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Robots 'may help disabled children'

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Disabled children might be able to learn how to enhance their engagement skills using a robot, researchers have found.

Using a humanoid robot as an education tool could help children with severe intellectual disabilities including cerebral palsy, autism and general development delays, they said.

Researchers from Nottingham Trent and Nottingham Universities examined five pupils with such disabilities aged nine to 17 as they interacted with the autonomous “NAO” robot - which is capable of speech, speech recognition, sitting, standing, walking, dancing and playing sound files.

The children were set a series of learning objectives including communication tasks, recognising symbols and numbers and understanding cause and effect.

Their behaviour was studied by both their teachers and the researchers - who used a set scale to determine their levels of engagement.

Presenting the data from the preliminary study at the 2013 Interactive Technologies and Games conference in Nottingham, the researchers said that the children’s engagement when working with the robot was higher than when in a normal class room.

In fact, engagement of three out of the five pupils more than doubled on the engagement profile scale, they said.

“Human-robot interaction is an emerging field of research and these are really exciting initial results,” said David Brown, professor in interactive systems for social inclusion at Nottingham Trent University’s School of Science and Technology.

“Educating young people with intellectual disabilities presents different challenges due to their impaired understanding and reduced social skills.

“Engagement is thought to be the single best predictor of successful learning in children with intellectual disabilities and we have demonstrated here how robots can be used to increase engagement.”

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