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Robot Teaches Cyber Security, Checks to See If You’ve Been Hacked

Release Date:
10/13/2015 9:00 AM

Editor’s note: Here is a link to a video about the project:

Oct. 13, 2015

WEST HAVEN, CONN. --- Help has arrived for those worried that their email accounts have been hacked or that their bank accounts have been compromised. It’s a robot developed by a University of New Haven student that can check personal email accounts for hackers and offer advice about cybersecurity.

Known as Ada, the robot has a head that can move, a torso that can turn, and is colored blue and white. It was developed by Devon Clark of Branford, who received his B.S. in engineering from UNH in May and is now a master’s degree student. The robot is named for Ada Lovelace, considered the first computer programmer for developing the first algorithm carried out by a machine.

The robot can help people keep their online information private and demonstrate new trends in cybersecurity, Clark said. “Ada is basically a computer teaching people about computer safety.”

Ada can sense a person approaching and will react by greeting the person. Users can choose from eight activities, including reading a cybersecurity article, taking a quiz, listening to a joke, tweeting a picture with Ada and checking an email address to see if it has been hacked. Ada can also teach users about secure passwords and other ways to keep accounts safe.

The robot was completed as part of an education research initiative at UNH Cyber Forensics Research and Education Group (UNHcFREG) in the Tagliatela College of Engineering.

“The project far exceeded what most class projects accomplish,” said Ibrahim Baggili, assistant dean of engineering and director of CFREG. “Ada was a time-consuming, high-level engineering project and its applications are all open source so others can adapt her for other teaching projects.”

Baggili said students in the UNHcFREG program are experimenting with ways that challenge existing methods of doing things. “We thought, why not use a robot to create awareness on cybersecurity?” he said. “We can tour the country with it and teach children!”

Clark notes that one can engage in a conversation with Ada by pressing the microphone button.

“She will interact with you and answer your questions or tell jokes,” said Clark, who developed the robot as a project for his Introduction to Computer Security course in the spring. The robot was refined during the summer and early fall and represents hundreds of hours of work, he said.

“With a little help and a lot of patience, Ada has grown into the fully functional robot she is today,” Baggili said.

Ada’s brain is an Android tablet running a custom application that controls her interaction and the things that she says, he said. Ada also has hardware to control her head movements and a motion sensor to allow her to turn.

And her knowledge of cyber security? That comes from her very own Twitter account, @Ada_SecuroBot and is updated, Clark said, “by the brainiacs of the UNH Cyber Forensics Research and Education Group with tips, articles, RSS feeds, retweets, jokes and more.”

Ada is not Clark’s first robot. He developed one that tends bar - including mixing drinks - as his senior project.

Another UNH graduate student, Daniel Walnycky of Orange, who has a B.S. degree in engineering from UNH, developed the interface and the robot’s eyes

The University of New Haven is a private, top-tier comprehensive institution recognized as a national leader in experiential education. Founded in 1920 the university enrolls approximately 1,800 graduate students and more than 5,000 undergraduates.