Heartspring, a center for children with autism in Kansas, is utilizing a robot called NAO Humanoids created by Aldebaran Robotics in France, to aid in the education of their children. The goal is enhance the students’ skills in speaking, social interaction, and appropriate behaviors.
This robot, costing $16,000, can recognize facial structures, speech, and objects. Ideally, the robots will help children learn certain social skills and behaviors from these robots that can be transferred to human interactions. Wayne Piersel, director of clinical services at Heartspring, refers to himself as a “resident skeptic,” understanding that there are always new “methods” that claim to aid children with autism, but that they all need to be tested. Technology is appealing to children with autism, and Piersel is interested in whether or not the robot will be effective,
“It will get their attention, and if it gets their attention, then they might be more receptive to learning the different skills or aspects that go into an appropriate greeting…A critical part of any programming is consistency. The more consistent we are in teaching a new skill, the more likely we are to learn it, especially since our kids have a difficult time dealing with subtle differences. This will give us a way of providing the instruction in the same way every time.”[i]
If the robot does not prove to be effective for the student, Piersel and his staff will move on to another idea. The center is hopeful in this study and wants to collaborate with universities for further research.
[i] “The Wichita Eagle” Heartspring testing robots to help kids with autism. 11 Nov 2013. Web. <http://www.kansas.com/2013/11/11/3111526/heartspring-testing-robots-to.html>