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Health Report 6/30/13: Using robots to help children with autism

Researchers at Vanderbilt University are using robots to teach children how to focus on people and objects in their environment.
June 30th, 2013

Parents cherish bedtime stories and games with their little ones, but children with autism can't always focus during those special times.
Now, researchers are learning how robots could play a role in helping these kids learn how to pay attention. Lou Baxter has the story.

Voice of robot: "Hey Robbie, I am ready to play with you again."

With glowing eyes and a high-tech voice, this robot grabs the attention of Robbie Pruitt.

Robot, "Ready Robbie? look."

Robbie has autism. Researchers at Vanderbilt University are using the robot to teach him how to focus on people and objects in his environment.

Sabrina Pruitt, Robbie's mother, says: "Try to get a kid to clean up when he can't pay attention to what's on the floor. It's difficult."

Doctor Zachary Warren says kids with autism seem to be drawn to technology, so robots could be key in teaching social interaction.

Zachary Warren, PhD. Vanderbilt University, says: "Children with autism are spending much more time looking at the robot than they would be a human counterpart."

Watch how the robot directs Robbie to look at a wall monitor.

Robot, "Robbie, look! Good job."

Smart sensors detect that Robbie followed the prompt, so he is rewarded with a video. The robot also directs Robbie's gaze by pointing.

Robot, "Robbie, look at it."

Dr. Warren, "We've seen that the children are responding very accurately to the robot prompt."

Tiring work, but Robbie's parents say his interaction skills are improving.

Lou Baxter, Jet 24 Action News reporting.
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