Robots to Teach Autistic Kids How to be Social

How possible is it for robots to teach children with autism – individuals who are known to be socially inept generally?Kids affected by autism encounter various degrees of difficulty in socializing. Looking another human in the eye is not always the easiest thing for them to do. Performing far more engaging things with other members of the specie is a task so complicated for a person with autism that it is something that has to be learned. It’s quite ironic then that scientists would even consider an automaton, to do the teaching job for something that is essentially a “human” thing.

There are many sci-fi movies that show humans socializing with robots just as they ordinarily would with their human counterparts. It’s not always true in real situations, though; robotics has not reached that level yet. Recently however, a research is making headway in designing robots that could practically teach social skills to individuals who have Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD.

Dr. Pamela Rollins, an associate professor and researcher at UT Dallas, is currently collaborating with robotics engineers and autism specialists. A program is in the works at Robokind establishment to design Robots4Autism, which would basically employ an AI or artificially intelligent robot with a complete array of facial expressions and helpful vocabularies to interrelate with children who have autism.

Undeniably, autistic children have varying special needs and usually have great difficulty demonstrating established social standards of affection, like hugging or smiling. Thus, without proper special intervention, this difficulty will stay on for the rest of their lives.

According to Dr. Rollins, this less threatening interaction with AI robots have shown promising results in that special children begin communicating with the AIs even when they’re not conversing with other individuals. This process of social interaction could well help autistics check and improve their emotions, social behaviours, and healthy relations with other people.

For instance, at the start of a session the robot first gives details of a certain social situation to the child. They then proceeds to watch the depicted situation on video together, where the robot further provides explanations on the correct behaviours demonstrated by the players.

The robot is programmed to detect feelings of frustration in the child with autism, and to employ a standard action to calm and address the agitation. Lessons are given for various social situations with emphasis on how children normally act in the given circumstances. These include prompts and appropriate greetings or gestures.

Why would a robot be preferred for teaching autistic children over human teachers or coaches? Wouldn’t these affected humans act more robotic as they already are, as a result of this interaction?

The scientists explain that researches show that individuals with ASD find the interface with robots less threatening. With anxiety significantly reduced, autistics have better ability to identify their emotions and respond appropriately to social situations. Specialists believe that Robots4Autism will be very useful as an adjunct to more conventional therapies used for autism intervention.

The fantastic idea of humans and automatons co-existing may not be restricted to motion pictures anymore.

Where Robots Don’t Rule: Ferraris and Longboards

High end sports cars are bad ass. And the Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano deserves that title. It is bad ass. I watched a National Geographic special not too long ago about how this vehicle is built. Ferrari’s build process is cool, but their factory is just as sweet. I want to parallel it with longboard production, as well.

Headquarter in northern Italy, Ferrari’s factory is awesome. It’s where raw metals like aluminum are changed into raw horsepower.

The factory buildings are awesome — very modern, just like the Fiorano. The engine building department has trees and skylights right in the factory, which is crazy. The trees and skylights help keep the correct humidity and help with worker comfort. This helps the employees when constructing engines. Ferrari uses handmade processes, along with some automation — which is unlike other cars factories that use robots for everything.

The way Ferrari makes cars reminds me of how good longboards used to be made in the day — handcrafted, hand-painted and hand assembled.

Those days changed with the advent of robots — such as allowing precision longboard bearings machined for speed. That’s the same kind of techniques that Ferrari uses and skateboard manufacturers like Bones may use.

Example: Every engine for the Fiorano is molded separately, which is unlike how longboard manufacturers make trucks. They are not mass produced in the foundry. Aluminum alloy metal is melted, poured into the mold, creating the cylinder heads. After it dries, the sand is shaken away, and xrays of the heads are taken, checking for imperfections.

Then, engine blocks are tweaked by hand. After all 800-plus parts are created for the engine, an employee assembles each engine by hand, no robots here.

This is a skilled job because every part is built with precision. This is an all-day process.

Although most production cars are welded by robots, Ferrari’s 599 car is hand-welded. This allows the body to be more exactly shaped and precisely fitted. After being welded, a robot starts stapling the body. The robots are programmed to place about 180 rivets to hold the body together.

Then, the chassis is probed for quality control. This is done by a robot pressing little feelers, measuring the strength of the body, checking for imperfections.

The body shop is where sheet metal becomes beauty. Panels are aluminum, which keeps it light. Workers check for trouble spots and notate them on the body with a marker and then tweak them.

The paint is done in a hermetically sealed booth by robots, which are programmed and controlled by humans outside the booth. After paint, a human checks the quality control and if there is a blemish that can’t be fixed, the body is resent for paint.

Both body and power come together near the end of the line. During this part of construction, the car is on an assembly line. Although it has good wheels, they do not move until every piece is buttoned up correctly.

Each piece of leather upholstery is handcrafted by seamstresses. The leather interior takes an average of 30 hours to cut, sew, and assemble the interior.

Final checks are done and the emblem is placed. Then, each Ferrari is taken on to the 2 miles private race track to prove that the car is race-worthy. If it checks out, the 599 is taken out on the roads near the factory to check its worthiness.

Automation: Buying Factory Ammo or Use a Hand Reloading Press

Automation and robots make are lives easier, no doubt, but there are often niches where people like to do things manually to get a better quality product. An example includes reloading ammunition; we’ll explore the difference in this article.

Photo credit: Ken, CC BY 2.0

Photo credit: Ken, CC BY 2.0

If free time is at a premium, then factory ammo is the way to go. It is good, especially match-grade bullets, compared to the days of yore.

However, if precision and customization are staples to you — i.e., you’re a bench-rest shooter — you’ll probably be weighing out cases and bullets, then getting rid of anything that doesn’t fit your tolerances. You, also, own a good reloading press to assemble your ammo.

That’s dedication.

Those who enjoy shooting long range at IDPA targets, will probably be happy with factory ammo. At long distance, many of us are just happy to hit the intended target — let alone hit it within a couple millimeters of accuracy.

Comparing cost-per-round, hand-loading may be a little cheaper; however, you may be shooting more, which can increase the cost because of extra supplies for reloading needed.

The benefit to this, however, is that you might become a better marksmen because you are shooting more often.

If you are using only factory ammo, you may not be able to afford the bullets, which can impact how much you shoot.

For many people who bought brass casings, primers, and powder when it was dirt cheap decades ago, they are set and probably will have a less cost-per-round than anybody.

Take into account that it costs about $40 per thousand primers, about $100 per thousands brass casings, and $10 per pound of powder, the cost adds up.

An important point about reloading: If you do decide to reload, most shooters will be reluctant to accept ammunition from you because there is a possibility the gun might blow up if the reload was done incorrectly.

With commercial, factory ammo, that is not the case. They go through a replicable process done with machine, not a hand-load.

Other important factors about reloading:

  • Automation and robots make are lives easier, no doubt, but there are often niches where people like to do things manually to get a better quality product. An example includes reloading ammunition; we’ll explore the difference in this article.How much do you value your time?
  • Do you have enough money to get started?
  • Do you have brass casings or do you need to buy them?
  • Do you have space for a reloading press?
  • What style of ammo are you after?

These are all salient questions about whether you should get into reloading.

Robots and their uses

Credit for photo: Ben Husmann,CC-BY-2.0

Credit for photo: Ben Husmann,CC-BY-2.0

Robots have come a long way in terms of how humans use them, from their origin as industrial robots to the various purposes for which they are created now.

Uses of robots then

Various industries originally used robots for their assembly and finishing operations. Repetitive procedures, especially in the manufacturing industry, required precision and consistency. Automatons, which performed exactly as programmed, were the ideal workforce.

Conveying materials and objects that were too heavy or delicate for humans to move, was another area where robots became the practical choice.

It also became highly applicable for robots to be deployed in procedures and phases that were too hazardous for humans.

Robots today

Welding was one of the most prevalent purposes for which robots were produced. Today, that remains to be the case, with more than 25% of robots working as welders. They are also the popular choice for repetitive industrial jobs that require precision, such as, assembly, cutting, drilling, grinding, painting, polishing, sanding, and spraying.

These robot jobs are easy to imagine because robots themselves are products of industrial and mechanical technology. Recently, however, robots have expanded towards more sensitive and highly “human” fields.

Types of robot applications

There are robots now under the following types:

1. Medical robots

Highly-advanced robots have budding careers assisting surgeons during delicate brain and heart surgical procedures. There are automated hospital aides used for conveying medicines, medical supplies, laboratory results, and heavy medical equipment. They can also be programmed to handle quality control in biomedical and pharmaceutical manufacturing.

2. Entertainment and hobby robots

Robosapiens, articulated robot arms and toy robots are used for personal and entertainment purposes. Sumo-bots and line followers are robots that can be created by the user for fun and competition.

3. Robot teachers

In South Korea, they use robots for teaching English. A telepresence function is an added advantage for students in remote places. In Japan, humanoid robots with projectors take on a larger teaching role. In the US, there are on-going research and experiments that use robots to teach children with autism. Play-i robots are quite affordable. EZ-Robots and Linkbot are mid-range in terms of cost, while RobotsLAB products belong to the higher end of educational robots.

4. Domestic robots

They are programmed to perform household chores, such as, sweeping and vacuuming, pool-cleaning, gutter-cleaning, surveillance, and lawn-mowing. Pet-care robots are also out in the market, with various functions that include pet-feeding, pet-washing and litter-cleaning.

5. Military robots

The military has wide use for robots, especially for activities that pose risks to people. There are bomb-disposal robots, reconnaissance drones, search-and-rescue robots, and others deployed in dangerous military operations.

6. Space robots

Robots are the best bet for space flights, too; a whole lot better and more humane than sending chimpanzees. Robots in space include the likes of the exploration rovers in Mars, those deployed on the International Space Station, and the Canadarm in Shuttles.

Potential robot uses

It is obvious that robots will be here to stay and their application will be everywhere. Depending on their design and purpose, they can work on their fixed post, or move around in the workplace. While they were originally delegated to the “dangerous, dirty and dull” types of job, now they have gone out of that box. They work in research labs, explore deep sea beds, watch and teach children, or showcase new technology. Your next surgical procedure might even be assisted by a robot.

Are robots out to usurp your job? Well, robots have been complementing humans in performing some jobs. Whenever a job is considered too unappealing or impractical for humans, a robot will be designed for it. Where there is difficulty to get humans to do the job, or it’s very expensive to hire someone for that task, there’s a potential career for a robot.

Household Robots: What Can They Do?

Movies show robots in homes every now and then, but will robots really be invading the household scene in the near future? Robots manufactured for families, homes, and other domestic purposes are designed to perform tasks and chores that are too dangerous, dirty, or dull for humans. These undesirable activities are best delegated to robots, as they really can’t complain.

What can robots do?

1. Clean the house

Cleaning gutters is not only a tedious and dirty chore; it is a dangerous one, as well. You’d be happy to assign the job to a robot that is programmed to do just that. One such robot is named Looj, manufactured and distributed by popular robot-maker – iRobot.
Generally, household robots are made for the purpose of cleaning. Roomba is a vacuuming robot, also made by iRobot. Then there’s Roomba’s siblings named Scooba for vacuuming and washing floors, and Dirt Dog for sweeping floors. You can program these household assistants to do their chores on certain days and times.

Well, there’s probably no worse chore than having to clean up cat litter every day. It’s a good thing that there’s now a robot that detects litter and cleans up with its specially-designed cleaning parts. This robot belongs to the pet care line of robots.

2. Clean the yard and outdoor facilities

As long as there’s an unappealing job at home, there’s always the possibility that a robot will be designed for that purpose. Lawn mowing is past becoming a non-task for husbands and weekend mowers. Robots are already designed to mow lawns, and various companies have already started producing them at reasonable prices. Home lawn-mowing robots are more economically priced than commercial lawn-mowing bots, but that’s to be expected.

If you’ve been paying someone to clean the home pool, you know how much it’s been making an impact to your budget. Consider the cost of buying a robot to do the job, and compare that with the current cost of pool-cleaning that you regularly spend on. Robots now make it possible for you to own a pool, and enjoy it without the hassle that usually goes with it.

3. Spy for you

How would you like to hire spies to see who gobbles up your favourite dessert when you’re not home? Robot-makers released surveillance automatons equipped with web camera, mp3 and other gadgets necessary for reporting to you. Some of the popular surveillance bots in the market are Meccano/Erector’s Spykee and WowWee’s Rovio. They’re also sometimes called telepresence robots because they allow you to be virtually present at home even when you’re not. Such robots are also used in industries and other fields.

4. Become your PA and companion

We’ve seen them, albeit mostly in movies, become friends and personal assistants (PAs) to some people. That’s not fiction anymore; such robots do exist. Depending on how you prefer them programmed, they can do a range of chores from helping you get up in the morning to massaging your aching back. Having a PA frees you up from repetitive chores and allows you to spend more of your time on important things that need your actual presence.

5. Teach your kids

This job does not seem to belong to the dangerous, dirty and dull. But it belongs to the tasks that not all parents have the time or the talent for. Recent development shows robots teaching children with autism how to act in social situations. Prior to that, they’ve been teaching academics – math, science and technology, languages, and engineering – through interactive platforms that kids like. Play-I robots – Bo and Yana – engage kids in play while teaching them spatial and computational skills. RobotsLAB has a fleet of educational robots, including the humanoid NAO which was specially designed to help kids with autism. Other educational robots from RobotsLAB are Qbo Pro Evo, Drone, ArmBot, Sphero, Mustached Rover, and BOX Deluxe, which are all high-end robotics.

People have mixed opinions about robots being used at home, especially those that involve the children. Development in this area of robotics, however, is just beginning and what we see now is just the tip of what robots will be in the future.

Robots in the Hospital Workforce

Photo credit: Jez,CC-BY-2.0

Photo credit: Jez,CC-BY-2.0

You’ve seen automated facilities and cutting-edge technology being employed in hospitals and healthcare facilities, but robots for patients’ bedside care? It’s something to start getting used to because healthcare and medical care providers are seriously considering different types of automation to reduce the cost of delivering service to clients. Cost reduction isn’t the only end in mind, as robots will greatly improve effectiveness and efficiency. The industry is fast becoming very competitive, too, and being at the forefront of technology is one marketing pitch that’s hard to ignore.

Robots as couriers

Aethon’s TUG replaces employees who used to package, handle or deliver linens, medicines and medical equipment, hospital supplies, and lab results. They are programmed to precisely perform their job, move from one floor to another, and communicate with elevators and doors with sensor. This is much the same concept used by RoboCouriers of Swisslog Healthcare Solutions, which transports specimens, medicines and lab test results. Routine tasks are accomplished much easier and cheaper.
Robots as telemedicine systems

Almost a thousand US hospitals employ telemedicine systems which connect clinicians to remotely-located patients. Primary care, referral to a specialist, patient monitoring, remote diagnostics, remote data-collection, and medical education can be done wireless with this intelligent system. InTouch Health of Sta. Barbara, California, is one of the leading developers of telemedicine systems and automation.

Robots as OR smart assistants

An automated system is currently being conceptualized at GE Global Research to enhance the efficiency of operating rooms (ORs). Efforts are underway in developing robots that will be able to classify, sterilize and monitor surgical equipment, analyse dosage and expiration of drugs, and eliminate human error in clinical procedures that require precision. All of these are intended to improve patient outcomes. Robot-Rx of McKesson Corp and RIVA of Intelligent Hospital System are such robots. Robot-Rx works at St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach California.

Robots as infection eliminator

Robots are the ideal “employees” to be given the task of sanitizing resistant microbes. The disinfecting system by Xenex eliminates Clostridium difficile and Staphylococcus aureus, which are resistant to some drugs. The technology can be expensive, especially for smaller hospitals. In the long run, though, they prove cheaper and more efficient.

Robots as conduit for doctor’s virtual presence

A doctor can’t be at a patient’s bedside most of the time, but a robot can. With these bots, physicians can check on patients whenever they want and wherever they are. Doctors have become more accessible via the robots. This medical innovation is being seen as very essential especially for patients in critical conditions who require constant monitoring and immediate care.

Robots to do ICU rounds

They’ve gone a long way from delivering sheets and linens to hospital rooms to doing the rounds at the ICU. On the robot’s head is a computer screen and camera. The doctor sits in a remote office, seeing what the robot sees and driving the robot with a joystick. The doctor can observe the patient virtually, discuss with the family, or give instructions to the nurse at real-time. It’s the best compromise to having a 24/7 doctor, which is generally not a possibility. Not all patients like the idea, since many wouldn’t trade the warm presence of their doctor to a metallic bot. But kids, all kids, simply love the robot doc.

Medical robots that are now wowing the world

Robots are not about to become cheap or common; not yet, anyway. Currently, however, the following automatons are making waves in the healthcare industry.

1. Giraff – a remote-controlled robot designed to serve the elderly. It moves on wheels, has a camera and a monitor, and facilitates 2-way video communication.

2. TUG – facilitates transporting of hospitals supplies, medication, food and equipment from one part of the hospital to another. According to Aethon, the TUG performs the job of 3 employees but costs less than maintaining one employee.

3. Bestic – a medical assistive device for eating. It is a robotic arm with adaptable methods for controlling it.

4. Cody – a human-scale robot that is controlled using direct physical interface (DPI). It is a nursing assistant programmed to perform nursing tasks.

5. CosmoBot – a robot used in the therapy of developmentally-challenged children. It is programmed to record the child’s development, and this allows the specialist to evaluate the patient more effectively.

There are various microbots involved in the conduct of more delicate clinical procedures, such as retinal surgeries, disease screening, and removal of plaque from arteries. More of these artificial intelligence systems are being researched and developed. We’re not seeing the last of them. They look like they’re here to stay and increase in number.

Service Robots Take to Hotels

Photo credit: Steve Jurvetson

Photo credit: Steve Jurvetson

Along with cutting-edge technology, automation has come a long way since its inception of robots acting practically as personal assistants to humans. Before long, there’ll be more than enough robots delivering services freely to hotel personnel and guests. Unlike their human counterparts who tire easily, these terrific one-of-a-kind automatons could effortlessly and precisely perform their tasks without fail from days, weeks, or months on end.

This is precisely what the robotics company, Savioke, has envisioned for their service robots, dubbed the SaviOne, to deliver. The company’s evolving concern is to enhance people’s lives through the utilization and deployment of robotic technology in people’s natural environment, such as homes and workplaces.

This prototype is founded on Robot Operating System (ROS) technology and efficiently managed by the Open Source Robotics Foundation. It is perfectly designed to move around at a lithe humanly pace. It stands a mere 3 feet tall (0.9 m) and relatively light at less than 100 lbs. (45kg.), with a carrying power of 2 cubic feet (0.06 cu. m.).

The initial workings on the SaviOne project involved comprehensive research on understanding and recognizing the needs and demands of prospective customers and end-users, like hotel personnel and guests. A vital feature in the project’s design was the ergonomic loading and unloading of the robot: it endows the end-user a feeling of empathy; and assures that communication is clear and simple for personnel, and effortless and exciting for hotel guests. Credit goes to Google Ventures, whose design team has greatly contributed to SaviOne’s design and testing.

The SaviOne is fully equipped with a wide array of high-tech sensors to steer and shift around hotels, like sonar and range finders and powerful and detailed cameras. On the robot’s first introduction to a hotel, it sort of feels its way through the mazes. It then continuously maps the structure with its exploration. It is engineered with the capability to communicate with elevators thru Wi-Fi and can locate a particular hotel room with virtual ease as soon as it has been programmed by the hotel staff.
Meanwhile, Savioke has conducted extensive pilot testing and run-throughs of SaviOne in several hotels, one of which is the Aloft Hotel in Cupertino.

So don’t be surprised when you encounter one of these amiable-looking robots the next time you check in a hotel.