The VirtuAbility Network: Developing Virtual Reality Communities and Overcoming Virtual Barriers

Ms Angela Meyer1, Ms Felicity  Nelson1, Ms Isabel Matias1

1Aruma, Belrose, NSW, Australia

Background

Assistive and social robotics are emerging disciplines that offer new forms of interaction between humans and technology. A social robot is a physically embodied social agent that can be deployed to enable learning and facilitate communication. Socially assistive robotics has the potential to support social and cognitive growth in children with developmental challenges. We wanted to understand how children with developmental challenges can participate in technologically-enhanced experiences that might enable self-determination.

Method

Aruma partnered with the Waratah Special Developmental School and Human Centred Innovations Ltd. (La Trobe University) to explore how socially assistive robots might be utilised in a classroom setting to develop communication and social skills and to promote social engagement. Six robots were deployed in three classrooms, and teachers wrote programmes for the robots designed to engage students in one-on-one and group activities, including games and quizzes, singing songs, and following verbal instructions.

Results

Many learnings have emerged through this collaboration, including the impact of introducing technology into a classroom setting, the capability required by teachers, the structure and type of activities best suited to human-robot social interactions, and the learning and behavioural changes experienced by the students.

Implications

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognises the importance of giving people living with a disability access to technologies that allow them to participate fully. Socially assistive robots make possible many new kinds of experiences for people with an intellectual disability, as well as a new kind of interaction with technology that is different from interactions with a person. The robots created a new type of educational and social experience that is worth exploring further


Biography:

Angela Meyer is an experienced design practitioner and leader, with a career dedicated to human centred design practice in a wide range of industries. As Strategic Innovation Lead at House with No Steps, Angela’s areas of interest include innovation methodology and inclusive and participatory design.

Felicity Nelson has expertise in learning and development, with a focus on developing leadership in teams and coaching leaders to navigate complexity and change. More recently Nelson has focused on developing organisational capability in innovation and strategic thinking, as part of her role as Strategic Innovation Lead at House with No Steps.

Isabel Matias is a design practitioner with expertise in design research, usability, art direction and concept generation. She has a background in digital marketing agencies where she used a customer¬-centred approach to guide design teams towards more meaningful outcomes.