UCF RESTORES at Otronicon

Otronicon- 4For the last 11 years Otronicon, or the (O)rlando Elec(tron)ic (I)nteractive Entertainment (Con)vention, has explored the science, art, technology, careers and fun behind simulation, robotics, videogames, virtual reality and digital media. Each year, various industry partners join the Orlando Science Center to promote STEM careers and celebrate how digital media technologies impact the way we live, learn, work and play.

For the 2nd year in a row, UCF RESTORES, a lab within the department of Psychology, displayed avatars that they developed for Social Anxiety research. Currently, these avatars are used as a way for children with Social Anxiety Disorder to implement and practice social skills learned from their clinician. Although this has served to be quite successful, the team found that avatars are limited in terms of what they can say.

This prompted Deborah Beidel, Ph.D., the director of UCF RESTORES, to apply for, and receive, a grant working with Virtually Better Inc. to develop artificial intelligence for the avatars.

But before the avatars’ language can be developed, it is imperative to for the team to know what children are likely to say. The team wanted visitors at Otronicon toOtronicon- 1 speak with the avatars to survey what children are most likely going to say to the avatars and how they respond to certain prompts in order to expand the language for the avatars.

“It was empowering to see so many children interested in what technology can be used for, aside from video games. Especially since the purpose of our exhibit was unique from other vendors in that our main goal is to develop a product beneficial for a clinical population.” said graduate student Thien-An Le.

“This year, we had about 350 children stop by our table and speak with our avatars, which was more than we could have imagined, and it was just so exciting to see how kids and parents were intrigued about our avatars.”

“Not only were these children choosing to interact with our avatars over playing video games, but some children seemed genuinely interested in how our use of technology was designed to help children. There were a handful of children who repeatedly returned to our table to converse with additional avatars. Additionally, it was reaffirming to hear parents comment that this product would be very beneficial for either their own children, or others they knew. ”

Otronicon- 3There was a total of 16 UCF representatives who attended this 5 day event. The team consisted of doctoral students from Sandra Neer, Ph.D., and Dr. Beidel’s labs, as well as undergraduate research assistants. Graduate students and staff members included: Thien-An Le, Jennifer Scheurich, Krystal Morrison, Natalie Reyes, and Patricia Carreno.

Undergraduate research assistants included: Tyler Powers, Sheronda Fleming, Aaron Necaise, Rebekah Kanefsky, Priscila Manzanet, Amber Farwig, Nick Turpening, Danielle Samuels, Katelynn Coch, and Jacquelynne Dauk.

The event also featured several other exhibits, activities and guest speakers from UCF. Other UCF exhibitors were the E2i Creative Studio, School of Visual Arts & Design, and the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy.

The event promotes the idea of “made in Orlando, played in Orlando”, giving people the chance to interact with the creative, Orlando based, professionals that made the games we enjoy today.

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