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Social robots at center of autism therapy research | Qatar University

Social robots at center of autism therapy research

2016-04-25 00:00:00.0

Assistive robots are at the center of a unique research project on autism therapy that will serve the needs of children with autism to help them overcome their social and learning challenges.

Led by associate professor in CENG Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Dr John-John Cabibihan, a team of researchers is investigating whether social robots can be beneficial for children on the spectrum. The team includes pediatric neurologist at the Cleveland Clinic-USA and clinical assistant professor at Case Western Reserve University Dr Mohammed Aldosari, and assistant professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong Department of Educational Psychology Dr Catherine Wing Chee So.

The team launched collaborative projects with local special needs centers in order to pilot-test social robots as assistive tools to complement current interventions. 

Commenting on the research, Dr Cabibihan said: “We are using social robots to target a variety of behavioral challenges commonly found in children on the spectrum. With a robotic agent, we are able to design engaging activities for children that appear not only as fun games but are aimed to enhance specific skills.”

He added: “From Qatar, we are reaching out to the leading experts in other parts of the world. We are inspired by the leadership of the State of Qatar’s initiative for autism awareness at the United Nations. In 2007, the UN General Assembly designated the 2nd of April as the World Autism Awareness Day in perpetuity.”

Dr So said: “In general, children with autism prefer robot-like toys to non-robotic toys and human beings. This is partly because a social robot does not have all the facial features and expressions of human beings; thus, using a robot avoids sensory overstimulation and distraction in children on the spectrum. We are currently teaching children to use gestures to express their feelings and emotions in order to reduce their challenging behaviors.”

Dr Aldosari said: “We are very excited from the promising results of this pilot project that aims to provide the framework and infrastructure to enable us to develop and test different paradigms for the use of social robots as a teaching and training aid for children with autism spectrum disorders. We look forward to using complementary innovative technologies with social robots such as eye and emotion tracking as well as automated language analysis, to develop cost-effective and objective early diagnostic and intervention solutions. The set up and support at QU is unique and promises a great potential for developing cutting-edge research and development projects.”

CENG dean Dr Khalifa Al-Khalifa said: “This is one of the college research activities that highlights CENG’s core role in advancing the know-how and developing technology for the greater good of society. The college continues to showcase its capacity to address issues that reflect national priorities, and its ongoing partnership with the community by engaging critical applied research that leads to sustainable solutions such as inclusion of persons with learning and physical challenges in all areas of society.”