NAO: A humanoid robot that helps children on the autism spectrum (video)

NAO is the first robot created by SoftBank Robotics. Famous around the world, NAO is a huge planning tool and has become very popular in education and research.

At 58cm tall, NAO is a bipedal robot with pleasingly rounded features. NAO has been continuously evolving since the beginning of its adventure in 2006, and the 6th version (NAO6), released in 2018, incorporates a new CPU that further improves its performance.

Humanoid robots as therapeutic mediation tools for autistic youth

Humanoid robots are gradually taking their place as genuine therapeutic mediation tools for youth with autism spectrum disorder. Hundreds of robots are active as assistants in medical centers for autistic children.

Existing studies in the scientific and medical literature since the 1990s show that children with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) have a strong affinity for mechanical parts, computers and robots. Robots are non-judgmental, enable the child to hold their gaze and lead to improved attention.

Today, the use of new technologies in the treatment of autism is based on four complementary approaches aimed at development:

  • Expressive and communication skills
  • Cognitive and emotional skills
  • Social and interactive skills
  • Gaining knowledge

As a tool to assess children’s mental health

Scientists in Britain have shown for the first time in the world that humanoid robots can be used effectively to assess the mental state of children. In fact, it seems that a robot in several cases manages to bring to light potential psychological problems of children better than parents or experts.

The researchers (roboticists, IT specialists and psychiatrists) of the University of Cambridge, studied 28 children aged eight to 13, with the help of the robot Nao.

The robot asked questions from a psychological questionnaire to assess each child’s mental health. Parents and scientists watched the process unseen from an adjacent room. Children could interact with the robot, either by talking to it or touching its arms and legs where touch sensors were located. All the children stated after the experiment that they enjoyed the conversation with the robot.

It was found that the children were generally willing to confide in the robot even things that until that moment had not been shared with others, parents or doctors. Some children who had more intense negative feelings were able to talk about them more easily to the robot than to a human.

According to the researchers, “since the robot used was child-sized and non-threatening, the children trusted it and felt they would have no problem sharing secrets with it. And other studies have found that children are more likely to confide personal information, such as being bullied, to a robot than to an adult.”

The researchers said that in the future the robots could be a useful adjunct to traditional psychological assessment methods and reassured that they are not intended to replace mental health professionals.

They emphasized that “we have no intention of replacing psychologists or other mental health professionals with robots, because the experience of the latter far exceeds anything a robot can do. But as our research shows, robots can be a useful tool to help children open up and share things they might not otherwise feel comfortable saying.”

The researchers plan to expand their research in the future by including more children and tracking their relationship with the robots over a longer period of time. It will also be investigated whether similar positive effects can occur if children interact with robots not in person but through a video call.

Incidents of anxiety and depression in children were showing an upward trend even before the pandemic, which worsened their mental health status.

Source: Εναλλακτική Δράση by

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