Robots to Help Children With Autism

Friday, August 13, 2010 Child Health News
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PITTSBURGH, Aug. 12 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Interbots, Inc., a high-tech spin-off company associated with the Carnegie

Mellon University Entertainment Technology Center has teamed up with the Autism Center of Pittsburgh to provide innovative robot-based therapy for children with autism.

The program, "Character Therapy,"

through the use of the Interbot robot "Popchilla" will test the ability of children with autism with limited or no verbal skills.

According to Seema Patel, CEO and co-founder of Interbots, "We've had numerous individuals tell us our robots could be tremendous tools for Autism therapy. We're excited to be working with the Autism Center of Pittsburgh and the Sprout Foundation to take this first step. We're going to learn a lot from the next few months."

"The premise behind the program is that children with autism are sometimes more likely to communicate with a non-human entity," said Cindy Waeltermann, Founder and Director of the Autism Centers of Pittsburgh.  "When you have a child with autism, you use whatever interests them to gain access into their world.  The idea is to bridge the gap between their word and ours.

Popchilla will be used in the first phase of the program with a trained therapist.  Programmers and developers at Interbots have created an iPad application that will allow the therapist to direct sessions, which will eventually be transitioned to allow the child to control the robot through an iPad application to identify emotions.

According to Waeltermann, "By using Popchilla as an intermediary, we hope to increase the understanding of the child's internal feelings, thus reducing behavioral frustrations.  If they are able to identify that they are 'angry' and what 'angry' means, it can significantly help them understand what they are feeling, reducing behavioral ramifications."

The program is funded by Spark.  Spark is an initiative of The Sprout Fund catalyzing projects and programs that engage children ages birth to eight through the creative use of technology and media. Spark challenges individuals, organizations, and communities to generate inventive technology-based solutions to the issues and opportunities facing today's young child. Through its funding opportunities and extensive network of support, Spark is unleashing the innovative potential of Southwestern Pennsylvania and transforming our region into one of the best places on earth to be a kid.

"Our emphasis has always been making the use and control of our robots as simple and flexible as possible. You don't need to have a technical background to control our characters. You can control them with a variety of other familiar devices. So that opens a lot of interesting applications - like having a therapist or a parent use our robots as a tool to interact with children - even the possibility of kids using the robot to express themselves and explore emotions on their own," according to Sabrina Haskell, Interbots, Designer & Co-Founder.

The iPad application is currently in production and the program is slated to begin this fall.

"Nobody is more excited than the parents of the children with autism who have the potential to gain great strides from this program," said Cindy Waeltermann.  "That's what this is all about -- thinking outside the box to reach these kids."

SOURCE Autism Centers of Pittsburgh

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