A new robot practices everyday activities and emotions with challenged children through play.
While most autistic children have trouble communicating with others and reading social cues, they interact beautifully with toys and electronics, notably iPads and robotic animals. To combine these technologies, a Pennsylvania-based start-up called Interbots has created a prototype stuffed-animal robot named Popchilla and an accompanying iPad app.
Far from the dated abilities of a Furby, Popchilla interacts with children kinetically and colorfully, by moving its bunny-like ears and lion-esque tail. It speaks and reacts by changing its facial expressions and eye color. For example, when the toy is angry, its ears go down and its eyes turn red.
What makes this robot different and more effective is, first, that it is not controlled by internal animatronics. The toy interacts and speaks to a child through an outside controller system, which is powered by a parent or adult. In addition, Popchilla also has its own game, encouraging such daily activities as brushing one’s teeth and getting ready in the morning and rewards a child’s successes. Since the iPad games and controller system can be updated with new content and constant improvements, the robot, itself, doesn’t become obsolete; rather, it grows with a child, whose responses, interactions and game play are recorded digitally for parents to view.
While the toy is not yet on the market (producers hope to sell it for $500), previews of its game, Popchilla’s World, are online. To see how the game works, check out the video below: