Work is beginning on a robot with artificial skin which is being developed as part of a project involving researchers at the University of Hertfordshire so that it can be used in their work investigating how robots can help children with autism to learn about social interaction.
Professor Kerstin Dautenhahn and her team at the University’s School of Computer Science are part of a European consortium, which is working on the three-year Roboskin project to develop a robot with skin and embedded tactile sensors.
According to the researchers, this is the first time that this approach has been used in work with children with autism.
The researchers will work on Kaspar (http://kaspar.feis.herts.ac.uk/), a child-sized humanoid robot developed by the Adaptive Systems research group at the University. The robot is currently being used by Dr. Ben Robins and his colleagues to encourage social interaction skills in children with autism. They will cover Kaspar with robotic skin and Dr Daniel Polani will develop new sensor technologies which can provide tactile feedback from areas of the robot’s body. The goal is to make the robot able to respond to different styles of how the children play with Kaspar in order to help the children to develop ‘socially appropriate’ playful interaction (e.g. not too aggressive) when interacting with the robot and other people.
“Children with autism have problems with touch, often with either touching or being touched,” said Professor Kerstin Dautenhahn. “The idea is to put skin on the robot as touch is a very important part of social development and communication and the tactile sensors will allow the robot to detect different types of touch and it can then encourage or discourage different approaches.”
Roboskin is being co-ordinated by Professor Giorgio Cannata of Università di Genova (Italy). Other partners in the consortium are: Università di Genova, Ecole Polytechnique Federale Lausanne, Italian Institute of Technology, University of Wales at Newport and Università di Cagliari.
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