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Robot playmates monitor emotional state of children with ASD
Date:2/17/2009

The day that robot playmates help children with autism learn the social skills that they naturally lack has come a step closer with the development of a system that allows a robot to monitor a child's emotional state.

"There is a lot of research going on around the world today trying to use robots to treat children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). It has shown that the children are attracted to robots, raising the promise that appropriately designed robots could play an important role in their treatment," says Nilanjan Sarkar, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt University. "However, the efforts so far have been quite limited because they haven't had a way to monitor the emotional state of the children, which would allow the robot to respond automatically to their reactions."

If these limitations can be overcome, the use of robots to treat children with ASD could have a significant social and financial impact. One baby in every 150 born today in the United States is diagnosed with ASD, making it more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined. Currently, treatment of these children involves a combination of behavioral, educational, physical, occupational and speech therapies, sometimes accompanied by medication for co-occurring conditions such as anxiety, irritability, bi-polar and other disorders. The average cost of caring for one person with autism for life is $3.2 million. In total, autism currently costs the U.S. more than $90 billion per year, and that cost is projected to double by 2017 due to the growing population of those affected.

Over the last five years, Sarkar has developed a method that uses physiological measurements, including heart rate, galvanic skin response, temperature and muscle response, to monitor the emotional state of individuals. His original motivation was to improve human-robot interactions. When his nephew was diagnosed with autism, however, Sarkar got the idea
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Contact: David F. Salisbury
david.salisbury@vanderbilt.edu
615-343-6803
Vanderbilt University
Source:Eurekalert

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