The use of robots to help infants with special needs learn cognitive movements is the focus of research at the University of Delaware. Two university researchers - James Galloway, associate professor of physical therapy, and Sunil Agrawal, professor of mechanical engineering - have outfitted kid-size robots to provide mobility to children unable to explore the world on their own.

Designated UD1, the tiny robot has sensors that can determine the obstacle-free roaming space, and will either allow infants to bump obstacles or will take control from the infant and drive around the obstacle itself. Scientists view the work as important because infant development, both of the brain and behavior, emerges from the thousands of experiences each day that arise as babies independently move and explore their world. Infants with Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism and other disorders can have mobility limitations that disconnect them from the ongoing exploration that their peers enjoy.

The project's goal is to place multiple mobile robots with special needs infants in communities throughout Delaware, and to gather data to analyze how the robots are used and what the children learn, so the researchers can continue to make modifications.

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