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Robot helps develop social skills

29 May 07 19:53 GMT

A robot is being taken into schools to study how it could help children with learning difficulties or autism to form relationships and learn social skills.

Kaspar, a robot who looks like a young boy, is being taken into Herts schools.

Dr Ben Robins, of Herts Universities, said research had found "very plain robots" were received well by children.

"Kaspar, a child-sized robot with minimum facial expressions, can move its arms and legs and allows the child to interact with it," Dr Robins said.

The study will examine how robots can help children with autism and other learning difficulties to interact and develop social skills.

Models of behaviour

The idea is that Kaspar will be a "mediator" for human contact, Dr Robins said.

"We are seeing already that through interacting with the robot, children who would not normally mix are becoming interested in getting involved with other children and humans in general.

"We believe that this work could pave the way for having robots in the classroom and in homes to facilitate this interaction."

The scientists believe that humans are the best models for human social behaviour, but their social behaviour is very subtle, elaborate and widely unpredictable.

"Many children with autism are however interested in playing with mechanical toys or computers."

The robot's eyes and mouth behave like a human's and Kaspar has eyelids that blink. The head turns from side to side, nods and can tilt.

Kaspar also responds to stimuli and can seem to be surprised at a sudden movement or gesture.

These responses and movements can help some children to develop social skills.

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