The New Face of Autism Therapy
By Gregory Mone | PopSci.com
With one in 110 children diagnosed with autism, and therapists in short supply, researchers are developing humanoids to fill the gaps. But can robots help patients forge stronger bonds with people?
In a small, sparsely furnished room, a young boy in a black T-shirt backs himself into a corner. He’s cautious. Cameras capture his movements, and microphones record every sound. But this doesn’t intimidate him; he doesn’t even seem aware that he’s being observed. His mom, sitting nearby, is not the object of his focus either. Brian (his name has been changed here to protect his privacy) is autistic, and he’s staring across the room at a two-wheeled, gray, humanoid robot with big, cartoonish eyes. The machine, Bandit, is roughly Brian’s size, and it has been trying to engage him by slowly rolling toward him.
Bandit, a robot designed to engage children with autism, has stereo cameras for eyes.
Bandit uses infrared sensing and cameras to calculate Brian’s position. Seeing that the boy is backing away, the robot tries a different approach. It stops moving and makes a “come-here” gesture, waving him closer. It works. Brian approaches and then stands alongside Bandit, shoulder-to-plastic-shoulder. Bandit stops moving, and Brian backs off. The boy is like a boxer sizing up an opponent. Finally, emboldened, Brian steps up to the robot and leans his face toward it, curious and confident. For the researchers observing the interaction through a two-way mirror in an adjoining room, this small gesture is an encouraging sign. The boy is warming up to the machine, and that’s the point.
This unusual pair is part of a research initiative at the University of Southern California to build robots sympathetic and sensitive enough to serve as both therapists and playmates to kids with autism. Bandit is programmed to perform simple facial expressions and movements, and researchers are working to give the robot the ability to make complex decisions in response to the child’s behavior. This way, Bandit and robots like it could draw socially detached kids into simple games, like Simon Says or hide-and-seek and, ultimately, social activities with people. As USC computer scientist and project leader Maja Matari´c explains, “The robot is a catalyst for social interaction.”
In its current form, Bandit has only rudimentary social skills. For instance, it cannot yet understand speech; a researcher in the other room must command the robot to respond if the child speaks to it. But early results are encouraging. Matari´c’s team has conducted experiments similar to the interaction between Bandit and Brian with 14 other autistic children, most between five and nine years old. Some of the kids were incapable of speech, while others could talk in full sentences but were prone to physical tics like hand-flapping or obsessions with moving objects like trains. The interactions lasted on average about five minutes—not long enough to produce permanent behavioral changes—but many of the children became more sociable, and more vocal, with a robot in the room.
That may seem surprising, since robots are hardly known for warmth and sociability. Yet there is increasing evidence that kids with autism respond more naturally to machines than they do to people. Psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen, the director of the Autism Research Center at the University of Cambridge in England, along with other autism experts, believes that robots, computers and electronic gadgets may be appealing because they are predictable, unlike people. You can pretty much guess what a computer is going to do next about 90 percent of the time, but human interactions obey very few entirely predictable laws. And this, Baron-Cohen explains, is difficult for children with autism. “They find unlawful situations toxic,” he says. “They can’t cope. So they turn away from people and turn to the world of objects.”
Read the full article at: popsci.com
Child Prodigies: A Unique Form of Autism?
An Immune Disorder at the Root of Autism
Eye Contact May Disturb Autistic Kids’ Thinking
Grandin on The Autism Surge
Can Autism Really Be Diagnosed in Minutes?
’Parent Training’ May Help Kids With Autism Behave Better
How baby-driven robots could help disabled children
Latest News from our Front Page
Do Many Neocons Just Hate All Europeans?
Marxis Neocon Charles Krauthammer
A few months ago I encountered at a conference an eminent Straussian scholar who teaches at an Ivy League institution, and he almost immediately launched into a tirade against “the Europeans,” who are at the point of “finishing Hitler’s work.” The only exception that my interlocutor would concede to this sweeping statement was for the English “who ...
Swedish Feminists Drink Blood
Swedish Feminists drink menstrual blood to fight the Patriarchy!
Here is the story from alltomstockholm.se as translated by Google (English not 100% correct)
A feast to celebrate the woman - and your period
Menstruation - and this year's celebration.
Theatre Bristol salute month's bloodiest weeks and cause menstrual celebration of International Women's Day.
- We will offer menstrual drinks, says Daniela Kullman.
On International Women's Day ...
'What do we need this war for?' Ukrainians flee from 100k army draft
With the heavy fighting taking its toll on the Ukrainian army, another military draft is underway - the fourth within less than a year. It's the largest one to date - set to get 100k people into the military. This includes everyone up to the age of 60, with a voluntary mobilization for women. Fleeing the draft some are getting ...
Gunman Storms Dutch TV Station Demanding Airtime
Dutch authorities have released few details about the bizarre case of 19-year-old Tarik Zahzah’s attack on the main news studio of television station NOS on Thursday. To get the obvious question out of the way first, the police say there is no evidence that Zahzah, who is half-Egyptian, acted on behalf of organized terrorism.
The authorities always say that on the ...
How Alan Dershowitz bullied rape victims to protect a serial child molester
Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz always felt children were fair game for Israeli missiles. Now the question is whether he thinks they are fair game for the sexual exploits of his powerful associates and himself.
Dershowitz and the UK’s Prince Andrew were accused in a recent court filing of raping a teenage girl who was forced into sexual slavery by ...
|More News » |