Robot designed to help autistic children learn communication skills

Tech Corner

POSTED: Saturday, October 6, 2012 - 8:00am

UPDATED: Saturday, October 6, 2012 - 8:04am

Meet Charlie.

She dances and has fun, but Charlie the robot has a serious side, too.

Charlie is short for Child Centered Adaptive Robot for Learning Environments, designed by a University of South Carolina graduate student to help kids with autism.

"She is designed to promote basic communication skills," says Charlie creator Laura Boccanfuso. "Two of the most important communication skills are imitation and turn taking."

Charlie is designed to be handled by kids but sometimes kids play hard, which is why she has some break away features.

"We want the robot to just be sitting on a table, and allow the child to explore her, touch the eyes, touch the nose, and the hands and get to know her so she and he feels comfortable interacting with the robot," explains Boccanfuso.

She can be remote-controlled by a therapist, but Charlie also has a sensor in her nose to detect and imitate motions.

"She's looking for my face so you can see she'll track me around," Boccanfuso says.

Boccanfuso also wants to know when a child gets agitated.

"That infrared sensor is super high precision so we can take changes in the skin temperature right under your nose and capture changes related to breathing," she says.

While some kids respond well, others may not.

"In some cases if there seems to be a very quick escalation and we understand what preceded that event and we can earn a little bit more," says Boccanfuso.

Through the School of Biomedical Engineering and School of Medicine they hope to find 20 autistic children between two and six-years-old willing to work with Charlie.

"I need to turn my attention back to her before we do some testing and then hopefully we'll have some really good results," says Boccanfuso.

Charlie is simple on purpose, and inexpensive so eventually one day if Charlie is successful, she would also be affordable for families at home.

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