Monday, October 31, 2005

Robots Diagnose Autism

By Lee Gomes, The Wall Street Journal

Brian Scassellati is a robotics researcher in Yale's computer-science department, and is part of an interdisciplinary group on campus that includes doctors and others. Part of his contribution has been to build very simple robotic heads -- more like smart toys -- then to watch how different children, autistic and nonautistic, respond to them.

These devices can be programmed to monitor where the child is, or whether the child has said anything, and then to say something appropriate. In other cases, the robot head will spout things randomly. Prof. Scassellati said that with three year olds, nonautistic children will continue to interact with a robot that is responding appropriately, but will quickly tire of one that isn't. Autistic children, however, show no such preference, and will be equally fascinated by each.

Prof. Scassellati says his group's work so far is devoted entirely to diagnosing autism -- not to treating it. (Even with that more modest goal, the results aren't in yet.) But he and others can't help but think of the ways that robots might be useful one day in actually treating the disease.

Working with autistic children can be exhausting, notes Prof. Scassellati, but machines don't tire.

Robotic toys may one day diagnose autism


Anonymous Cristobal said...

Maybe making three year olds play with robot heads that spout nonsense for hours on end is causing the autism.

9:23 AM, November 04, 2005  

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