Shadi Moghaddasi believes that, if she’d been introduced to a robot as a kid, her dental surgeries would have gone much more smoothly. Moghaddasi is a second-year graduate student in the Department of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering. Her research focuses on making robots navigate faster by using their whole body, not just the feet, for locomotion. The made-in-Korea, humanoid-shaped robot she works with is named Taiko; Moghaddasi’s interest is in Taiko’s ability to distract and calm children undergoing painful or difficult medical procedures.
“I don’t think anything can capture a kid’s attention the way a robot can,” says Moghaddasi, who completed an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering in her native Iran before coming to the Schulich School of Engineering (SSE). “I had really good dentists and doctors, but I still felt pain and would have responded to something like this to help me through it.”
Taiko lives in the SSE’s Autonomous Reconfigurable/Robotic Systems Lab and follows in the footsteps of a smaller version called NAO that gave UCalgary researchers insight into how personalizing a robot’s interactions may prove invaluable for kids with medical conditions. So far, Taiko has been programmed to mimic human motions such as shaking hands, giving high-fives, kicking a ball and even doing the “dab” dance move. The idea is that health-care professionals will one day have access to intelligent robots with great human-robot interaction capabilities, created with 3D printer technology to reduce costs and customizable for a patient’s age range, cultural background, etc.
Moghaddasi chose UCalgary for graduate studies because of the opportunity to dovetail her interests in health care and robotics. A peek into the robotics lab where she spends her time studying and attempting to refine Taiko’s abilities is a glimpse into the future. Parked on the floor and on work tables is a fleet of fascinating and complex drones and underwater and ground vehicles, many designed and built by UCalgary students in collaboration with various robotics companies. One drone, developed by 4Front Robotics, is unique in the world for its ability to perform hovering manoeuvres at a variety of angles and orientations — technology that could facilitate access to difficult-to-reach spots such as crevices, and potentially transform current technology used to land aircraft on vessels buffeted by rough seas. UCalgary students are learning from it as they develop their own drone-control innovations.
It’s potentially life-saving stuff that could transform the way we approach dangerous work, including urban search and rescue operations. Taiko, likewise, may have the capacity to spark positive experiences for kids who could, it’s hoped, grow up more likely to access preventative health care. High-five, Taiko.
UCalgary’s $1.3-billion Energize campaign elevates student experiences, like Shadi Moghaddasi’s, that spark discovery, creativity and innovation. Together, we will fuel teaching and learning that drives positive change in the world.