Connect 4 Robot; Autistic Individuals and their Social Challenges

Kaker, Roman, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Powell, Harry, EN-Elec/Computer Engr Dept, University of Virginia
Rogers, Hannah, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

Throughout my portfolio, I discuss and explore perception and how it affects individuals with cognitive impairments, specifically those diagnosed with autism. The difficulties appear mostly when attempting to communicate with other members of society which causes many life-affecting problems. In this portfolio, I attempt to address this issue through two different approaches: a technical project and an STS project. Both scopes work independently to help provide a partial solution, however, when combined, the two connected projects provide for a more complete solution to the issues that autistic individuals face relative to the current implementation and solution. This is done by tackling the disparity that exists with regard to how autism is addressed as an impairment through an evaluation of actor-network theory, a social theory focusing on the relationships that exists in society, and the creation of a sensory device that challenges, in a controlled environment, the autistic individual’s ability to process sensory input to better their ability to communicate in uncomfortable settings. Throughout this synthesis, I will discuss both scopes that address the issue of perception in autistic individuals, along with the intellectual gain I drew from the two projects as I worked on them throughout the semester.
In order to partially solve and address the difficulty autistic individuals have with sensory overload, my group members and I created a robotic system that can play Connect4 against a human player. The robotic system is able to address the issue by requiring the user to take in sensory input, specifically sight, and use problem-solving skills to beat an algorithm that the robot uses to dictate its next move. The design of this technical project will allow for the targeted users, people with autism, to be placed under sensory challenge in a controlled environment to then translate that practiced skill to the real world in which they can better process vast amounts of sensory input without sensory overload. In order to complement the technical project and turn the partial solution into a complete one, my STS project tackles the current, incorrect, approach of how autistic individuals are treated and taken care of. Specifically, autistic people have been known to have issues with processing sensory input and being able to communicate when in a state of sensory overload, which occurs when an individual’s senses are overstimulated. These individuals will continue to face this challenge due to the current treatment, or lack thereof when it comes to ensuring they can properly communicate when surrounded by unknown factors. Confidence is a major factor in an individual’s level of comfortability, and that is what is being pursued in this STS project by ensuring people with autism believe that they are valuable members of society.
While working on both the technical and STS projects during this semester, I believe that I gained a greater understanding of how the world around us affects different people in different ways. Perception is key and without tackling both the projects simultaneously, I do not think that I would have the same level of insight regarding the matter if I had worked on only one of the two projects. The technical project of creating a robotic Connect4 system allowed me to attain a better understanding of how robotic systems and algorithms can come together to provide for real-world application. As for the STS project, without pursuing the evaluation of the actor network theory with relation to autistic individuals I would not currently have the proper understanding of how autistic individuals are valuable members of society and need to be treated as such by implementing better treatment. Both the technical and STS projects brought to me a better understanding of the complex issues autistic individuals face and how they can be provided tools to better train themselves to tackle obscure environments.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Robot, Autism, Sensory, Electrical Engineering, Game Algorithm

School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering
Technical Advisor: Harry Powell
STS Advisor: Hannah Rogers
Technical Team Members: Kellan Delaney, Jared Tyranski, Roman Kaker

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