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Babies Driving Robots at University
Date:11/9/2007

NEWARK, Del., Nov. 9 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Babies driving robots. It sounds like the theme of a cartoon series but it is actually the focus of important and innovative research being conducted at the University of Delaware that could have significant repercussions for the cognitive development of infants with special needs.

Two UD researchers - James C. (Cole) Galloway, associate professor of physical therapy, and Sunil Agrawal, professor of mechanical engineering - have outfitted kid-size robots to provide mobility to children who are unable to fully explore the world on their own.

The work is important because much of infant development, both of the brain and behavior, emerges from the thousands of experiences each day that arise as babies independently move and explore their world. This is the concept of "embodied development," Galloway said.

Infants with Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism and other disorders can have mobility limitations that disconnect them from the ongoing exploration that their peers enjoy.

"If these infants were adults, therapists would have options of assistive technology such as power wheelchairs," Galloway said. "Currently, children with significant mobility impairments are not offered power mobility until they are 5-6 years of age, or older. This delay in mobility is particularly disturbing when you consider the rapid brain development during infancy. Their actions, feelings and thinking all shape their own brain's development. Babies literally build their own brains through their exploration and learning in the complex world."

When a baby starts crawling and walking, everything changes for everyone involved. "Now consider the negative impact of a half decade of immobility for an infant with already delayed development," Galloway said. "When a baby doesn't crawl or walk, everything also changes. Immobility changes the infant, and the family. Given the need, you would think that the barrie
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SOURCE University of Delaware
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