Photos by Ken Nakagaki

Students and faculty from seven UChicago CS research groups participated in the Robot Block Party, an event organized at the Museum of Science & Industry for National Robotics Week. On April 8th and 9th, more than 30 people from UChicago CS programs set up in the museum’s rotunda and exhibited interactive demos covering an assortment of computational topics, from robots and AI to smart devices and data privacy.

Museum visitors got the chance to play games with Vector, the robot used by assistant professor Sarah Sebo in her Human-Robot Interaction Lab, or view the tiny HERMITS robots and mechanical shells created by assistant professor Ken Nakagaki.

“It was especially fun to connect with the broader community about our human-robot interaction research,” Sebo said. “Children and families were able to learn about how social features, such as eyes, help people identify a robot is asking for help and how robots can help two strangers strike up a meaningful conversation.”

Prof. Nick Feamster’s NOISE Lab presented research on privacy issues with “connected” home devices, while SUPERgroup, directed by assistant professor Blase Ur, presented an AI-driven speech-modulating mask created in collaboration with students from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

The Chicago Human+AI (CHAI) Lab of assistant professor Chenhao Tan asked volunteers to classify images of animals to help train a computer vision model, while students from AIRLab, led by assistant professor Marshini Chetty, created a board game activity where children guessed who had access to the data collected by educational technologies used in school.

“It started a lot of really interesting conversations,” said fourth-year undergraduate CS/Math major Amy Morrill, “For the kids, they would debate amongst themselves about where they should put different types of data. Then the parents were able to have more in-depth conversations with us after the fact about our research and our findings that educational technologies have a lot of data about kids and aren’t necessarily that secure.”

The demo was useful for the researchers as well, who got practice in communicating their findings to the general public and learned about data privacy knowledge gaps to study in future projects.

“We work with children’s data and issues surrounding children and their parents, so this was the perfect opportunity for us to directly communicate with people who are affected by our findings,” said Jake Chanenson, a first-year PhD student.

Members of Nakagaki’s Actuated Experience Lab (AxLab) showed early prototypes of their research projects — work so new we can’t show it here. But observing how other members of the local robotics community (the event also featured booths from Northwestern, IIT, and TTIC) and non-scientists interact with their inventions can help the students return to the lab and refine those features, Nakagaki said.

“They are able to show their work-in-progress research, and that’s a really great opportunity,” he said. ”Essentially, we design devices that interact with people, so it’s really important for us to exhibit and showcase these earlier prototypes,and get feedback that helps us determine which directions work better or not. So it was a really cool opportunity for us.”

The Robot Block Party event was co-organized by Voula Saridakis, MSI Curator of Collections, and Kathleen McCarthy, MSI Director of Collections and Head Curator. UChicago CS participation was organized by Randall Landsberg, Education Outreach Director for the department and EPiQC.

Participating faculty and students included:

Marshini Chetty/AIRLAB
Jake Chanenson, PhD student
Amy Morrill, undergraduate student

Nick Feamster/NOISE Lab
Shinan Liu, PhD student

Sanjay Krishnan/ChiData

Ken Nakagaki/AxLab (Actuated Experience Lab)
Togay Atmaca, undergraduate student
Rohan Deme, undergraduate student
Jiatong (Logen) Lee, undergraduate student
Ting-Han (Timmy) Lin, undergraduate student
Tianle Liu, masters student
Aditya Retnanto, masters student
Jihui (Todd) Tan, undergraduate student
Diogo Viveiros, undergraduate student
David Wu, undergraduate student

Sarah Sebo/Human Robot Interaction Lab
Efraim Dahl, undergraduate student
Ting-Han Lin , undergraduate student
Stephanie Kim, undergraduate student
Spencer Ng, undergraduate student
Valerie Zhao, PhD student

Chenhao Tan/Chicago Human+AI (CHAI) Lab
Han Liu PhD student
Harry Tian, PhD student

Blase Ur/SUPERgroup
Kevin Bryson, PhD student
Tom Gal, MFA student, SAIC
Emma Peterson, PhD student
Valerie Zhao, PhD student

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