Combining Psychological and Engineering Approaches to Utilizing Social Robots with Children with Autism

Dickstein-Fischer, Laurie ;   Fischer, Gregory

It is estimated that Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects 1 in 68 children. Early identification of an ASD is exceedingly important to the introduction of an intervention. We are developing a robot-assisted approach that will serve as an improved diagnostic and early intervention tool for children with autism. The robot, named PABI (Penguin for Autism Behavioral Interventions), is a compact humanoid robot taking on an expressive cartoon-like embodiment. The robot is affordable, durable, and portable so that it can be used in various settings including schools, clinics, and the home. Thus enabling significantly enhanced and more readily available diagnosis and continuation of care. Through facial expressions, body motion, verbal cues, stereo vision-based tracking, and a tablet computer, the robot is capable of interacting meaningfully with an autistic child. Initial implementations of the robot, as part of a comprehensive treatment model (CTM), include Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy where the child interacts with a tablet computer wirelessly interfaced with the robot. At the same time, the robot makes meaningful expressions and utterances and uses stereo cameras in eyes to track the child, maintain eye contact, and collect data such as affect and gaze direction for charting of progress. In this paper we present the clinical justification, anticipated usage with corresponding requirements, prototype development of the robotic system, and demonstration of a sample application for robot-assisted ABA therapy.