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Technology firm develops robot to work with autistic children

By Jane Fazackarley     Aug 17, 2010 in Technology
High-tech company Interbots are working with the Autism Center of Pittsburgh to supply some robot style therapy to children.
Called “Character Therapy,” the programme will be delivered through the Interbot robot, which has been named “Popchilla”. It has been designed to assess the capabilities of autistic children who have little or no communication skills.
Seema Patel, CEO and co-founder of Interbots, said:
"We've had numerous individuals tell us our robots could be tremendous tools for Autism therapy. We're excited to be working with the Autism Center of Pittsburgh and the Sprout Foundation to take this first step. We're going to learn a lot from the next few months."
For the first phase of the programme, the robots will be used alongside a trained therapist and Interbot have developed an iPad application to aid therapists with the treatment sessions. The eventual aim will be for autistic children to be able to use the Popchilla robot via the iPad application to enable them to indicate their emotions.
The iPad application is scheduled to be brought into use later this year.
Cindy Waeltermann, Founder and Director of the Autism Centers of Pittsburgh, said:
"The premise behind the program is that children with autism are sometimes more likely to communicate with a non-human entity. When you have a child with autism, you use whatever interests them to gain access into their world. The idea is to bridge the gap between their word and ours.
"By using Popchilla as an intermediary, we hope to increase the understanding of the child's internal feelings, thus reducing behavioral frustrations. If they are able to identify that they are 'angry' and what 'angry' means, it can significantly help them understand what they are feeling, reducing behavioral ramifications."
The Character Therapy programme has received funding from Spark. Spark is part of The Sprout Fund, a charitable organisation which is based in Pennsylvania and specialises in technology for young children.
Sabrina Haskell, Interbots, Designer & Co-Founder said: "Our emphasis has always been making the use and control of our robots as simple and flexible as possible. You don't need to have a technical background to control our characters. You can control them with a variety of other familiar devices. So that opens a lot of interesting applications - like having a therapist or a parent use our robots as a tool to interact with children - even the possibility of kids using the robot to express themselves and explore emotions on their own.”
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