Robot-Enhanced ABA Therapy: Exploring Emerging Artificial Intelligence Embedded Systems in Socially Assistive Robots for the Treatment of Autism

Eduardo R. Calle Ortiz, Worcester Polytechnic Institute


In the last decade, socially assistive robots have been used in therapeutic treatments for individuals diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). Preliminary studies have demonstrated positive results using the Penguin for Autism Behavioral Intervention (PABI) developed by the AIM Lab at WPI to assist individuals diagnosed with ASDs in Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy treatments. In recent years, power-efficient embedded AI computing devices have emerged as a powerful technology by reducing the complexity of the hardware platforms while providing support for parallel models of computation. This new hardware architecture seems to be an important step in the improvement of socially assistive robots in ABA therapy. In this thesis, we explore the use of a power-efficient embedded AI computing device and pre-trained deep learning models to improve PABI’s performance. Five main contributions are made in this work. First, a robot-enhanced ABA therapy framework is designed. Second, a multilayer pattern software architecture for a robot-enhanced ABA therapy framework is explored. Third, a multifactorial experiment is completed in order to benchmark the performance of three popular deep learning frameworks over the AI computing device. Experimental results demonstrate that some deep learning frameworks utilize the resources of GPU power while others utilize the multicore ARM-CPU system of the device for its parallel model of computation. Fourth, the robustness of state-of-the-art pre-trained deep learning models for feature extraction is analyzed and contrasted with the previous approach used by PABI. Experimental results indicate that pre-trained deep learning models overcome the traditional approaches in some fields; however, combining different pre-trained models in a process reduces its accuracy. Fifth, a patient-tracking algorithm based on an identity verification approach is developed to improve the autonomy, usability, and interactions of patients with the robot. Experimental results show that the developed algorithm has the potential to perform as well as the previous algorithm used by PABI based on a deep learning classifier approach.