Autistic kids to get new therapeutic friend

The lines between virtual and real world seem to be increasingly blurred especially for this generation of kids. However, researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) have developed a robot Bandit that is helping autistic children connect with the real world.

Bandit is a robot that "is a catalyst for social interaction," explained Maja Matari´c, the project leader and a computer scientist at USC, on June 1 to PopSci, an online companion to the publication Popular Science.

The project is centered on the development of "sympathetic and sensitive enough to serve as both therapists and playmates to kids with autism" robots.

Bandit has camera for eyes and can sense if a child is uncomfortable. It is built to express "simple facial expressions and movements."

The goal is have Bandit and other robots work to "draw socially detached kids into simple games, like Simon Says or hide-and-seek and, ultimately, social activities with people."

Objects have been found to be good mediators for autistic children and although a good amount of research needs to happen before Bandit is on store shelves. Matari´c said,  "it's doable. What I want is a robot that can sell for the price of a laptop, a decade from now."

But for now, autistic children are having breakthroughs with the help of Bandit: "...self-understanding and introspection ... is not coming out in their interactions with other people and other kids," but it is coming "out with the robot. It's unlocking all this great potential that the kids have."

For more information on Bandit, go to: http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2010-05/humanoid-robots-are-new-therapists?

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