NAO is a humanoid robot being used to help autistic children learn how to coordinate their attention with people and objects. This basic social skill is called ‘joint attention,’ and children with autism have trouble mastering it.
The robot is part of a system of cameras, sensors, and computers developed by an interdisciplinary team of mechanical engineers and autism experts at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. They report that autistic children paid more attention to the robot than a human therapist in exercises used to develop joint attention.
NAO was programmed with a series of verbal prompts and gestures that imitate those used by human therapists. The robot adapted its behavior to each child automatically depending on how he or she responded.
The researchers tested the effectiveness of the robot-based system in joint attention training with a dozen 2-5-year-old children, six with ASD and six without. They compared how the children performed in short human-led and robot-led sessions and found that all of the children spent more time looking at the robot than they spent looking at the human therapist. You can watch the video below for more information: