Aldebaran Robotics has announced their Autism Solution for Kids initiative: ASK NAO. Aldebaran is among world leaders in humanoid robotics design and believes their newest addition to the robot family, NAO, is the “perfect bridge between human and technological worlds” for autistic children, whom often find communication easier with regimented structure that computer-based programs provide. At 2-feet tall, NAO is child-sized, and surprisingly full of personality. “He” can make a good companion, developing social skills and furthering education through games. Aldebaran intends for NAO to be used as a teaching assistant in special needs classrooms. The robot is able to lead and participate in a variety of educational games aimed at developing verbal skills, non-verbal communication, emotional intelligence, and elementary academic skills. ASK NAO has been tested in three schools, one in England and two in the United States. The Moody Preschool in Massachusetts requested to beta test the program and reported that NAO was useful for inclusion classrooms, providing a social mediator that both typically developing children and those on the autism spectrum found engaging and exciting. The staff observed positive changes in attention span among the autistic kids in just a few weeks. One teacher asserted, “Some students who barely react to people had a great reaction to the robot.” Head teacher of the special needs program at Topcliffe Primary in Birmingham, England explained an aspect of NAO’s success with his students, saying “The robots have no emotion, so autistic children find them less threatening than their teachers and easier to engage with. Children who first come into school unable to make eye contact with humans start to communicate through the robots.” Topcliffe Primary has had two robots for over a year—Ben & Max. You can see a video of Topcliffe’s success with ASK NAO in this news feature.
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Gee, Sue. “NAO Works With Autistic Children.” NAO Works With Autistic Children. N.p., 5 May 2013. Web. 07 May 2013. <http://www.i-programmer.info/news/169-robotics/5837-nao-works-with-autistic-children.html>.