QUT ‘trailblazer’ wows the AI world with robot writing tool

9th February 2015

A QUT graduate who won a prestigious two-year Erasmus Mundus scholarship in Europe has completed her study and claimed first prize in a global artificial intelligence video competition.

The maths and electrical engineering double major graduated from QUT at 20, with a near-perfect grade point average.

She has now taken her skills into classrooms in Switzerland and developed a novel way to engage children who struggle with handwriting by using a humanoid robot as a teaching partner.

Deanna Hood won a "Shakey" trophy - the equivalent of an Oscar in the Artificial Intelligence industry - for her research at a conference in the United States.

In late January, she was named winner of the Association for Advancement of Artificial Intelligence's best video titled; "A robot which children can teach to write".

Watch the video here.

Ms Hood's thesis is part of the "CoWriter project" developed in the CHILI lab for the fourth semester of the Erasmus Mundus European Masters of Computer Vision and Robotics program at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.

For the first three semesters of her scholarship she was immersed in programs in France, Spain and Scotland.

"I find I'm always drawn towards projects that underneath are full of typical skills from my area, but they're being used in totally atypical applications," she said.

"Teaching and learning is something I am passionate about and the project seemed a perfect match to use maths and engineering and robotics to solve a problem."

She configured a NAO humanoid robot with limited fine motor capabilities to operate as a handwriting partner for children.

Ms Hood said she learnt a lot being with young children.

"Studies with primary school classes found children aged six to eight successfully engaged with the robot and improved its writing," she said.

"It used the 'protégé effect' wherein students invest more effort into learning when they are the teachers."

The self-professed STEMinist wants to inspire many other young women to work in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields.

Ms Hood's academic paper has been accepted to ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction and will be presented in March.

Media contacts:
Debra Nowland, QUT media officer (Mon/Wed/Thur), 07 3138 1150 or media@qut.edu.au
After hours, Rose Trapnell, 0407 585 901

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