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Social robots are the best gift Artificial Intelligence could ever give us. These robots have been increasingly used in medical and educational contexts. Over the past 20 years, social robots have become an emerging field where there are many things still to work on. This field requires knowledge in mechanics, control, artificial intelligence, psychology, design, ethics, etc.

A study by MIT researchers investigated different scenarios in therapy or education where social robots could be a useful tool for children. The study demonstrated that social robots, when used pediatric units support sessions at hospitals, cause positive emotions in sick children. They can be used to help reduce a sick kid’s anxiety, pain, and other distress in a hospital setting.

To work on their study, the researchers deployed a robotic teddy bear, named Huggable, across different pediatric units at Boston Children’s Hospital. Huggable is a plush teddy bear which was developed in 2006 with a screen depicting animated eyes, whose facial expressions and body language can be controlled by a specialist. The specialists could also talk through a speaker with their voice automatically shifted to a higher pitch so that it sounds more childlike.

For the research, the team divided over 50 hospitalized children into three groups. Wikimedia Commons

For the research, the team divided over 50 hospitalized children into three groups. The first group had Huggable, the second had a tablet-based virtual Huggable, and the third had a traditional plush teddy bear.

The results found that the percentage of children who enjoyed playing with Huggable was much more than that of the virtual or traditional teddy bear. The children were seen to get out of bed and move around more, and also emotionally connect with the robot, asking it personal questions and inviting it to come back later to meet their families. Such improved emotional, physical, and verbal outcomes are all the positive factors which could contribute to better and faster recovery in hospitalized children.

Although it was small research, it was the very first to explore social robotics in a real-world inpatient pediatric setting with ill children. The other studies that have been conducted initially were in labs with very few children or in a public setting without any patient identification.

An important thing to keep in mind here is that Huggable is designed only to assist health care specialists and not replace them. “It’s a companion,” says co-author Cynthia Breazeal, an associate professor of media arts and sciences and founding director of the Personal Robots group. “Our group designs technologies with the mindset that they’re teammates. We don’t just look at the child-robot interaction. It’s about helping specialists and parents because we want technology to support everyone who has invested in the quality care of a child.”

Social robots are the best gift Artificial Intelligence could ever give us. Pixabay

The study also generated valuable insights to develop a fully autonomous Huggable robot, which is the researchers’ ultimate goal. The researchers were able to determine which physical gestures are used most often, and which features specialists may want for future iterations. For instance, Huggable could introduce doctors before they enter a child’s room or learn about their interests and share that information with specialists. The researchers may also equip the robot with computer vision, so that it can detect certain objects in a room and talk about those with children to make them feel secure.

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In the future, an automated robot could be used to improve continuity of care. A child would take home the social robot after a hospital visit to further support engagement, adherence to care regimens, and monitoring well-being.

Next, the researchers are hoping to zero in on which specific patient populations may benefit the most from the Huggable interventions. Logan, a pediatric psychologist at Boston Children’s Hospital said that “We want to find the sweet spot for the children who need this type of extra support.”


Photo by Wikimedia Common

Kerala Kalamandalam admits girl students after 90 years

Kerala Kalamandalam that teaches the globally recognized art form of Kerala -- Kathakali, has for the first time in its history of 90 years, admitted girl students.

In class VII of Kalamadalam, out of 10 students admitted, 9 are girl students for its Kathakali course. Kathakali is a highly masculine art form with even the female characters being portrayed by men. The attempt is being welcomed across the world.

However several women had started practicing Kathakali in 1970 and 1990 and K.K. Gopalakrishnan, renowned art critic of Kerala in his research book, 'Kathakali Dance - Theatre', said that some women from foreign countries had trained for some short-term courses in Kerala on Kathakali.

Most of these performing women artists were either trained privately by Kathakali masters but this is the first time that Kalamandalam is taking in girl students for its long-term programme.

T.K. Narayanan, Vice-Chancellor, Kerala Kalamandalam told media persons that giving admission to girl students in Kalamadalam was a demand for several quarters since long and that this academic year the governing body has decided to give admission to girl students in a full-time programme at Kalamandalam.

Training at Kalamandalam from school days would expose the students to the teaching and guidance of experts and a diverse pool of teachers of the institute who have huge exposure and deep knowledge of the subject. (IANS/JB)

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Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the Delhi government would arrange free-of-cost travel for senior citizens from Delhi to Ayodhya.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Tuesday said the Delhi government would arrange free-of-cost travel for senior citizens from Delhi to Ayodhya.

"I want every Indian should be fortunate enough to have a 'darshan' (visit) of Ram Lalla. I am a small man but Lord Ram has given me enough and I will use my position to help people to come for darshan here," Kejriwal added after offering prayers at the Ram Janmabhoomi temple in Ayodhya on Tuesday.

Speaking to the media, he said, "I pray to Lord Ram to help India move ahead in the world and bring prosperity for 130 crore people."

Kejriwal, who visited the Hanuman Garhi temple, said he was fortunate enough to be in Ayodhya and seek blessings from Lord Ram for the welfare of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, and the rest of the country.

The Delhi Chief Minister had arrived at the temple town on Monday and attended the 'Sarayu aarti' where he interacted with saints and seers. (IANS/JB)

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Photo by Pixels

Tamil Nadu will host the national blind football tournament for men and women.

Tamil Nadu will host the national blind football tournament for men and women from October 27-30. This is the first time the state is playing host to the national blind football tournament.

The state has formed a blind football team for men only in 2018, and, in 2019 the Tamil Nadu blind football association commenced functioning.

The founder of the TN Blind football association, GR Bharathiraja, while speaking to IANS said, "While we were late in establishing a team and forming an association, we have not lagged behind in training, and a good team is now arranged. We are hosting the national football championship for the blind in both men's and women's categories from October 27."

This is the first time a national-level women's blind football tournament is being conducted while this will be the sixth national blind football tournament for men.

The teams are coached by Francis Sebastian who is an acclaimed blind football coach and he said that the tournament was slated for 2023 but the associations put pressure on the national office-bearers and have made the tournament possible in 2021 itself.

Sebastian, while speaking to IANS, said, "While both the men's and women's teams are performing extremely well, we need more support from sponsors as well as the general public. In the northeastern states of the country, blind football is popular in villages and we are planning to make it popular among the masses of Tamil Nadu, and for that, we need more support and patronage."

The state association, as a first step, is planning to introduce football in every blind school of the state and to train coaches for the same. The blind football association also wants to divide the state into five zones with each zone comprising of some districts and to decentralise the coaching programme so that the game is introduced across the state.

Bharathiraja and Sebastian have said that infrastructural problems are plaguing the game and that the team does not have a playing ground of its own, but the passion for the game is pulling the organisers, players, and coach forward. (IANS/JB)

Keywords: Football, Sports, Blind Tournament. national blind football tournament, Tamil Nadu blind football association