USF robotics professor Murphy gets Microsoft grant to study human-robot interactions

Team will create a "survivor buddy"

TAMPA, Fla. ( May 16 2008) – The University of South Florida’s Robin Murphy, professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering and director of the Institute for Safety Security Rescue Technology, is sharing a $500,000 Microsoft External research grant, Microsoft announced today. The grant is to continue studying human-robot interaction, an area in which Murphy has gained international recognition along with her work in rescue robotics. 

“Microsoft Research is thrilled to partner with the University of South Florida to encourage research focused on the development of a web-enabled robot as a social medium to help care for trapped disaster victims,” said Sailesh Chutani, senior director, Microsoft Research. “Professor Murphy’s research project exemplifies Microsoft Research’s commitment to innovative research that has the potential to solve some of today’s most challenging societal concerns. Our senior program manager, Stewart Tansley, looks forward to a successful partnership.” 

Working with Clifford Nass, professor of communication at Stanford University, Murphy’s team will create a “Survivor Buddy,” a robot that will be a companion to a person who may be trapped after a car crash or in building ruins following an earthquake, or someone pinned down by sniper fire. The robot can act on the behalf of rescuers or medical personnel.  “Robots can monitor the health of the person it is accompanying, by taking blood pressure and pulse, and can also offer food and water,” said Murphy. “Robots can provide not only a sense of being a ‘buddy’ by playing soothing music or providing other entertainment, the robot also can be the audio and video link between survivor and family.”

According to Murphy, the research challenge is how to make the survivor and the doctors happy at the same time.

“Having a robot arrive, one that can express to you the survivor that it is there for your benefit, can also be used as a tool by doctors or rescuers,” explained Murphy. “However, if everything is not done right, the robot could be more annoying than automated call centers. Our research is all about doing it right.”

Along with funding, Microsoft has made available to researchers a wide range of software development technologies. Murphy’s projects under the grant rely on .NET and Microsoft Robotics Studio.

The University of South Florida is among the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of 39 community engaged public universities as designated by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. It is one of Florida's top three research universities. USF was awarded more than $300 million in research contracts and grants last year. The University offers 219 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The University has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 45,000 students on campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.

– USF –