Robot Programming and Tangible Interfaces for Cognitive Training

Robot Programming and Tangible Interfaces for Cognitive Training

Stavros Demetriadis (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece), Vaitsa Giannouli (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece), and Theodosios Sapounidis (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8234-4.ch011
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This chapter presents the conceptual framework, the research rationale and preliminary outcomes of an innovative research agenda that explores the use of tangible interface and robot programming tasks as a method for providing cognitive training to patients with memory dysfunctions. The main argument of this approach is that when programming tasks and relevant tangible systems are used for cognitive training they activate and practice users' logical-analytical and visuospatial skills, which may have beneficial impact on patients' cognitive performance in daily activities. The chapter also presents preliminary outcomes from a pilot study where eleven patients suffering from mild cognitive impairment participated in a robot programming training session using the PROTEAS prototype tangible interface. Results (both qualitative and quantitative) revealed a significant negative correlation between patients' “Task Completion Time” (TCT) and mental condition (as measured by MMSE index), indicating that TCT provides a measure directly related to patients' cognitive capacity for analysis and planning.
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Research has already focused on the possible benefits from using tangible interfaces to trigger users’ specific cognitive processes and train respective skills (e.g. Sharlin et al., 2004). In the context of the ASPAD project (“Augmentation of the Support of Patients suffering from Alzheimer ’s Disease and their caregivers”) we started explore the impact of employing tangible interfaces and robot programming tasks as a method for cognitive training (Demetriadis, Giannouli, Sapounidis & Tsolaki, 2013). This research effort lies at the crossroad of important scientific domains ranging from clinical neuropsychology to technology-enhanced learning. In this chapter, we first review major research conclusions relevant to the key knowledge domains that are important in our approach, in order to step-by-step synthesize the rationale of our research perspective. These domains include: cognitive training and assessment, programming as a cognitive activity, educational robotics and tangible user interfaces. Second, we present and discuss some preliminary research results emerging from training sessions where patients with MCI (‘Mild Cognitive Impairment’) were engaged in robot programming tasks using the PROTEAS system, a tangible programming technology that we have developed originally for children introductory programming activities. Finally, we close by commenting on future research efforts and perspectives that this approach advances.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Educational Robotics: The use of programmable robot constructs in order to engage groups of students in playful collaborative problem solving activities.

Programming Task: A task where the subject (programmer) develops a specific representation (“code”) in order to dictate the behavior of some digital machine at a later time.

Cognitive Rehabilitation: The methods that are used in case of disease or trauma in order to retrain neural pathways or train new neural pathways in the brain with the aim of regaining or improving neurocognitive functioning.

Neuropsychological Assessment: An evaluation of performance on various areas of functioning, which is based on the use of standardized testing methods focusing on cognitive, behavioral and emotional functioning.

Cognitive Training (CT): Non-pharmacologic intervention designed to improve cognitive functioning, regardless of mechanism of action. CT interventions focus on specific domains of cognitive functioning such as memory, attention, flexibility and problem solving.

Tangible User Interface (TUI): A type of user interface which allows the interaction with digital information through the physical objects and environment.

Microprocessor: A single integrated circuit which incorporates the functions of a computer's central processing unit (CPU).

Mild Cognitive Impairment: A disorder concerning mainly memory problems that have been associated with future risk for Alzheimer's disease.

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