RASL Director Nilanjan Sarkar is the new chair of the department of Mechanical Engineering at Vanderbilt University.
Dr. Sarkar accepted the position of chair beginning in the Spring semester 2018, following the distinguished tenure of Dr. Robert Pitz, who served as department chair for 18 years. More details are available here.
Congratulations to Lian Zhang who successfully defended her dissertation on April 20! Lian’s work on collaborative virtual environments and artificial intelligence has led to a number of publications. Lian has accepted a position at Facebook and will begin work there in May.
In August, a new Vanderbilt-led initiative entitled the “Vanderbilt Initiative for Autism, Innovation, and the Workforce” launched with a primary goal of facilitating the transition of adolescents with Autism into stable paid employment. This past Friday, the new group hosted a University-wide symposium to discuss a range of Autism-related research going on at Vanderbilt.
RASL members Nilanjan Sarkar and Joshua Wade took part in the 2017 TechVenture Challenge with their technology Alva: a gaze-sensitive driving simulator designed specifically for driving training in adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). The two were joined by veteran business mentor Kei Gowda and a team of Vanderbilt students from various departments including business, public policy, and engineering.
The TechVenture Challenge aims to provide both graduate and undergraduate students from a number of different disciplines with immersive, real-world commercialization experience. The pitch finals, which were held on April 13th in Nashville, consisted of five teams presenting their technologies. Team Alva took first place, earning a $3500 cash prize!
Alva, the novel technology, received attention last year from national media outlets (video above). A number of peer-reviewed journal articles based on the technology have recently been published:
Abstract: The high rate of atypical handedness and motor deficits among the children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have been repeatedly reported. Recently, tablet-assisted systems are increasingly applied to ASD interventions due to their potential benefits in terms of accessibility, cost and the ability to engage many children with ASD. In this paper, we propose the design of a tablet game system to assess the hand usage in movement manipulations of children with ASD. To play the games designed in this system, it requires good eye-hand coordination, precise and quick hand movements and cooperation with partners. The games can be played by one player using two hands or by two players each of whom using one hand. We present the system design and a small preliminary usability study that verified the system functionality in recording objective performance data for offline analysis of the hand usage of the players. Results showed that the proposed system was engaging to children with ASD and their TD (i.e. typically developing) peers, and could induce collaborative activities between them. The system was also shown to efficiently evaluate the usages of the dominant hand and the non-dominant hand of the users. We found that children with ASD showed different patterns of hand usage behaviors from the TD participants when using this system.
Abstract: Sensory processing differences, including auditory, visual, and tactile, are ideal targets for early detection of neurodevelopmental risk. However, existing studies focus on the audiovisual paradigm but ignore the sense of touch. In this work, we present a multisensory delivery system that can deliver audiovisual stimuli and precisely controlled tactile stimuli to infants in a synchronized manner. The system also records multi-dimensional data including eye gaze and physiological data. A pilot study of six 3–8 month old infants was conducted to investigate the tolerability and feasibility of the system. Results have shown that the system is well tolerated by infants and all the data were collected robustly. This work paves the way for future studies charting the meaning of sensory response trajectories in infancy.
Robot-mediated social skills intervention for children with autism is an area of research pioneered by RASL director Nilanjan Sarkar and Zachary Warren, executive director of the Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD).
Their recent work on this topic was featured on ABC News this morning. See the full article here.
RASL members Dayi Bian and Josh Wade spoke to health science students at Glencliff High School on Wednesday. Many of the students are considering careers in healthcare, including roles in Psychology, Occupational Therapy, and Medicine. Research at RASL aims to address issues related to Autism Spectrum Disorder, as well as Schizophrenia, elder care, and mobility impairment.