REU

Applications are currently open and will be due on January 24, 2021. 

Overview

The Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) offers a 10-week summer research program for undergraduates in interactive virtual experiences. A multidisciplinary research institute affiliated with the University of Southern California, the ICT was established in 1999 to combine leading academic researchers in computing with the creative talents of Hollywood and the video game industry. Having grown to encompass over 130 faculty, staff, and students in a diverse array of fields, the ICT represents a unique interdisciplinary community brought together with a core unifying mission: advancing the state-of-the-art for creating virtual experiences so compelling that people will react as if they were real.

Reflecting the interdisciplinary nature of ICT research, we welcome applications from students in computer science, as well as many other fields, such as psychology, art/animation, interactive media, linguistics, and communications. Undergraduates will join a team of students, research staff, and faculty in one of several labs focusing on different aspects of interactive virtual experiences. In addition to participating in seminars and social events, students will also prepare a final written report and present their projects to the rest of the institute at the end of the summer.

This Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) site is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

ICT also offers another internship program, for both undergraduate and graduate students, which requires a separate application – ict.usc.edu/academics/internships, view a list of available positions here.

For questions or additional information, please contact reu@ict.usc.edu.

Research Projects

When you apply, we will ask you to rank your top three interests from the research projects listed below. We encourage applicants to explore each mentor’s website to learn more about the individual research activities of each lab.

Natural Language Dialogue Processing

Mentor: David Traum and Ron Artstein
The Natural Language Dialogue Group at ICT is developing artificial intelligence and language technology to allow machines to participate in human-like natural dialogues with people. Systems have a variety of “embodiments”, including virtual humans, robots, recorded video of real people, and voice or chat systems. An REU student will work on creating, extending or evaluating one or more of these systems, analyzing conversational data from these systems, or collecting new data. Specific projects can be chosen or defined by the REU student; examples include technology to allow an agent or robot to understand the context of a conversation, take initiative in conversation, or sustain interaction over multiple encounters. Previous REU students in the group have been lead authors and had their REU projects published in the proceedings of international scientific conferences.

Impact of AI on Users’ Psychology

Mentor: Jonathan Gratch and Gale Lucas
Irresistible pressures are driving the adoption of AI. What impact will this have on us? Will using AI or operating through an autonomous robot, for example, undermine trust, increase risk-taking, reduce vigilance to threats and increase dehumanization of others? This project will examine the psychological impact of such advances. REU mentee will assist by helping to finalize development of agents that vary in level of autonomy (e.g., full AI vs assisted). The mentee will help to run an experiment where the impact of autonomy on users’ psychological factors is tested, as well as analyze the results of this study.

AI and Machine Learning for Intelligent Tutoring Systems

Mentor: Benjamin Nye
This project will explore applications of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to support personalized tutoring and dialog systems such as the Personal Assistant for Life-Long Learning (PAL3) or CareerFair.ai. PAL3 is a system for delivering engaging and accessible education via mobile devices. PAL3 helps learners navigate learning resources through an embodied pedagogical agent that acts as a guide and persistent learning record to track what students have done, their level of mastery, and what they need to achieve. CareerFair.ai is an open source project which is developing a virtual career fair framework, where STEM mentors can self-author a virtual mentor based on their video-recorded answers. The goal of the REU internship will be to expand the repertoire of the system to further enhance learning and engagement. The specific tasks will be determined collaboratively based on research goals and student research interests. Students will be expected to contribute to a peer-reviewed publication. Possible topics include work with: (1) developing dialog models for tutoring or mentoring; (2) modifying the intelligent tutoring system and how it supports the learner, and (3) statistical analysis, and/or data mining to identify patterns of interactions between human subjects and the intelligent tutoring system.

MedVR demo room picture

Virtual Reality Game-Based Rehabilitation

Mentors: Albert “Skip” Rizzo and Sharon Mozgai
The Medical Virtual Reality (MedVR) group at ICT is devoted to the study and advancement of uses of virtual reality (VR) simulation technology for clinical purposes. The MedVR Lab’s Game-Based Rehab group develops low-cost and home-based VR toolkits for physical therapy. REU interns will work on The Virtual Interactive Training Agent (VITA), a virtual reality job interview practice system for building competence and reducing anxiety for opportunity youth, veterans, and young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities.

Real-Time Rendering for Virtual Humans

Mentors: Pratusha Bhuvana Prasad
The Vision and Graphics Lab at ICT pursues research and works in production to perform high-quality facial scans for Army training and simulations, as well as for VFX studios and game development companies. There has been continued research on how machine learning can be used to model 3D data effortlessly by data-driven deep learning networks rather than traditional methods. This requires large amounts of data; more than can be achieved using only raw light stage scans. We are currently working on software to aid both in the visualization of our new facial scan database and to animate and render virtual humans. To realize and test the usability of this we would need a tool that can model and render the created Avatar through a web-based GUI. The goal is a real-time, responsive web-based renderer on a client controlled by software hosted on the server. REU interns will work with lab researchers who are developing tools to visualize assets generated by the machine learning model of the rendering pipeline in a web browser using a Unity plugin, and will also integrate deep learning models to be called by web-based APIs. This will include understanding the latest techniques in physically-based real-time character rendering and animation. Ideally, the intern would have awareness about physically based rendering, subsurface scattering techniques, hair rendering, and 3D modeling and reconstruction.

Multimodal Human Diagram

Multimodal Human Behavior Understanding

Mentors: Mohammad Soleymani
The Intelligent Human Perception Lab at USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies conducts research on automatic human behavior analysis. To model human emotions and behavior, we perform research on multimodal human behavior perception for supporting interaction with virtual humans.  We are seeking REU interns to work on human behavior perception tasks, including the following topics. Mental health assessment, performing research and analysis to advance the state-of-the-art in assisting diagnosis of mental health disorders including depression and PTSD from behavior. Virtual agent behavior generation, performing research in machine learning for virtual human behavior generation including turn-taking, identification of opportunities to provide empathic responses, head nod, engagement detection. REU interns who are interested in these topics should  be comfortable handling data and able to program in python or C#. Prior experience with machine learning tools, e.g., scikit-learn, Keras, PyTorch, is a plus.

Location and Housing

The ICT facility is located in the Playa Vista community of West Los Angeles, about 10 miles west of the main USC campus, and includes a 150-seat theater, game room, and gym. There are numerous restaurants and stores within walking distance, including the Westfield Culver City mall, and the beach is only a 10 minute drive away. The university also provides free shuttle service between the institute and the downtown USC campus.

Benefits

  • Participate in a unique multidisciplinary community that combines academic research with the creative talents of Hollywood and the video game industry.
  • Work with some of the leading researchers in human-computer interaction, virtual reality, computer graphics, and virtual humans.
  • Receive a total of $6,000 over the ten week program.
  • Receive university housing for the duration of the program, and an additional $1,450 for transportation and meal expenses.
  • Travel will be reimbursed up to $600 for students living 95 miles or more outside of the Los Angeles area.

Eligibility

  • U.S. citizenship or permanent residency is required.
  • Students must be currently enrolled in an undergraduate program.
  • Students must not have completed an undergraduate degree prior to the summer program.

Important Dates

  • Application deadline: January 24, 2021
  • Notification of acceptance begins: February 1, 2021
  • Notification of declined applicants: March 31, 2021
  • Start Date: June 1, 2021
  • End Date: August 6, 2021

COVID-19

As you know, the situation with the coronavirus outbreak is constantly evolving, making it difficult to know how it will affect ICT summer intern programs. Although we are currently planning in-person internships, we will continue to be led by USC, as well as public health and federal, state, and local authorities in deciding whether we will be able to have on-site internships. There is a possibility that we will need to offer remote, on-line, internships. We will keep this page updated as we have more information.

How to Apply

Step 1: Application Form

Once available, fill out the online application.  To complete this form, you will need the following:

  • The most recent unofficial transcript from your undergraduate institution (PDF).
  • A one page personal statement (PDF). This may include your research interests and how you came to be interested in them, your previous research experiences, your reasons for wanting to participate in the research at the ICT, and how this participating in this experience might better prepare you to meet your future goals.
  • A ranking of your top three project choices from the list above.
  • The name and email address for a faculty member that will provide your letter of recommendation. A letter request with a customized submission link will be sent automatically when you submit your application form.

Step 2: Recommendation Letter Confirmation

Your application is not complete until we receive a recommendation letter.  We strongly recommend that you follow up directly with your recommender to make sure that the letter is submitted by the application deadline.  You will receive another confirmation automatically when the letter is submitted.  Please note that due to the large number of applicants, we cannot respond directly to email requests for status updates.