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Riek Receives CAREER Award

Virginia Watterson • DATE: February 4, 2013

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Dr. Laurel Riek has been named a recipient of the 2013 National Science Foundation (NSF) Early Career Development (CAREER) Award for her project
entitled, "Next Generation Patient Simulators".  The award is the highest honor given by the U.S. government to young faculty in engineering and science.

Dr. Riek's expertise is in robotics, health informatics, and social signal processing. She directs the Robotics, Health, and Communication Laboratory, where she and her team explore fundamental research questions surrounding the creation of machines that are socially agile, able to sense, respond, and adapt to human social behavior. This work has many applications, particularly in healthcare, where lab members are developing new Health IT tools to improve healthcare delivery and safety, and novel robotic training aides to facilitate patient-centered communication.

These research topics are timely, because it is estimated that in the United States, over 150,000 people die each year, and billions of dollars are lost as a result of communication-related medical errors. Through her CAREER project, Dr. Riek hopes to reduce the incidence of these errors by creating high-fidelity robotic human patient simulators (HPS) that have the ability to exhibit realistic, clinically-relevant facial expressions, critical cues providers need to assess and treat patients. Although HPS systems are the most commonly used android robots in America, they currently do not exhibit realistic facial expressions, gaze, or mouth movements. Dr. Riek's goal in this project is to address this shortcoming by developing novel expression synthesis algorithms modeling the facial characteristics of people who have had strokes, have cerebral palsy or dystonia, as well as the states of pain and drowsiness. When modeled on a novel HPS system, these expressive robots will enable educators to run simulations currently impossible with commercially available technology, thereby leading to more realistic training experiences for doctors, nurses, and combat medics. This, in addition to improving the quality of healthcare, could enhance the understanding of these disorders and provide a means for educating society how to better interact with those suffering from these disabilities and/or to quickly recognize signs of stroke.