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NTU and NUS develop robots targeted at children

Zafirah Salim | Jan. 12, 2015
One such robot is NAO, that dances, tells stories and aims to help children with autism identify and express their feelings.

NTU's humanoid robot that teaches emotions and social skills to children (Picture credits to Joseph Nair)

Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the National University of Singapore (NUS) have been exploring the use of robots to aid children in learning and developing social skills, otherwise known as "social robotics".

Under a partnership with the Institute of Mental Health, a group of NTU scientists have programmed a 57-centimentre-tall humanoid robot called "NAO" to interact with kids diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which is a condition that makes an individual less motivated to approach people and engage in social activities.

According to a feature story published on NTU's website, the robot has the capability to dance and tell stories, and seeks to help children with autism identify and express their feelings. NAO also mimics emotions like happiness, anger, sadness and fear, and plays interactive games to quiz them on the different emotions.

NAO is currently undergoing clinical trials with 40 autistic children and some teenagers.

"We hope to one day officially introduce NAO as a form of treatment for mild types of autism," said Associate Professor Chen I-Ming, Director of the Robotics Research Centre at NTU's School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. "In future, we may also adapt this technology to help children with other related disorders, such as social anxieties."

Similarly, NUS was also reported to have developed a robotic nanny that provides child entertainment, knowledge and companionship.

In a separate online report by Channel NewsAsia, NUS said robots will develop even more functions in the future and could become as ubiquitous as the smart phone today.

Yan Haibin, a researcher at the Advanced Robotics Centre at NUS Faculty of Engineering, said, "We hope that our robots will be used by many in the future. At this point, we hope the robots will be able to take care of the elderly, play with children, and also help with housework or other menial tasks."


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