Researchers at Vanderbilt University are studying the potential benefits of using human-looking robots as tools to help kids with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) improve their communication skills. The programmable NAO robot used in the study was developed by Aldebaran Robotics out of Paris, France, and offers the ability to be part of a larger, smarter system.
Though a child might feel like the pink eyed humanoid is an autonomous being, the NAO robot that the team is using is actually hooked up to computers and external cameras that track the kid’s movements. Using the newly developed ARIA (Adaptive Robot-Mediated Intervention Architecture) protocol, they found that children paid more attention to NAO and followed in exercises almost as well as with a human adult therapist.
The small robot stands on a table at the front of the room. Flat panel displays are attached to the side walls. The chair where the child sits faces the front of the room and is high enough to put the robot at eye level. The room is equipped with a number of inexpensive web cameras that are aimed at the chair. Their purpose is to track the child’s head movements, so the system can determine where he or she is looking. To aid in this effort, children in the study wore a baseball cap decorated with a strip of LED lights that allowed the computer to infer where they are looking.
NAO has been programmed with a series of verbal prompts, such as “look over here” and “let’s do some more,” and gestures such as looking and pointing at one of the displays, that imitate the prompts and gestures that human therapists use in joint attention training. The protocol begins with a verbal prompt that asks the child to look at an image or video displayed on one of the screens. If the child doesn’t respond, then the therapist provides increasing support by combining a verbal prompt with physical gestures such as turning her head or pointing. When the child looks at the target then the therapist responds with praise, such as telling the child, “good job.”
Study in IEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering: A Step Towards Developing Adaptive Robot-Mediated Intervention Architecture (ARIA) for Children With Autism
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