Game helps children learn to interact socially

Tech Corner
Thursday, August 2, 2012 - 8:00am

Technology is an integral part of education, and a new iPad app promises to aid children with autism in the classroom and in life.

Developers at the Pittsburgh-based company Interbots have been working with the Barber National Institute in Erie, Pennsylvania to create a game that focuses specifically on the needs of children with autism.

Originally in the business of entertainment robotics, Interbots realized their potential to help children with autism by chance, when they introduced a robot called Quasi.

"A family came up to us and said 'so you made Quasi, he's really amazing, our son's been speaking to him for half an hour," recalls Interbots co-founder David Culyba.

He said he thought "oh that's great kids like Quasi", but the parents responded, "you don't understand, he doesn't speak to anyone, he has autism."

The relationship between Interbots and the Barber Center combines knowledge with experience.

"We've been really excited to work with them because we come from a background of technology and robotics, and they come from a background of working with autism and working with the kids," Culyba said. "Having that connection is basically everything."

The game is called "Popchilla's World", and it prompts kids to perform various daily tasks for a friendly blue creature, like washing him and brushing his teeth.

The Barber Center was the site of the game's first test run with actual students.

The app lets kids interact with characters on the screen, but eventually they'll be playing with Popchilla in the real world too.

Developers are working on a robot that lets kids transfer what they learn from the digital world to the physical, helping children with autism become more self-sufficient.

The app will be available in the Apple App Store and the Android Market early next year.

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