HCRI Joins The Partnership on AI

HCRI is pleased to announce it has joined the Partnership on AI. The Partnership on Al exists to study and formulate best practices on Al, to advance the public’s understanding of Al, and to provide a platform for open collaboration between all those involved in, and affected by, the development and deployment of Al technologies. To succeed in this mission, The Partnership on AI engages involvement from diverse voices and viewpoints that represent a wide range of audiences, geographies, and interests.

New members to the partnership include:

• Al4ALL • Berkeley Center for Law & Technology • The Berkman Klein Center at Harvard University • Brown University Humanity Centered Robotics Initiative • Deutsche Telekom • G3ict: The Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs • GLAAD • Insight Centre for Data Analytics – University College Cork Ireland • Iridescent • The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies • The MIT Media Lab • New America Foundation • PayPal Holdings, Inc. • Software.org, The BSA Foundation • UNI Global Union • United Nations Development Programme • University of Tokyo – Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Research Center • Wikimedia Foundation

For more details on HCRI’s involvement with the Partnership on AI please contact hcri (@) brown.edu.





HCRI in IBM X-Prize Top Ten Teams

The XPRIZE Foundation has announced that 59 teams have been selected to move forward in the $5 million IBM Watson AI XPRIZE competition. The teams, which represent 14 countries, are developing vastly different technologies, all of which demonstrate how humans can collaborate with powerful artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to tackle some of the world’s greatest challenges.

Among the 59 teams are 10 top competitors who stood out to our independent judging panel as developing innovative, important AI technologies.

  • aifred health (Montreal, Canada) — Is developing a system that uses high-quality data about mental health to help physicians work with their patients to choose personalized treatments for depression.
  • Amiko AI (Milan, Italy; London, United Kingdom) — Is developing a system that enables real-time monitoring of medication use and patient health to assist healthcare professionals and empower asthma patients to achieve better outcomes.
  • Behaivior (Pittsburgh, PA) — Is developing a platform which will combine data from wearables and smartphones into an early warning system to predict and prevent addiction relapses and overdoses, with an initial focus on opioids.
  • Brown HCRI (Providence, RI) — Is developing a three-phase interdisciplinary research program to identify human social and moral norms and implement them in robots.
  • DataKind (New York, NY) — Is developing AI models which use high-resolution satellite imagery to monitor crops for disease in support of poverty alleviation.
  • Deep Drug (Baton Rouge, LA) — Is developing a drug design software that learns from the successes and failures of previous clinical trials to shorten the developmental timeline of new drugs.
  • emPrize (Atlanta, GA) — Is developing virtual tutors for online education that will offer learning assistance through personalized tutoring, answering questions, and providing feedback to students.
  • EruditeAI (Montreal, Canada) — Is developing a free peer-to-peer math tutoring platform where a matchmaking AI pairs students in need of math help with students who have demonstrated proficiency in a specific mathematical concept.
  • Iris.ai (Oslo, Norway) — Is currently semi-automating the systematic mapping of scientific papers and ultimately building an “AI researcher” doing literature-based discovery.
  • WikiNet (Quebec, Canada) — Is developing a system that learns from past environmental cleanup efforts to provide automated expert recommendations for treating contaminated sites worldwide.

Congratulations to all the teams moving forward! We are excited to see what innovative technologies are to come from the next phase of this competition.

HCRI Partners with Sproutel

“Brown’s HCRI is excited to be working with Sproutel on such socially focused research. The work Sproutel does exemplifies the type of humanity centered robotics we aim to support at Brown’s HCRI.”

Peter Haas, Associate Director, Humanity Centered Robotics Initiative, Brown University

Sproutel, Inc. and Brown University’s Humanity Centered Robotics Initiative are partnering to assess the effectiveness of the Jerry the Bear platform and a new prototype for delivering healthcare information to children. Sproutel has developed and produced Jerry the Bear, an interactive toy for children with type 1 diabetes that helps them learn about their medical procedures and treatment through play.  The effectiveness of the current iteration of Jerry the Bear and the new prototype will be tested against one another, and against participant baselines regarding diabetes management prior to receiving Jerry the Bear.  This research will help Sproutel expand the Jerry the Bear platform, and help the team gain knowledge regarding its psychosocial benefits.

This study is funded by a RI Commerce Corporation Innovation Voucher.

HCRI Partners with Hasbro

A $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation will fund a three-year partnership that seeks to enhance Hasbro’s Joy for All Companion Pets into smart robots that can help older adults with everyday tasks.


PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — A group of academic researchers, led by cognitive and computer scientists from Brown University, is teaming up with a cross-functional team from global play and entertainment leader Hasbro to design a smart robotic companion capable of assisting older people with simple but sometimes challenging tasks of everyday living.

The project, dubbed ARIES (Affordable Robotic Intelligence for Elderly Support), will add artificial intelligence capabilities to Hasbro’s current Joy for All Companion Pets — animatronic dogs and cats designed to provide interactive companionship, comfort and joy for older adults. The research team’s goal is to develop additional capabilities for the ARIES companions to help older adults with simple tasks that could include help in finding lost objects, medication reminders or other tasks that sometimes become challenging, especially those who may have mild dementia.

The work is supported by a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation and will be led by Brown’s Humanity-Centered Robotics Initiative (HCRI), a group of computer and social science researchers who explore the societal opportunities and challenges presented by robotics. The academic project team also includes researchers from Brown’s Warren Alpert Medical School, Butler and Bradley hospitals in Providence, R.I., and the University of Cincinnati.

“Hasbro did a great job developing a product that can provide comfort and joy for older people,” said Bertram Malle, a professor in Brown’s Department of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences, co-director of HCRI and the principal investigator on the grant. “What we want to do now is leverage our expertise in cognitive and computer science to add capabilities to this robotic pet. Neither of us could do this on our own, but together we have the expertise to potentially develop something truly beneficial.”

Over the next three years, the group plans to perform a variety of user studies to understand how ARIES might best assist older adults. Then they’ll work on developing and integrating a variety of artificial intelligence technologies that will meet the needs identified in the user studies. These could include sensor systems that allow the ARIES companion to identify and keep track of important objects around the house, such as keys or eyeglasses, help the person remember important tasks and events, and enhance safety.

The team will also study means of effective communication between the ARIES companion and users.


“The Joy for All Companion Pets currently make some realistic pet sounds and gestures,” Malle said. “We may want to expand those capacities and add intelligence to them, so the companions give meaningful clues — gestures, nudges, purrs — that help to guide users toward misplaced objects or let them know that it’s time to do something.”

The early user studies will play a key role in how the project unfolds, Malle says.

“There are some things — like locating objects and taking medications — that we know from the literature people find useful,” he said. “But in our first year we want to find out what other challenges people face that we don’t know about, and then see if we can develop technologies to address them.”

One critical factor the researchers will keep in mind is cost.

“The ‘A’ in ARIES stands for ‘affordable,’ and that’s something we’re taking very seriously,” said Michael Littman, a professor of computer science at Brown and co-principal investigator on the grant. “This is one of the important reasons Hasbro is a great industry partner for this project. The current Joy for All pets cost roughly $100 while similar robotic products can cost $5,000 to $6,000. We want the ARIES robot to be available to anyone who needs it.”

Ultimately, the team hopes to complete a prototype and test it with target users by the end of the three project years. The researchers stress that they don’t intend this to be a technology that can take the place of human caregivers. They hope instead that it can complement the work of caregivers and help in a small way to meet the challenge presented by an aging population.

“To us, this project really represents what we do at HCRI, which is to let societal needs drive technology development,” Malle said. “We know that caring for an aging population will be a tremendous challenge in the coming years, and we think technologies like ARIES could play a small but potentially important role in helping people meet that challenge.”

Ted Fischer, vice president for business development at Hasbro, says the company has been excited by the response to its Joy for All line. “Social isolation and loneliness are growing issues for older adults and our companion pets make people smile, Fischer said. “Hasbro’s expertise in play and engaging experiences in collaboration with leading scientists from Brown’s HCRI is a powerful combination to explore additional impactful uses for ARIES companions.”

The research team will include Peter Haas, associate director of HCRI; HCRI postdoctoral researchers Maartje de Graaf and Elizabeth Philips; Michael Armey from Butler Hospital and Brown’s Warren Alpert Medical School; Gary Epstein-Lubow from Butler, Brown and Hebrew Senior Life; Claudia Rébola, an industrial design professor at the University of Cincinnati; Ron Seifer of Bradley Hospital; and a multidisciplinary team from Hasbro including designers, engineers and marketing professionals.

Large Screen Mobile Telepresence Robot (LSMTR)

In preparation for this year’s Designing Humanity Centered Robots class exhibition we’re going to share a couple of robots from past classes. Today we have the Large Screen Mobile Telepresence Robot. Most telepresence robots are little more than “Skype on a stick” or a “laptop on wheels”.LSMTR is window to another place. LSMTR makes interactive collaboration at a distance possible. LSMTR’s large screens increase the field of view, allowing users to incorporate gesture and movement, for a more immersive and embodied telepresence experience. We hope you enjoy this youtube video demonstrating some of the robot’s capabilities.

HCRI Opens New Spaces



HCRI has opened a new a new space on the 8th floor of the Sciences Library. This space contains two new areas for robotics research on campus. These spaces are as follows.

HRI Lab:

The Human-Robot Interaction (HRI) Lab is another new addition to the HCRI. The HRI lab is a simulated smart living room environment, that will be equipped with Kinect motion sensors, camera equipment, and humanoid robots, among others. This room will be used for testing everything from toy robots for the elderly to developing next generation ethical frameworks for robots.

The HCRI envisions a future in which robots in the home are a ubiquitous part of everyday life. As such, the HRI lab serves as a space to study near future human-robot interaction in household environments. We hope to use this space to better understand the types of interactions people would prefer with robots and improve the utility of robots in these types of environments.

IOT/Robotics Lab:

The new HCRI space also features the Robotics/Internet of Things (IOT) lab. Here students can take advantage of a sandbox style makerspace that gives the campus community a place to learn by creating. The lab features a variety of equipment that can be used to prototype robots and IOT devices. It joins the Brown Design Workshop and the Cogut Physical Media Lab as a campus robot building space.

The build space in the IOT/Robotics lab includes soldering stations, a 3D printer, a PCB CNC,  embedded computers, basic electronics supplies and everything needed to get a project from ideation to prototype. HCRI has sponsored the supplies in the lab giving students an area where they can easily build a low cost prototype and not have to worry about where to find the parts online.

HCRI Talk Simone Giertz

Simone Giertz drew nearly two hundred people to the Granoff Center. If you missed her talk you can find it here (Simone shows up after missing her train at 22 min 30 sec in if you want to fast forward):


Known worldwide as the “Queen of Sh***y Robots”, Simone Giertz is an inventor and renowned comedic YouTuber. In 2015, Simone built her first robot, the toothbrush helmet, and has since built an audience following her many more crazy robotic inventions, including the automatic lipstick machine and the wake-up machine. She brings a humorous flair to her videos showcasing her inventions, including TV Shop parodies; but most importantly, Simone mashes science and humour to explore why it’s critical to build useless things.

Simone Giertz has also previously worked in MMA sports journalism, and as an editor for Sweden’s official website Sweden.se. Giertz employs deadpan humor to demonstrate mechanical robots of her own creation to automate everyday tasks; despite working from a purely mechanical standpoint, they often fall short of practical usefulness, for comic effect. Giertz’s creations have included an alarm clock that slaps the user, a lipstick applier, and one that shampoos the user’s hair. When building her robots, Giertz does not aim to make something useful, instead coming up with excessive solutions to potentially automatable situations. She has been featured in TIME, Make, College Humor, Huffington Post and other media outlets.

The talk was Co-sponsored by the Department of Modern Culture and Media

Intriguing Article Published on Footnote: The Path To A Programmable World

We now live in a world permeated by computers. From phones to watches, home thermostats to coffee makers, and even ball-point pens, more and more of the gadgets we interact with on a daily basis are general-purpose computational devices in disguise. These “smart” devices differ from ordinary ones in that they are programmable and can therefore respond to users’ specific needs and demands.

For example, I recently bought the Jawbone Up 24, a rubber bracelet fitness monitor that tracks my daily movement. While the Jawbone is an interesting gadget on its own, it also works with a cross-device interface I can program. So now, every time the Up detects that I’ve met my daily goal for number of steps walked, a festive-looking lava lamp in my living room lights up. It’s a small event, but it’s my own personalized celebration to keep me motivated. It’s also an example of the sort of thing devices can do for you if you ask nicely.

For years, computer scientists have been envisioning a world without boundaries between cyberspace and the physical spaces people occupy, where programmable devices are integrated into larger systems, like smart houses, to make the user’s entire environment programmable. This joining of computers and objects is sometimes referred to as the Internet of Things or the Programmable World.

What will this programmable world look like? And how will we get there?

Read the full text of this intriguing article published on Footnote by Samuel Kortchmar and Michael Littman here.