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The Aurora Project – Robots Helping Autistic Children

The Aurora Project was created as a long term project in the United Kingdom in 1998.  It is a project supported by the University of Hertfordshire School of Computer Science with local schools.  The program pairs autistic children with robots, a high-interest ‘toy’, to help them build educational and social skills.

aurora

Their theory being tested is that the autistic children would be able to learn how to interact with the robot and then be able to transfer those skills to interacting with other children and adults.  Robots are programmed to be more predictable than humans, which makes it easier for an autistic child to play and mimic.  The Aurora Project research includes testing this theory with a variety of different robots – humanoid, dog, life size, and doll sized.  On their site, they have very detailed information about the different robots that they are using with the autistic children.  They also encourage the children to interact with other children during the process of playing with the robots.

Their site also includes many research publications from the beginning of the program up until 2009.  The most recent publication includes information about three low-functioning autistic children and how their interactions with one of the robots have helped them to interact with the adults present during the therapy sessions.  Reading the various research publications and viewing the photographs embedded in them addresses the success of this program.

Other Robot Therapy Research Programs

There are several other universities that are researching the social advancement of autistic children with the use of robotics.  The University of Southern California’s research program is highlighted in an article about their program and success at the Science Daily website.  Their study varies how the robots interact with the children.  One robot reacts to the child’s interaction with the robot and one just displays random behaviors without being affected by the child’s interaction.  There was a definite positive correlation with social interaction not only with the child with the responsive robot, but also from the children to the adults present in the room.

An article from the Popular Science Magazine includes discussion about a similar program at Carnegie Melon along with the research program from USC.  There are also many other articles, programs, and research being conducted about this method of encouraging and teaching autistic children how to socially interact.

With the increasing successes of the research programs being reported, I believe that this is a great resource that should be more widely integrated into the school systems as therapy during the school day.  It would require training and financial resources to be implemented, but the outcomes would be well worth the commitment.

Article by Laura Ketcham

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