Children with autism often seem to want to socialize with robots more than humans, something that researchers at MIT want to harness as a pathway for therapy. The team, partnering with others at Chubu University in Japan and Imperial College London, have given a popular humanoid robot, called NAO, the ability to see what the kids playing with it are doing and to respond in an intelligent fashion.
“The long-term goal is not to create robots that will replace human therapists, but to augment them with key information that the therapists can use to personalize the therapy content and also make more engaging and naturalistic interactions between the robots and children with autism,” said Oggi Rudovic, an MIT postdoc and first author of the study.
The technology relies on a therapist guiding the learning sessions, helping kids to interact with the robot in meaning ways. In the following video that demonstrates the technique, a therapist shows emotion flashcards that the robot then acts out. The kids are taught how different emotions are displayed, and then asked to watch the robot act happy, sad, or excited, and asked to pick which emotion flashcards correspond to each emotion.
Study in Science Robotics: Personalized machine learning for robot perception of affect and engagement in autism therapy…