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ASU trio creates 'mutually understood vocabulary' for humans, robots.
ASU engineering students say human-robot tech has wide application.
April 12, 2017

Computer science graduate students seek spot in 'Olympics of Technology' finals

An ASU-led project that makes it easier for humans and robots to communicate is among the contenders for a spot in an international competition widely considered as the “Olympics of Technology.”

Three doctoral candidates in computer science at Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering constitute Æffective Robotics, one of 12 teams that will compete next week in Seattle in the U.S. finals of the 2017 Microsoft Imagine Cup.       

They’re vying for a spot in the top six, which would earn them a place in the international finals in Seattle in July, where they would go for the top prize of $100,000, plus support to launch a start-up. Each year, about 350,000 students from more than 170 countries and regions enter the competition, including about 3,000 students at colleges and universities in the U.S.

After several months of work on the project they’ve titled “Cloudy with a Chance of Synergy,” the Æffective Robotics members say that they’re confident.

Tathagata Chakraborti, Anagha Kulkarni and Sarath Sreedharan will be presenting a concept — along with software — for the operations of a “factory of the future,” in which robots and humans would be connected through a networking system enabling them to effectively “share a brain.”

The humans and robots would not actually be reading each other’s minds, Chakraborti said. But they would have technology that provides platforms for a “mutually understood vocabulary” and for “intention recognition and projection,” allowing everyone and everything connected to the network to anticipate each other’s physical movements and high-level goals and to comprehend the intentions and motivations behind those movements.

It’s all achieved through what team members describe as a Consciousness Cloud that would give the robots working in the factory “real-time shared access to the mental state of all humans in the workplace.”

The humans would wear helmets containing technology linking them into that cloud.

The network system is enhanced by an Augmented Workspace scheme in which humans and robots communicate and interact through an integration of real and virtual environments using holograms.

Workers would wear the Microsoft HoloLens, described as mixed-reality “smart glasses,” to enter into that virtual-reality space.

The setup would allow people to not only infer the intent of robots’ actions through looking at holographic projections, Chakraborti said, but could also communicate their own intentions to the factory’s robots.

A robot and a human would be able to understand “what the other intends to do and why it is doing that thing in a particular way,” he said.

The overall concept is embedded in the team’s name.

ÆRobotics is short for Æffective Robotics. “Affective” refers to mental modeling and brain waves. “Effective” refers to the holographic vocabulary for effective communication between robots and humans in the augmented-reality loop.

The team members say that if their idea were turned into reality it would open up a plethora of possibilities for productive human-robot interactions in myriad endeavors beyond a factory assembly line and the manufacturing industry.

For the Imagine Cup competition, the team has submitted a video demonstrating how the Æffective Robotics system would work (below).

 The team will be demonstrating their project in the Seattle Art Museum on April 19 as part of a science-fair-style exhibition, followed by a pitch presentation and a project demonstration before Imagine Cup judges the next day.

The project evolved out of research Chakraborti, Kulkarni and Sreedharan are doing as part of their doctoral studies under the direction of Subbarao Kambhampati, a Fulton Schools professor of computer science and engineering. 

As members of his Yochan Research Group (Yochan means “thinking” or “reasoning” in Sanskrit), they are developing human-aware artificial intelligence systems that can support fluid teaming of robots and people.

“For far too long, AI systems have focused on working autonomously without interacting with humans,” Kambhampati said. “This team’s Imagine Cup project is at the forefront of research aimed at augmenting productivity by making machines work seamlessly with humans.”

Kambhampati is the team’s mentor, but the students have also been guided by Yu Zhang and Heni Ben Amor, both Fulton Schools assistant professors of computer science and engineering with broad expertise in human-robot interaction, artificial intelligence and machine learning.

In addition, they’ve been aided by a robot lent to them by Professor Baoxin Li’s computer science and engineering research group and by the cognitive neuroscience expertise of Chris Blais, an assistant research professor of psychology in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Barrett, The Honors College. 


Top photo: Computer science doctoral students (left to right) Anagha Kulkarni, Sarath Sreedharan and Tathagata Chakraborti have combined aspects of robotics, artificial intelligence, cognitive neuroscience and virtual-reality technology in their project for the Microsoft Imagine Cup competition. Photo by Marco-Alexis Chaira/ASU

Joe Kullman

Science writer , Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


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ASU professor to discuss wounds of genocide among American Indian communities.
Killsback among 8 ASU faculty to speak at Genocide Awareness Week event at SCC.
April 13, 2017

ASU expert to talk about 'Broken Treaties, Broken Pipelines' at Genocide Awareness Week at Scottsdale Community College

Genocide has been a thread through humanity, stretching back centuries and into modern times.

Several Arizona State University experts will talk about mass killings at "Genocide Awareness Week: Not On Our Watch" at Scottsdale Community College. The event runs April 17–24.

This will be Scottsdale Community College's fifth Genocide Awareness Week, which gathers survivors, scholars, politicians, activists, law enforcement and artists to delve into the history and ramifications when one group of people tries to destroy another.

Leo Killsback, a citizen of the Northern Cheyenne Nation and an assistant professor of American Indian Studies at ASU, will give a lecture titled “Broken Treaties, Broken Pipelines: The Fight For American Indian and Indigenous Rights in the 21st Century.”

KillsbackKillsback culturally and spiritually identifies as a Cheyenne person as he is a practitioner of traditional ceremonies and a member of traditional Cheyenne ceremonial societies and guilds. He is an author, scholar and student of American Indian culture, history, spirituality, traditional law and decolonization. Killsback teaches a graduate course, American Indian and Indigenous Rights, and an undergraduate course, Human Rights and Cultural Resource Law. answered questions for ASU Now:

ASU Assistant Professor Leo Killsback
Leo Killsback is an assistant professor at ASU. Photo by Cheryl Bennett

Question: What will your lecture be about?

Answer: My lecture, as with my research, connects the historical injustices that the U.S. committed against Plains Indians with the current injustices related to social inequality, threats to American Indian sovereignty, and the fights to protect treaty rights and indigenous rights.

Q: How does your talk relate to the theme of genocide awareness?

A: Throughout the colonization of western Native America, the U.S. committed horrendous acts of genocide against Plains Indian peoples through violence and later through assimilation-based policies. Today, many of these same Indian nations continue to face social and spiritual challenges stemming from the unhealed wounds of trauma. Meanwhile, their lands, water sources and air are under constant threat from exploitation and pollution. For a lot of Plains Indian nations, the wars against imperialism never ended.

Q: Your talk is titled, “Broken Treaties, Broken Pipelines.” Do you believe that the recent attention on the Dakota Access Pipeline protests has changed attitudes towards Native Americans’ rights?

A: The attention of the Dakota Access Pipeline has certainly brought American Indian and indigenous rights to the forefront in a manner that the world has never seen before. I think that the attitudes of the non-Indian public towards American Indian and indigenous rights will continue to change for the better. Some people, however, in some parts of the country have become more aggressive in their negative treatment towards Indian peoples in response to the #NoDAPL movement. Nonetheless the movement is strong, resilient and will continue with peace and prayer as core principles.

Q: Did the protests renew enthusiasm among Natives themselves for pursuing justice?

A: American Indians have resisted colonialism and injustice for years, but the current movement has quickly become part of a much larger global community. The Standing Rock Sioux Nation, its citizens and the water protectors who defied the Dakota Access Pipeline represent a 500-year effort to protect Mother Earth.

Killsback will speak at 9 a.m. Tuesday. Other ASU experts and their lectures are:

  • “Violence and State Repression in the Midst of Refugee Crises,” by Thorin Wright, assistant professor, School of Politics and Global Studies, at 1:30 p.m. Monday
  • “Mass Atrocities and International Justice,” by Clint Williamson, former U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues and now a professor of practice in the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law and senior director for Law and National Security at the McCain Institute for International Leadership, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.
  • “Genocide in the Renaissance: A New and Terrible World,” by Sharonah Frederick, assistant director of the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at ASU, 9 a.m. Wednesday.
  • “Genocide: Problems with Comparison,” by Volker Benkert, assistant professor of history, and Jason Bruner, assistant professor of religious studies, at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.
  • “Building the Rule of War: Accountability after Violence,” by Milli Lake, assistant professor, School of Politics and Global Studies, at noon Wednesday.
  • “Anti-Jewish violence in Postwar Poland, 1945–46,” by Anna Cichopek-Gajraj, assistant professor of history, at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.

Genocide Awareness Week also will include a talk by a survivor of the Holocaust, lectures about the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, a presentation on current hate crimes by the Phoenix Police Department and a memorial service. Find details here.

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now