Cécile Huet - interview - Deputy Head of the Robotics Unit at the European Commission

From Robots Podcast:

Cécile Huet, Deputy Head of the Robotics Unit at the European Commission, gives us an overview of the new wave of robotics projects funded under Horizon2020, with a focus on robots that can help people and drive application. She also tells us about the tools available to fund the full pipeline from research projects to hubs of excellence in robotics.

interview - MP3 file

Naming your emotions

From New York Times:

“How are you feeling?”

Those are the four deceptively simple words with which my colleagues and I regularly begin our meetings and our training sessions at other organizations. People ask the question to each other, one at a time. We don’t mean, “How are you?” or even “How are you doing?” because the rote responses to these questions are usually some version of “Fine.” What we mean is, “How are you really feeling?”

Although our emotional state profoundly influences the quality of our work, many of us aren’t aware of how we’re feeling at any given moment or what the impact may be. Most employers don’t give emotions much attention either, preferring that we park them at the door in the morning so they don’t get in the way during the workday.

Unfortunately, that isn’t possible for human beings. We’re not machines, nor robots.

Translational medicine and engineering

From Science Magazine:

Engineering as a new frontier for translational medicine

The inclusion of engineering ideas and approaches makes medicine a quantitative and systems-based discipline that facilitates precision diagnostics and therapeutics to im-
prove health care delivery for all.

Engineering and technological advances have played a major role in medical discoveries and their clinical translation since the invention of x-rays by Roentgen in 1895.
Since then, many of the Nobel Prizes have been awarded for novel technology development that led to improvements in healthcare, including polymerase chain reaction, magnetic resonance imaging, several forms of spectroscopy and microscopy, and human genome sequencing. T is year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry, for the development of super-resolution microscopy and its biomedical application, further exemplifies how engineering is broadly advancing our basic knowledge and its medical translation. T e recent list of the top 100 cited papers includes many technological innovations and tools that have accelerated biology and medicine.

Groundbreaking inventions in mechanics, optics, materials, electronics, and computing in the past decades have ideally positioned the integration of the life sciences and engineering to address major challenges in medicine and health care. With uneven access to modern medicine across the globe, there is a pressing need for democratization of health care to deliver high-quality, cost-effective care; engineering can play a major role in meeting this critical need by enabling technologies that allow early detection, precise diagnostics, mobile health, and data-sharing for the realization of precision medicine.



From IEEE Spectrum :

For the BionicANTs, Festo has not only transferred the delicate anatomy of ants, but also their cooperative behaviour to the world of technology. Like their natural role models, they communicate with each other and work together according to clear rules to solve a common task.


IKEA flat-pack refugee shelter

IKEA flat-pack refugee shelter

From The Verge:

The UNHCR has agreed to buy 10,000 of the shelters, and will begin providing them to refugee families this summer. [...] Measuring about 188 square feet, each shelter accommodates five people and includes a rooftop solar panel that powers a built-in lamp and USB outlet. The structure ships just like any other piece of Ikea furniture, with insulated, lightweight polymer panels, pipes, and wires packed into a cardboard box. According to Ikea, it only takes about four hours to assemble.

Amazon picking challenge 2015

From MIT Rechnology Review:

Robots will use the latest computer-vision and machine-learning algorithms to try to perform the work done by humans in vast fulfillment centers. In order to spur the advancement of this fundamental technology we are excited to be organizing the first Amazon Picking Challenge at ICRA 2015.

Official website of Amazon picking challenge 2015.

The 25 items that participating robots will need to retrieve from shelves.

Amazon picking challenge 2015 The 25 items that participating robots will need to retrieve from shelves

Mental health spectrum - quantitative psychiatry

Some notes from the paper "Mental health: On the spectrum" by David Adam. Full-text Nature

Mental health spectrum - dimensional psychiatry

David Kupfer is a modern-day heretic. A psychiatrist at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, Kupfer, has spent the past six years directing the revision of a book commonly referred to as the bible of the psychiatric field. The work will reach a climax next month when the American Psychiatric Association (APA) unveils the fifth incarnation of the book, called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which provides checklists of symptoms that psychiatrists around the world use to diagnose their patients. The DSM is so influential that just about the only suggestion of Kupfer's that did not meet with howls of protest during the revision process was to change its name from DSM-V to DSM-5.

Although the title and wording of the manual are now settled, the debate that overshadowed the revision is not. The stark fact is that no one has yet agreed on how best to define and diagnose mental illnesses. DSM-5, like the two preceding editions, will place disorders in discrete categories such as major-depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD). These categories, which have guided psychiatry since the early 1980s, are based largely on decades-old theory and subjective symptoms.

The problem is that biologists have been unable to find any genetic or neuroscientific evidence to support the breakdown of complex mental disorders into separate categories. Many psychiatrists, meanwhile, already think outside the category boxes, because they see so many patients whose symptoms do not fit neatly into them. Kupfer and others wanted the latest DSM to move away from the category approach and towards one called 'dimensionality', in which mental illnesses overlap. According to this view, the disorders are the product of shared risk factors that lead to abnormalities in intersecting drives such as motivation and reward anticipation, which can be measured (hence 'dimension') and used to place people on one of several spectra. But the attempt to introduce this approach foundered, as other psychiatrists and psychologists protested that it was premature."

Research could yet come to the rescue. In 2010, the US National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in Bethesda, Maryland, launched an initiative, called the Research Domain Criteria project, that aims to improve understanding of dimensional variables and the brain circuits involved in mental disorders. Clinical psychologist Bruce Cuthbert, who heads the project, says that it is an attempt to go “back to the drawing board” on mental illness. In place of categories, he says, “we do have to start thinking instead about how these disorders are dysregulation in normal processes”. But that will be too late for the DSM. Kupfer says that he now sees how hard it is to change clinical doctrine. “The plane is in the air and we have had to make the changes while it is still flying.

Rival approach

At the same time that research and clinical practice are helping to undermine the DSM categories, the rival dimensional approach is gaining support. Over the past decade, psychiatrists have proposed a number of such dimensions, but they are not used in practice — partly because they are not sanctioned by the DSM.

The frequent co-morbidity between schizophrenia and OCD, for instance, has led some to suggest a schizo-obsessive spectrum, with patients placed according to whether they attribute intrusive thoughts to an external or internal source. And in 2010, Craddock and his colleague Michael Owen proposed the most radical dimensional spectrum so far3, in which five classes of mental disorder are arranged on a single axis: mental retardation–autism–schizophrenia–schizoaffective disorder–bipolar disorder/unipolar mood disorder (see 'Added dimensions'). Psychiatrists would place people on the scale by assessing the severity of a series of traits that are affected in these conditions, such as cognitive impairment or mood disruption. It is a massively simplified approach, Craddock says, but it does seem to chime with the symptoms that patients report. More people show the signs of both mental retardation and autism, for example, than of both mental retardation and depression.

When Kupfer and his DSM-5 task force began work in 2007, they were bullish that they would be able to make the switch to dimensional psychiatry. “I thought that if we did not use younger, more-basic science to push as hard as we could, then we would find it very difficult to move beyond the present state,” Kupfer recalls. The task force organized a series of conferences to discuss how the approach could be introduced. One radical and particularly controversial proposal was to scrap half of the existing ten conditions relating to personality disorder and introduce a series of cross-cutting dimensions to measure patients against, such as degree of compulsivity.

But this and other proposals met with stinging criticism. The scales proposed were not based on strong evidence, critics said, and psychiatrists had no experience of how to use them to diagnose patients. What is more, the personality-disorder dimensions flopped when they were tested on patients in field trials of the draft DSM criteria between 2010 and 2012: too many psychiatrists who tried them reached different conclusions. “Introducing a botched dimensional system prematurely into DSM-5 may have the negative effect of poisoning the well for their future acceptance by clinicians,” wrote Allen Frances, emeritus professor of psychiatry at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, in an article in the British Journal of Psychiatry4. Frances had served as head of the DSM-IV task force and was one of the strongest critics of proposals to introduce dimensionality to DSM-5.

The proposal was also unpopular with patient groups and charities, many of which have fought long and hard to make various distinct mental-health disorders into visible brands. They did not want to see schizophrenia or bipolar disorder labelled as something different. Speaking privately, some psychologists also mutter about the influence of drug companies and their relationship with psychiatrists. Both stand to profit from the existing DSM categories because health-insurance schemes in the United States pay for treatments based on them. They have little incentive to see categories dissolve.

Schizophrenia: an integrated sociodevelopmental-cognitive model

Some notes about Schizophrenia extracted from the work "Schizophrenia: an integrated sociodevelopmental-cognitive model" by Dr Oliver D Howes DM, Prof Robin M Murray FRS. Full-text The Lancet

An integrated sociodevelopmental model: Our model combines aspects of the dopamine, neurodevelopmental, and sociodevelopmental hypotheses with cognitive theories. First, developmental deviance secondary to variant genes, hazards to the brain, and social adversity in childhood disrupt the development of and sensitises the dopamine system (fi gure 2). At the same time, social adversity also biases the cognitive schema that the individual uses to interpret experiences towards psychotic interpretations. Subsequent stress then results in dysregulated dopamine release, leading to the aberrant assignment of salience, which, when interpreted in the context of biased cognitive schema, contributes to further stress. A vicious cycle is established: stress increases dopamine dysregulation, leading to more stress, and so further dopamine release, which eventually hardwires the psychotic interpretation (fi gure 3). There is a progressive dysregulation of dopamine seen from the prodrome to the fi rst and subsequent psychotic episodes.

The effect of neurodevelopmental and sociodevelopmental risk factors for psychosis on the dopamine system and cognitive schema

"This is a dynamic model in that the degree of dopaminergic dysfunction fl uctuates in response to the psychological response to the abnormal dopamine signalling. This process contrasts with previous static versions of the dopamine hypothesis that could not account for relapses and remissions of the illness. Thus, the dopamine dysregulation reduces after the acute stressor abates, although it does not normalise completely in most patients. This explains not only why about 10% of patients have no further episodes of psychosis after the first episode but also why people who have had a psychotic episode remain at risk of further episodes even years later, and the role of social stress in relapse. Finally, in view of dopamine’s role in reward learning, the enduring dopamine dysfunction could account for the negative symptoms that many patients have between acute episodes."

Model of the onset of psychosis showing the interaction between acute stress, dopamine dysfunction, and biased cognitive schema

Key evidence for the original neurodevelopmental hypothesis was that premorbid motor and intellectual abnormalities were evident in pre-schizophrenic children. 34 At the time the dopaminergic dysfunction was thought to be mesolimbic rather nigrostriatal. However, subsequent fi ndings suggest that the dopaminergic dysfunction includes the motor and associative parts of the striatum, and abnormalities in the associative parts of the striatum have been linked to poorer cognitive function in people with prodromal signs of schizophrenia. 21 Thus motor and cognitive abnormalities could be accounted for by the eff ect of altered dopaminergic function in the motor and associative striatum, respectively. In support of this hypothesis, transgenic mouse models show that even a relatively subtle increase in striatal dopaminergic neuro transmission impairs cognitive function. Of course, our model does not preclude developmental disruption of other systems, which could both contribute to cognitive dysfunction and underlie the greater sensitivity of the dopaminergic system to subsequent stressors. Some, albeit tentative, support for this notion comes from the fi nding that smaller grey matter volumes are associated with a greater stressinduced increase in a peripheral marker of dopamine. Similarly, individuals with greater exposure to risk factors, and particularly greater severity of developmental insult, will probably show more marked dopaminergic dysregulation and also dysfunction of other systems. This eff ect explains why patients with more risk factors tend to have a poorer prognosis, and accounts for heterogeneity in the cognitive impairments noted in patients with schizophrenia.

The model explains the overlap both in risk factors and brain abnormalities between schizophrenia and neuropsychiatric disorders such as autism and epilepsy, because they share neurodevelopmental origins. However, it proposes that the eff ect of these develop mental factors and subsequent social stressors on the dopamine system determines whether the trajectory is towards progressive dopamine dysregulation and psycho sis, or, when the dopamine system is not progressively dysregulated, another diagnosis or no disorder. Finally the model is primarily a theory about psychosis in schizophrenia and, putatively, psychosis in other disorders. Thus, it would account, for example, for the higher rates of psychosis in conditions such as epilepsy, learning disability, and autism that have similar neuro developmental origins.

Mechanisms of attention in touch

New IROS 2014 paper about touch attention mechanisms in robotic systems. Read more here.

Some notes about attention mechanisms in Humans extracted from the work "Mechanisms of attention in touch" by Lloyd DM, Bolanowski SJ Jr, Howard L, McGlone F.
Full-text informahealthcare.com

Introduction: A touch to a body surface will trigger an alerting response and subsequent rapid orientation of the eyes and head towards the stimulated site in order to facilitate an appropriate response (Groh and Sparks, 1996a). However, little is known about the attentional mechanisms operating solely within the tactile modality. Recent studies have demonstrated ipsilateral Reaction Time (RT) inhibition (inhibition of return Ð IOR) to somatic non-informative cues, but have explained this in terms of the reduction of motor readiness at the cued location (Tassinari and Berlucchi, 1995; Tassinari and Campara, 1996). The following study proposes an alternative explanation of these effects by exploiting the model developed by Posner (1980), who described two ways in which attention can be oriented to a potential source of perceptual input, i.e., exogenously or endogenously. In the former, attention is automatically oriented by a sudden onset stimulus, whereas in the latter, attention is under the strategic control of the subject. The presence of an equivalent system in the attentional control of somatosensation is as yet unestablished. The present study aimed to investigate whether similar sampling strategies are employed for touch."

Current understanding of tactile attention mechanisms comes mainly from vibrotactile studies in which subjects had to detect small changes in the intensity of the stimulus (Whang et al., 1991; Evans and Craig, 1992). Interference effects, where the presentation of a non-target stimulus to one fingerpad interferes with the identification of a target stimulus presented to a second fingerpad, can also be used to demonstrate a failure of selective attention (Craig and Evans, 1995). Driver and Grossenbacher (1996) also show that interference effects are not just determined by the sensory surface stimulated, but are influenced by higher level frames of reference. When the task is to respond to a target vibration on one finger, distractors on a homologous finger on the other hand have greater effects when the fingers are close together. As the fingers are moved apart the interference effect declines because the information is represented in action space, not by where in the somatosensory cortex each finger projects. Studies examining the effects of attention on the somatosensory system have used somatosensory evoked potentials (SEPs) to demonstrate orienting of attention by an exogenous cue (Garcia-Larrea et al., 1991). In a related study, Bruyant et al. (1993) showed that ª odd ballº stimuli evoked the distinctive P300a response even when presented to the unattended hand, suggesting that unusual stimuli are automatically analysed by the somatosensory systems. Clearly, much perceptual analysis will take place automatically without the subjects’ orienting attention to the stimulus, or even being consciously aware of its presence. However, some forms of perceptual analysis will only be possible when the subject actively orients attention to the source of sensory stimulation. Tactile alerting responses are beyond a subject’s control, i.e., they cannot prevent attention moving to that area (exogenous), or alternatively, subjects can move attention to particular areas of skin in a voluntary controlled manner (endogenous).

In studies of exogenous (automatic) orienting of visual attention, detection of a target in the cued location is facilitated at short intervals, whereas over longer periods, detection of a stimulus at the previously attended location is inhibited. One of the major functions of visual attention is to ensure that environments are searched efficiently for objects that are of behavioural relevance to the organism. A crucial mechanism that enables efficient search is the IOR of attention (Posner and Cohen, 1984). IOR elicited by visual stimuli is associated with the saccade-generating systems of the superior colliculus (Kalesnykas and Sparks, 1996; Groh and Sparks, 1996b).

In studies of visual endogenous orienting facilitation effects are normally obtained, i.e., at short stimulus onset asynchronies (SOAs) either no effect, or a small facilitation is observed. At longer SOAs the facilitation is larger. This increase reflects the time course of endogenous attention, i.e., it takes some finite interval for strategic attentional processes to be moved from one locus to another. Therefore, longer intervals between the cue and the target make it more likely that attention has arrived at the cued location, and, hence, larger facilitation is observed.

Bradshaw et al. (1988) demonstrated that orienting the eyes to a tactually stimulated body site (the hand) facilitated subsequent detection in a simple RT task, but only when the arms were crossed over the body midline requiring visual input in order to locate relative limb position in external space (Pierson et al., 1991). This facilitation occurs even when the subjects cannot see the normally visible body site being stimulated. Driver and Grossenbacher (1996) found that incongruent tactile distractors (i.e., different from the target) impaired tactile discrimination performance in all their experiments, but that this impairment declined when the hands were spatially separated and the subjects were looking at the relevant hand or a neutral midline position. These results demonstrate contributions from upper-limb proprioception to spatially selective tactile attention and suggest a role for head and eye orientation in the spatial selection of even unseen tactile stimuli.

Honore et al. (1989) also demonstrated that directing the eyes towards the same source as the tactile stimulus yields an additional benefit even when sight itself is not involved (i.e., in a darkened room). Most recently, Tipper et al. (1998) demonstrated that the perception of tactile stimuli is facilitated when subjects look towards the stimulated body site, and, indeed, vision of a body site, independent of proprioceptive orienting, could effect somatosensation.

We will also show that attention can be facilitated when subjects are instructed to visually orient to the stimulated site. Graziano and Gross (1996) have identified neurones in frontal cortex and the basal ganglia which have both visual and tactile receptive fields. The visual receptive field associated with a region of the body (such as the hand) moves with that body part, showing how integral visual and somatosensory interaction can be for guiding action. More recently, the flexibility of these bi-modal cells has been demonstrated by Iriki et al. (1996) who showed that when a monkey used a tool to reach for a food reward, the visual receptive field expanded around the full

Discussion: It is evident from the results that the attentional mechanisms operating in the tactile system are, in some ways similar to those observed with the visual system. Both exogenous automatic orienting and endogenous strategic orienting mechanisms exist. Even though the input to the somatosensory system remains constant in terms of cues and targets, the systematic varying of proportions and information provided to the subjects results in qualitatively different patterns of data.

Evidence for exogenous orienting: These experiments demonstrate the phenomenon of IOR in the tactile system. The effect is observed at a wide range of intervals from 100 to 1200 ms. The inhibition increases in magnitude between 200 and 700 ms, indicating that the effect is not produced by low level masking processes (Bolanowski et al., 1988). However, in order to support this, a series of experiments was carried out to test whether the initial cue was capable of peripherally masking the target vibration in order to cause the effects of inhibition observed in these results. Cue intensities of a 50 ms linear ramp stimulus and a 70 ms 200 Hz sine wave were presented in a counterbalanced blocked design. If the inhibition observed was due to low level masking, it would increase in size with a more intense cue stimulus.

The results showed no main effect of SOA (F(1 ,11) = 1.37), but the main effect of cueing (F(1 ,11) = 51.13, p

Evidence for endogenous orienting: The are two important features of these data. First, in sharp contrast to experiment 1a, facilitation was observed at the short SOA where there had been inhibition with exogenous cues. This contrast is a potential marker for the role of higher level attentional processes influencing low level perception. Second, the facilitation appears to have dissipated and to have been replaced by inhibition at the longer SOA of 700 ms. So, although the contrast between exogenous and endogenous orienting was as predicted from visual attention studies at short SOAs, the effects at long SOAs were not, therefore indicating sensory modality specificity. An interpretation would be that in these particular procedures, the subjects are unable to maintain attention at the cued location for long periods. By 700 ms attention has shifted away from the cued locus, as demonstrated by IOR. The similar inhibition effects at the longer SOA whether the subjects ignore the cues or actively try to maintain attention upon them, demonstrates strong (p

Evidence for visual orienting: The effects of visual orienting to the cued hand have consistently shown that, where previously, inhibition had been observed at the longer SOAs (for both exogenous and endogenous orienting), facilitation effects have now been obtained. The reason for this may be that if inhibition of saccades to a body site can cause inhibition of subsequent tactile stimuli presented to that body site, then removal of the saccade inhibition may produce the facilitation effects. It may be that the saccade system is rapidly activated but cannot be maintained, and if not released quickly, the eye movement is inhibited. In our task the subjects were required to maintain fixation at a central locus, thus, after cueing, which may trigger a saccade to the stimulated body site, the saccade is suppressed. Therefore, this saccade inhibition may mediate our effects. An interaction between visual orienting and tactile attention is, however, clearly demonstrated, illustrating that visual orienting to a body site is sufficient to facilitate the focusing and maintenance of attention at that site.

The previous results also show that, where purely strategic tactile orienting failed to facilitate RTs, visual orienting to the stimulated site facilitated all RTs, demonstrating again an improvement in somatosensory perception derived from visual input. The evidence of excitatory links between the spatiotopic maps of the different sensory modalities could provide a speculative explanation of the source of the facilitation effects seen in this study. When looking towards a particular locus, activity in somatosensory systems responsible for the eye/head orienting, and visual maps receiving visual input from that location, may project excitatory signals to other modalities, in this case the tactile. This encoding of information from the same spatial source may lead to the speeded processing of tactile information observed in this study.


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