Kiwi the robot, to aid autistic kid in learning

Los Angeles: Researchers, including those of Indian-origin, have developed personalised learning robots for children with autism, and have estimated the infants' interest in engaging with them using machine learning, an advance that may lead to better home care for kids with the developmental disorder.

The scientists from the University of Southern California in the US placed a socially assistive robot, named Kiwi, in the homes of 17 children with autism between the ages of three and seven for one month.

According to their study, published in the journal Science Robotics, the bots personalised their instruction and feedback to each child's unique learning patterns during the interventions. After the study was completed, the researchers assessed the participants' engagement, and found that the robot could autonomously detect whether or not the child was engaged with 90 per cent accuracy.

"Current robotic systems are very rigid," said study lead author Shomik Jain from the University of Southern California. "If you think of a real learning environment, the teacher is going to learn things about the child, and the child will learn things from them. It's a bidirectional process and that doesn't happen with current robotic systems," Jain said.

In the new study, the scientists attempted to make robots smarter by understanding the child's behaviour and responding to it in real-time. "Human therapists are crucial, but they may not always be available or affordable for families. That's where socially assistive robots like this come in," said study co-author Kartik Mahajan.

In the study, the scientists said, the children played space-themed math games on a tablet with feedback from Kiwi -- a 2-foot tall robot dressed like a green feathered bird. Kiwi's feedback to the children, and the games' difficulty were personalised in real-time according to each child's unique learning patterns, they added.

If a child answered correctly, the scientists said, Kiwi would say something like, "Good job!". If the children got a question wrong, Kiwi might give them some helpful tips to solve the problem, and adjust the difficulty and feedback in future games, the researchers added.

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