Parks Assistant Professor Jenna Gorlewicz Awarded Two NSF Grants for Research

September 22, 2016
Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering, Parks College News, Research

gorlewicznsf250wJenna Gorlewicz, Ph.D.

Jenna Gorlewicz, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, will serve as the PI on two separate grants awarded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Building Social Capabilities of Robots

The first of her grants titled “Increasing Social Connectedness in Telerobotic Platforms Through Adding Gesture Capabilities,” is a collaborative effort with a research team at SIUE. The total funding for this project is $471,148 over three years, with $251,502 coming to SLU. This award is through the NSF Cyber-Human Systems (Division of Information and Intelligent Systems) program.

The goal in this research project is to understand how making common telepresence robots more expressive and interactive affects people’s feelings of connectedness to the remote users with whom they are communicating. To date, telepresence robots typically consist of a screen on a mobile platform (like Skype on wheels). One of the biggest problems with this is that this setup lacks the characteristics of face-to-face communication. Humans like to talk with their hands, point out things, use gestures, etc. - but if we are communicating via a telepresence platform, our abilities to do this are severely limited.

In this project, Gorlewicz explores how to enhance this “social connectedness” by building a hand and arm to support common non-verbal interactions (pointing, gesturing, etc.) and attach it to an existing telepresence robot. Her team will then develop the software and user interface that controls the robot and its gestures, tracking user’s arm and hand motions and then mapping them to the robot’s arm and hand motions, enabling the robot to mimic the user’s movements, and subsequently, “talk with its hands.”

Additionally, the team will test the usability of its system through icebreaker sessions conducted with individuals and in small group settings. This work will lead toward more natural interfaces for telepresence robots and a better understanding of how people accept and work with them. This, in turn, should lead to social benefits by making remote interaction more effective, while supporting not just remote meetings but other remote services such as medical diagnosis and caregiving. The team will also use the research both for its members’ own classes and for outreach at events designed to encourage children to explore science careers.

Touchscreen Technology for Visually Impaired Students

gorlewicznsf458wGorlewicz uses touchscreen technology to explore the possibilities of expanded access to graphics for people experiencing blindness or visual impairments.

The second grant, also awarded by the National Science Foundation, is funded through the Education and Human Resources (EHR) Directorate, the Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings (DRL). Gorlewicz serves as the PI on this grant as well.
This grant, titled “Perceptual and Implementation Strategies for Knowledge Acquisition of Digital Tactile Graphics for Blind and Visually Impaired Students,” is a collaborative research partnership between four universities - SLU, University of Nevada Las Vegas, The University of Alabama in Huntsville and University of Maine. The total amount of the award is $916,798 with $350,151 coming to SLU.

The research objective of this proposal is to advance human multimodal information processing theory to uncover perceptually motivated guidelines and exploratory procedures for promoting knowledge acquisition and literacy of digital tactile graphics.
This research continues Gorlewicz’s desire to create and understand how we can use touchscreens to promote more inclusive and accessible learning, particularly for students with special needs.

In today’s educational system, hard-copy tactile graphics are the primary way that students with blindness and visual impairments access visual or graphical material. These graphics, however, are static (must be regenerated for every new concept), expensive to create, often require extensive preparation time and are limited in the information they can provide. There has been recent interest in creating multimodal, digital tactile graphics using touchscreens, and their ability to provide information via sight, sound and touch (vibrations). While this is an exciting pathway of exploration and potential transformation, researchers do not yet understand how to render these graphics on touchscreens and appropriately pair the multimodal feedback cues with the graphical content to promote efficient interpretation and information extraction, nor do they yet understand what teaching and learning strategies enable effective interpretation of digital, multimodal graphics.

In this project, Gorlewicz and her team address these fundamental research questions, while pushing forward an innovation that has the potential to transform the STEM learning experience, particularly for students with blindness and visual impairments, while creating new dimensions of learning right at our fingertips.
“We are thrilled by Dr. Gorlewicz’s awards,” said Michael Swartwout, Ph.D., chair of SLU’s aerospace and mechanical engineering department. “She is conducting groundbreaking research that will not only help all students have better access to STEM education, but help us advance the capabilities of remote communication and collaboration. Congrats to Dr. Gorlewicz. We know she is making a lasting impression on the field of engineering.”

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