Connecting children to their therapy
After many years of studying Spanish in school, Kyra wanted to test her skills in the real world and spend a summer in Spain. Practicing Spanish was more important to her than finding the ideal technical work, but she was fortunate to find an exciting opportunity in the Planning and Learning Group at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M).
Once settled into her internship, Kyra joined her labmates in working on the award-winning NAOTherapist project, which uses the NAO robot and Kinect, a motion sensing device, to assist in physical therapy for children with cerebral palsy. It is often difficult to keep children interested in therapy programs, so the NAOTherapist seeks to engage patients through interactive games and positive feedback. One existing game asked patients to mirror the pose of the robot, while another had patients remember a series of poses and repeat them. The Kinect is used to monitor the child’s progress and give feedback on whether they are doing a pose correctly. Kyra was challenged to learn a new programming language, Planning Domain Definition Language (PDDL), on the job. She contributed to the project by developing a new dance game, in which the robot teaches the patient a series of dance moves and then dances with the child to popular songs like the Macarena and Despacito. “A highlight of my summer was one of my last days at work, when I got to see kids interacting with the NAOTherapist program. It was so rewarding to see the work I had done being used to help real patients.”
Gaining confidence, gaining adventures
Adjusting to Spanish culture was exciting but challenging at times. Luckily, Kyra’s coworkers helped her adapt to life in and out of the lab. “I ate lunch with my coworkers every day, so we got to know each other very quickly. After work, they eagerly shared the best things about Madrid with me— from favorite tapas places, to a salsa and bachata club, to a weekend trip to a lake,” she recalls. Beyond exploring with her coworkers and flat mates, Kyra enjoyed the independence of being abroad. “I was conscious of how limited my time in Spain was, and I wanted to make the most of it. When I wanted to take a weekend trip, I always went, even if nobody else from MIT was going. MISTI Spain gave me the confidence and the impetus to be independent and explore things outside my comfort zone, and I will always remember the fun adventures I had in my travels across Spain.”