How Robots Are Helping Young People

We're constantly told that the young are the most tech savvy generation there has ever been, so it's perhaps no surprise that they are among the forerunners when it comes to working with robots.

For instance, a Harvard team developed a robot, called Root, that was designed to help children learn how to code.  Alternatively, last year I wrote about a robot that was designed to care for children.  The machine, called NAO, is capable of reading the mood of the child, recognizing their family and even understanding your preferences for food, music and so on.

NAO joins the growing ranks of care giving robots that include MIT’s Huggable, which is a teddy bear robot that aims to provide support and comfort to children with chronic illnesses, all the while reporting on various vital signs to their doctors.

Robot therapy

Or you've got the team from the University of Portsmouth, who have developed a robot to help children with autism.  The Development of Robot-Enhanced therapy for children with AutisM spectrum disorders (DREAM) project.  The aim is for the robots to function autonomously and help children develop social interaction skills.

The DREAM project is unique because the robot will operate autonomously rather than being remote controlled by the therapist.  The device will also act as a diagnostic tool and collect a significant amount of data during the therapy sessions.

"DREAM is a project that will deliver the next generation RAT robot, and its core is its cognitive model which interprets sensory data (body movement and emotion appearance cues), uses these perceptions to assess the child's behaviour by learning to map them to therapist-specific behavioural classes, and then learns to map these child behaviours to appropriate robot actions as specified by the therapists," the researchers say.

Visual support

Another interesting project has seen the creation of a hand-sized robot, called Cellulo.  Cellulo is designed to help visually impaired children find their bearings in the classroom.

The child moves Cellulo around its own map of the room.  If Cellulo virtually bumps into anything, it's capable of recognizing the object and relaying that back to the child.

"I spent five months observing classes of visually impaired children aged between three and nine years old. The classes were very mixed, and the learning tools available did not really meet their needs. Thanks to our partnership with EPFL, we've been able to come up with a really fun and interactive project," the developer says.

Another interesting classroom based venture is Norwegian startup No Isolation.  They've developed a robot, called AV1, which is designed to minimize loneliness and isolation among children who are absent from class due to long-term illnesses.

Connected classroom

It's estimated that some 35,000 children fall into this camp in the UK alone, and prolonged spells away from their friends can significantly harm their mental wellbeing.  The device is designed to take the place of the child in the classroom, and the child can then 'tune in' to the class each day via a mobile app.  The robot provides a 1-way video display into the class, with a 2-way audio link up allowing communication to occur.

The robot has already helped a few hundred children across the Nordic region, and has received support from the Norwegian government.

"The ministry has noticed that using this type of robot can be very beneficial for students who cannot attend school due to illness or injury. Using the robot to follow teaching and what is happening at school can provide the student with important training and an experience of not being completely absent and socially isolated from their class and classmates," the Ministry of Education have said.

Suffice to say, most of the projects mentioned above are at a very early stage, but it's an interesting indication of where things may be heading with human-robot interaction.

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