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9 February, 2017 - 12:55 By Jamie Quested

University seeks funding to roll out robot autism aid

Kaspar University of Hertfordshire robot

The University of Hertfordshire is looking for funding to roll-out its  child-sized humanoid robot on a large scale.

Kaspar is designed as a social companion to improve the lives of children with autism and other communication difficulties. By interacting and behaving in a child-like way, Kaspar helps teachers and parents support children with autism to overcome the challenges they face.

According to the National Autistic Society, there are currently 700,000 people with autism in the UK, meaning autism is part of the daily lives of around 2.8 million people.

The key aim of Kaspar is to help children with autism explore basic human communication and emotions as well as learn about socially acceptable physical interaction. Children with autism can sometimes find this kind of interaction difficult so Kaspar acts as a mediator between them and other children, teachers, family and therapists.

To date, Kaspar has been used in long-term studies with approximately 170 autistic children in Britain and overseas. This has been achieved by using just 28 custom made Kaspar machines. The next step for the team is to take the successful Kaspar prototype from the lab and into every school, home and, potentially, hospital or clinic that needs one. 

Professor Kerstin Dautenhahn, Professor of Artificial Intelligence at the University of Hertfordshire, said: ‘Kaspar has been helping many children with autism for over a decade now. The technology has consistently demonstrated its worth in schools across the UK and abroad. In addition, field studies in homes were encouraging and studies have started using Kaspar in hospitals.

‘We now want to take this success to the next step and ensure Kaspar’s work can be replicated in those places it is needed the most. We want to turn our prototype into an advanced, robust and commercially viable robot that is available to any child around the world. We have the expertise and the technology is ready to go, we just need the funding to take this project to the next level.’

Kasper helps a child’s social interaction by using skin sensors on various parts of its body including on its cheeks, torso, arms, palms and feet. These sensors allow the robot to be programmed to respond to touch. This autonomous response, together with the preprogramed responses that can be triggered remotely by teachers, therapist, or another child, enable Kaspar to encourage certain tactile behaviours in the children and discourage inappropriate ones.

For example, when the robot is tickled it will laugh and reply in a friendly manner, but if a child is ‘playing rough’, squeezes too hard or pinches the robot, Kaspar will tell the child that it ‘hurts’ and express appropriate body language.

Kaspar can be seen at the ‘Robots’ exhibition at the Science Museum, London.The exhibition, running until September 3, 2017 is the most significant collection of humanoid machines ever displayed and charts the 500 year human history of recreating ourselves in robotic form.  For tickets visit http://bit.ly/2lnuaQU

Kiss Communications

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