Meet Dr Ram Prasad Krishnamoorthy, an ASSISTID Fellow who is researching how computer based learning tools can be personalised to the needs of the end user. The tool will use artificial intelligence methods to learn what parts of the teaching programme the end user likes or dislikes and can adapt content accordingly,, for example to prompt the person to repeat a task where extra practice is needed. Ram is working in the School of Electronic Engineering in DCU and with collaborating with speech and language therapists. We asked him a few questions about his research.
1) Can you tell us in 3 sentences what your research is about?
I am developing a personalized virtual tutoring system to improve language skills for people with Intellectual Disability (ID) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The tutoring system will be able to evaluate and analyze the end-users attention and their engagement with the programme by measuring facial features (lip movement, eye-gaze) in real-time. This project aims to improve the person’s learning potential by personalizing the virtual tutor with the face and voice of a family member or carer instead of a synthesized face and voice.
2) Why are you interested in this issue?
Primarily, I wanted to work in the field of Computer Vision and Machine Learning and I was exploring opportunities to pursue my postdoctoral research work in this field. My doctoral work was in Biometrics and it involved only Image Analysis and Pattern Recognition. When I saw the call for ASSISTID Marie Curie Fellowships to develop assistive technologies to improve the quality of life for people who need special support, I was excited to conceptualize a project which will bring in the latest technological innovations from the field of Computer Vision and Machine Learning to the people who can most benefit from them. Even though I did not have any prior experience working with people with disabilities, the reviewers found my project proposal of value and gave me this great opportunity to work on my project.
3) What does it mean to your research career to be an ASSISTID Marie Curie Fellow?
Marie Curie is Europe’s most prestigious Fellowship programme and provides opportunities for researchers to pursue high quality interdisciplinary research. It also helps to establish strong research networks through secondment visits as well as organizing frequent workshops and conferences. This postdoc fellowship is my second Marie Curie fellowship; I was also funded through Marie Curie fellowship for my doctoral research work. I am confident that my experience as ASSISTID MC Fellow will help me to establish myself as a scientist who can make a worthwhile contribution to society in the coming years. The recent training workshop organized by ASSISTID helped me gain new insights into the need for training in employment related skills for people with intellectual disabilities. I would like to focus more on these aspects in future, and to raise awareness in society of these needs.
4) What do you hope the impact of your work will be?
My work will help people with learning difficulties to become independent learners, and improve their language learning skills. Being unable to communicate ones needs often leads to frustration and challenging behaviour. This is often because these individuals have not mastered useful sets of vocabulary to help them in their day-to-day activities. Computer Assisted Learning (CAL) has shown positive impacts in previous research studies for such groups. Taking advantage of this aspect about CAL, and also being able to customize the virtual tutor based on personal preferences will make a huge positive impact in their learning curve which in turn will help them improve their quality of life.
5) What is the most frequently asked question which people ask you about your work?
People ask me how as a computer scientist I can get involved with research in ID/ASD and make a relevant contribution? Many people believe that contributions in this field are made only by psychologists/therapists or doctors to improve the quality of life for people with ID/ASD. With all the technological innovations in the field of Computer Vision, Machine Learning, Biometrics and Virtual Reality, I strongly believe that research in these areas can make significant contributions towards building robust assistive tools which will help improve the quality of living for people who need special attention.
6) Tell us something which might surprise us?
My belief is that this personalized virtual tutor which I am developing will not only be useful for people with ID/ASD, but also for typically developing children. In our busy society, this software will give parents an opportunity to connect with their children through learning activities which will be emotionally satisfying for both parents and children.