Interactive, Adaptive Robot Helps Children with Autism

A group of mechanical engineers and autism experts at Vanderbilt University have developed an elaborate system of cameras, sensors, and computers designed specifically to help children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) learn how to coordinate their attention with other people and objects in their environment. This basic social skill is called joint attention. NAO, a two-foot tall humanoid robot, is the 'front man' for their new system. NAO has been programmed with a series of verbal prompts, such as "look over here," and gestures, such as looking and pointing at flat panel displays. Cameras track the child's head movements, so the system can determine where he or she is looking. The researchers say that children with ASD paid more attention to the robot and followed its instructions almost as well as they did those of a human therapist in standard exercises used to develop joint attention skill.