$20M NSF Project to Also Grow Education, Employment Opportunities in the Field

Architectural rendering of 110 Canal St., home of UMass Lowell's Innovation Hub, Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center, and the Fabric Discovery Center
UMass Lowell's NERVE Center will develop robotics and artificial-intelligence systems designed to improve the quality of life for senior citizens through a new National Science Foundation initiative.


Contact for media: Nancy Cicco, Nancy_Cicco@uml.edu

LOWELL, Mass. – UMass Lowell researchers are among the scientists behind a new initiative to develop robotics and artificial-intelligence systems designed to improve the quality of life for senior citizens.

Established through a $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation, the new NSF AI Institute for Collaborative Assistance and Responsive Intervention for Networked Groups (AI-CARING), which launches today, will develop artificial-intelligence systems that work with caretakers and older adults, including those diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, to help seniors manage their medication schedules, prepare their meals safely and perform other activities of daily living.

The institute also seeks to grow employment opportunities in order to diversify the AI-robotics workforce and expand educational programs to inspire and teach the next generation of robotics experts and computer scientists.

UMass Lowell’s Distinguished University Prof. Holly Yanco, a computer scientist who directs the New England Robotics Validation and Experimentation (NERVE) Center at UMass Lowell, is co-leading AI-CARING with Sonia Chernova, associate professor in the School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Institute of Technology.

At UMass Lowell, which received a $2.4 million share of the total funding, the research will focus on building trust in human-robot interaction, evaluating the performance of the AI systems being developed, creating educational programs in artificial intelligence and robotics for K-12 students and fostering ways to increase diversity, equity and inclusion in the AI workforce.

“AI-CARING has a tremendous potential to impact how we live, helping people to stay at home as they age and reducing the caregiving load on family and friends. This NSF AI Institute increases the educational and research opportunities for UMass Lowell students, both at the graduate and undergraduate level,” Yanco said. “At UMass Lowell, we have been pioneering computer science and robotics-driven initiatives to increase diversity in the workforce for years. Now, we look forward to advancing our work on a national stage, collaborating with fellow researchers across the country.”

Other partners in the effort include Carnegie Mellon University, Oregon State University and Oregon Health & Science University, with Amazon and Google as industry sponsors.

“This new NSF AI Institute is an example of how UMass Lowell researchers are partnering with other leading universities and major companies to enhance quality of life through better understanding of human interactions with technology. Our NERVE Center, led by Distinguished University Prof. Holly Yanco – with expertise from computer science, electrical and mechanical engineering, physical therapy and many other disciplines – is at the forefront of new standards and evaluation methods for exoskeletons, assistive technology, autonomy, AI and human-machine interfaces,” said Julie Chen, UMass Lowell’s vice chancellor for research and economic development.

Much of UMass Lowell’s research for AI-CARING will take place at the university’s NERVE Center, located at 110 Canal St., Lowell. Along with Yanco, UMass Lowell’s team will include:

  • Computer Science Assistant Prof. Reza Ahmadzadeh, an expert in the technologies that allow AI systems to “learn” and interact with people;
  • Electrical and Computer Engineering Assistant Prof. Paul Robinette, an authority on building trust between AI systems and people;
  • Computer Science Prof. Fred Martin, associate dean for teaching, learning and undergraduate studies, an expert in developing computer science curricula for K-12 students; and
  • Adam Norton, the NERVE Center’s associate director, an expert in the evaluation of robot systems.

Once developed, the new robotics and AI systems will be tested by seniors and families identified by the AI-CARING team.

AI-CARING is one of 11 new NSF National AI Research Institutes, hubs for academia, industry and government that are pioneering advances in artificial intelligence and robotics.

UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs, vigorous hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be leaders in their communities and around the globe. www.uml.edu