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Friday, November 7, 2008

Robots and Autism (Robotherapy?)

Lecture Explores Robots, Autism By Christine Frandsen

Students gathered Thursday morning to hear from a Yale associate professor describe his research with robots and how they are used to diagnose, treat and understand autism.

Associate professor, Brian Scassellati presented his research at the Department of Computer Science's colloquium. He first discussed how robots are used to study social development.

"Robots are a unique tool, a unique way to use technology to study people," Scassellati said.

In his research, Scassellati uses robots to understand certain behaviors. Watching interactions between children and a robot can help researchers ask questions and find answers about certain behaviors because robots provide a consistent test subject that humans can't offer.

Scassellati showed a video from his research showing a child's interaction with a speaking robot. At first the child copied the robot's non-sense words, but when the robot made a sound similar to the word 'truck', the child spent the next 10 minutes trying to get the robot to say the word 'truck'.

"Sometimes these robots provoke us into knowing something about ourselves," Scassellati said.

Amy Glaves, a junior studying computer science who works in BYU's robotics lab, attended the lecture and said she agrees with the use of robots for social purposes.

"I thought it was interesting, the way everything is social relevant and how we can use it to help autistic kids," Glaves said.

Scassellati has used these social interaction studies for the past seven years working with a clinical group for kids with autism.

Because autism is a social condition, and is diagnosed behaviorally, the robots provide a unique tool to find out more about the condition.

"What we have been doing with technology is to improve the way we can do diagnosis or treatment," Scassellati said.

[FULL STORY]


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