So often we hear about technology disrupting play and stunting or being less effective than “traditional” types of education. Rarely do we see technology blending in with education and children’s play and really supporting child development and learning.
This is one exception.
A school in Australia that works with autistic kids has adopted several Sphero robots (like BB8 from Star Wars), and has incorporated Sphero into both indoor and outdoor play.
Not only is it robust enough to be taken outside and played with alongside building blocks, it can also be used to teach coding away from a basic screen. “For kids with autism … around 90% of the information processed is what they can see. They’re very visual learners,” he said.
It can also help kids feel more comfortable in the school environment. Smith explained how some young students, around six and seven years old, often find it stressful to leave their classroom and travel to other parts of the school.”Early on, we found that if we let them guide Sphero: ‘Let’s take Sphero for a little adventure around the school,’ they would actually, with no trouble, go into the assembly or sport hall if they had Sphero with them,” he said. “It’s almost like they were brave and overcame their anxieties for the sake of showing Sphero.”
Sphero is robust enough that it can be used for paint projects, or just exploring in the dirt.
Just like Christopher Robin and his Winnie the Pooh, being able to use a proxy like Sphero to help explore the world can be very powerful and enabling for kids of all abilities, but especially kids on the autism spectrum.
An article from LiveScience talks about recent studies that find kids can get along pretty well with robots as playmates:
As technology continues to improve, human-like robots will likely play an ever-increasing role in our lives: They may become tutors for children, caretakers for the elderly, office receptionists or even housemaids. Children will come of age with these androids, which naturally raises the question: What kind of relationships will kids build with personified robots?
Children will view humanoid robots as intelligent social and moral beings, allowing them to develop substantial and meaningful relationships with the machines, new research suggests.
Researchers analyzed the interactions between nearly 100 children and Robovie, a 3-foot-tall (0.9 meters) robot developed by the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute in Japan. In the study, two technicians controlled Robovie remotely from another room, leading the children to believe that the robot was autonomous. The researchers imparted humanlike behavior to the robot, such as having Robovie claim unfair treatment when he was told to go into the closet at the end of the interaction sessions.
After reading the LiveScience question is, is this a good idea? I know positive results have been found for kids with Autism, who are able to transfer skills practiced with robots on to other humans, but for healthy kids is this really as beneficial? The scientists don’t seem too concerned:
…the researchers think that the results have important implications for the design of future robots. If engineers design robots to simply obey orders, the master-servant relationship that children experience may trickle into their interactions with other humans. Is it then better to design robots with the ability to “push back” as Robovie did when he was instructed to go into the closet?
Shen said there is no easy answer to which design scheme is better.
“I don’t think children will treat robots as nonsocial beings, they will treat them as social actors and interact with them in social ways,” she said. “But we need more data and evidence to see how adults, as well as children, will develop relationships with these robots.”
What do you think? Is this a good idea? The elderly in Japan do seem to benefit from having robot pets. Could the same be true for kids?
I have heard of this kind of therapy before, how autistic kids tend to respond better to robots teaching them emotions and proper social responses; the robot acts as a sort of bridge, or neutral third party for the kid:
STEVENAGE, England (AP) – Eden Sawczenko used to recoil when other little girls held her hand and turned stiff when they hugged her. This year, the 4-year-old autistic girl began playing with a robot that teaches about emotions and physical contact – and now she hugs everyone.
“She’s a lot more affectionate with her friends now and will even initiate the embrace,” said Claire Sawczenko, Eden’s mother.
The girl attends a pre-school for autistic children in Stevenage, north of London, where researchers bring in a human-looking, child-sized robot once a week for a supervised session. The children, whose autism ranges from mild to severe, play with the robot for up to 10 minutes alongside a scientist who controls the robot with a remote control.
The robot, named Kaspar, is programmed to do things like smile, frown, laugh, blink and wave his arms. He has shaggy black hair, a baseball cap, a few wires protruding from his neck, and striped red socks. He was built by scientists at the University of Hertfordshire at a cost of about 1,300 pounds (US$2,118).
Macaques have figured out how to fish. Studies have also shown that chimps have the ability to plan ahead. It has also been found that chimps need hugs and kisses or other forms of affection. And the latest landmark of humans? The Japanese have developed a robot girlfriend.
I’m planning to go cuddle and enjoy a nice fish dinner.