Tiny robots and VR choreography: How tech is aiding autism research
Technology, including robots, took centre stage at the 2019 International Society for Autism Research in Montreal this weekend, which brought 2,500 researchers together to discuss their findings.
Among the displays was a tiny robot named Cozmo, a creation that Mark Brosnan of the Centre for Applied Autism Research at the U.K.’s University of Bath says encourages interaction and communication.
Researchers gave one Cozmo robot each to two children on the autism spectrum, and observed whether or not they would interact and play without any prompting.
“We found the autistic children were interacting with each other, playing with each other and communicating with each other,” Brosnan told CTV Montreal. “When motivated to play and interact with each other, there was no differences between autistic and non-autistic children.”
Other technology displayed included virtual reality learning tools, such as one that assists children in learning to cross the street safely, and one that blends dance with synchronization, allowing children to learn to concentrate better – called “Choreograph-Fish”
Eric Handman, a professor at the University of Utah School of Dance, brought the program “Choreograph-Fish” to the conference, a virtual reality program made in collaboration with game designers, autism researchers and young adults on the autism spectrum.
“Many people on the autism spectrum have anxiety, and we are working with the idea that producing patterns reduces anxiety,” Handman told CTV Montreal. “Choreography is a pattern-based art form, but it’s also a social art form and that social aspect is a hurdle to engagement.”
“So we decided to create a virtual reality choreography environment so that they would have access to an art form in more of a private context.”
The conference also addressed concerns that parents of children with autism had about the high-tech solutions, such as the expense associated or their children mimicking the robots – something researchers are hoping to find solutions for in the future.