Viterbi
By: Katherine Sittig-Boyd
September 24, 2015 —
Pictured left to right:  Katelyn Swift-Spong, Jilian Greczek, Maja Matarić, Elaine Short, and DragonBot

The Interaction Lab at the University of Southern California had a busy summer, as usual, contributing to the field of socially assistive robotics (SAR). Headed by Dr. Maja Matarić, the Lab focuses on developing robotic technologies to socially assist people with special needs in healthcare, education, and eldercare.

During Summer 2015, the lab was home to many women in robotics and computer science: about two thirds of lab members, at both the PhD and undergraduate level, were women. Here is a bit about them, starting with the PhD students.

 Elaine Short with Bandit-I                        
Elaine Short

The most senior PhD student in the Interaction Lab, and the recipient of both the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship and the USC Provost’s fellowship, Elaine spent the summer not only working on her research introducing a social robot moderation paradigm for group interactions, but also mentoring three students: two undergraduate, one a rising high school senior.

 Jilian Greczek with NAO
Jillian Greczek

Robots can facilitate human endeavors in multiple ways, and Jillian Greczek’s work aims to introduce personalized algorithms for human-robot interactions in a long-term healthcare context. Jill, a recipient of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, divided her time this summer between the lab and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where her goal is to introduce Maki robot “buddies” as companions for children undergoing stress-inducing medical procedures. In addition to her research work, Jillian served as a mentor to an undergraduate student in USC’s SURE research program

 Katelyn Swif-Spong with DragonBot
Katelyn Swift-Spong

Katelyn Swift-Spong’s research focuses on developing methods and algorithms for using socially assistive robots as motivational companions to assist in habit formation. Also a recipient of an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, Kate’s research has included investigating the use of a socially assistive robot with post-stroke rehabilitation patients.

Caitlyn Clabaugh

One of the major challenges in SAR is long-term adaptation; Caitlyn Clabaugh, a recipient of an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Honorable Mention, approaches long-term socially assistive robotics from a machine learning perspective. Her research goal is to enable personalization of robot tutors for specific students’ needs over multiple, repeated interactions. Recently, her research has applied adaptive, socially assistive robots to teaching number concepts to preschoolers.

Qandeel Sajid

A National Physical Science Consortium fellow, Qandeel spent the summer at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, where she investigated the design of metrics for human-robot collaboration in manufacturing settings. Her research focuses on understanding and modeling personality for socially assistive robots.

Elizabeth Cha

There are multiple forms of human-robot interaction and collaboration. Elizabeth Cha, who received her Master’s from Carnegie Mellon, has been researching human-robot interactions in collaborative contexts. She is a recipient of an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, a USC Annenberg Fellowship, and a NASA Space Technology Research Fellowship.

Kara Douville

At the undergraduate level, Elaine Short mentored Kara Douville and Katherine Sittig-Boyd. Kara, a rising junior in computer engineering at the University of Utah, implemented an interpolation-based movement mechanism for the DragonBot robot to allow for smoother motions. Kara worked in the Interaction Lab through USC’s SURE undergraduate research program.

Katherine Sittig-Boyd

A rising senior at Simmons College, Katherine came to the Interaction Lab through the CRA-W’s DREU program. She recently completed a CREU project that investigated how conversational context affects prosody in verbal communication; at USC, she worked with Elaine Short to develop an automatic voice-detection method for multi-party group communication settings.

Madison Evans

A sophomore in mechanical engineering student at MIT, Madison spent the summer in the Lab working with the Lab’s MakerBot Replicator 3D printer to develop a versatile mount for the iRobot AVA robot. Although Madison initially did not intend to pursue robotics, she learned through her summer in the Lab that building socially assistive robots may be a field she wants to pursue.

The Interaction Lab is proud to host so many amazing women working on human-robot interaction for socially assistive robotics.