Robots Reading Autistic Kids' Minds
Reported January 2011
NASHVILLE, TN ( Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Every twenty minutes, a child in the U.S. is diagnosed with autism. But despite the surge in cases, there’s been no way to ID what’s really taking place inside the autistic mind, until now. Instead of charts and books, experts are using nuts and bolts to push autistic kids to the next level.
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It’s a simple game of hoops with a medical twist. 16 year-old Daniel Mirtes has autism, a daily struggle for both him and mom Tonya.
"He would just turn and face the wall," Tonya Mirtes, Daniel's mother, told Ivanhoe.
She turned to Vanderbilt University's Mechanical Engineer Nilanjan Sarkar, Ph.D., and his mind-reading robot. It literally reads Daniel's mood, then makes the game easier or tougher by moving the hoop or keeping still.
"If the robot determines that the child is getting stressed out, the robot will change the speed of the game, maybe play relaxing music," Dr. Sarkar explained.
The machine works by recording Daniel's heart rate, skin temperature, and muscle movements all in real time.
"The amazing thing is you can put it all together and learn what a child is feeling," Wendy Stone, Ph.D., a pediatric specialist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, said.
Doctor Stone says it can help us understand what triggers anxiety and tension in autistic kids.
"You shoot hoops and if I'm stressed out it will slow down," Daniel Mirtes said.
It’s a winner for Daniel and for mom and the experts, too.
"Just with this robot, it was able to keep him engaged," Tonya Mirtes said.
Researchers found the robot identified a child's correct mood 80-percent of the time. An experienced therapist works at the same clip.
"We can adapt our behavior and we're going to have much more success in teaching things," Dr. Stone said.
Some help, some hoops and a lot of understanding. For Daniel, it’s a slam-dunk. Autistic kids work better with robots because they’re more predictable and consistent than humans. Researchers are trying to create a smaller robot to work with kids in their homes.
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