UWE researchers use socially intelligent robot in a school to support autistic young people

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A picture of the robot

Original story appeared on UWE Bristol website.

UWE Bristol researchers have placed a socially intelligent robot at a special needs school in Somerset to support autistic pupils aged 12 to 19 with their wellbeing and emotions over a three-week period.

The robot, known as Pepper, is can take part in a range of social and physical activities with children, such as story-telling, dancing, and relaxation techniques which are designed to help autistic pupils manage their emotions and wellbeing. Many autistic children can have difficulty regulating their emotions and require calming and stimulation to help them engage with school-based activities.

UWE researchers Dr Louis Rice, Associate Professor in  Architecture and the Built Environment; Dr Nigel Newbutt, Senior Lecturer in Digital Education; and Dr Séverin Lemaignan, Associate Professor in Social Robotics and AI, were funded in part by the universities Vice-Chancellor’s Challenge Fund.

UWE Bristol’s Vice-Chancellor’s Challenge Fund enables researchers to reach beyond their research centres, departments and faculties; look outside of their disciplines; and develop exciting new research with colleagues working in different fields. The University’s aim is to support collaborations that are ready to respond to external funding calls which require innovative interdisciplinary responses to meet future opportunities.

Dr Severin Lemaignan, said: “The use of robots to support autistic children is not entirely new. However, while previous research has focused on teaching skills to children, our autistic participants told us this is not what they actually need. Our approach focuses instead on wellbeing and child-led interactions. Our robot lives in the school’s corridors; Pepper engages with the children on their terms.’’

Find out more about the trial in the full story here.