by Rachel Anderson, Marketing & Communications Manager for Ability Tools
Recently at the international ATIA Conference, I had the opportunity to meet Milo, a new robot designed for children with autism. I had never seen anything quite like him… and, although robotics are still a science that needs some perfecting, I was quite impressed with the facial expressions he can make along with the many other things he can do.
You see, Milo is a human-like robot that can actually smile, laugh, walk and speak. He was created by Robokind to help students with autism develop and practice their social skills.
Milo is a cool new teaching tool for educators, therapists and parents. He is not a replacement for humans by any means – just another tool that can be used to engage children that can relate to him in a learning environment. Just like other technologies that have become indispensable to our lives (hello, smart phones anybody?) Milo wasn’t designed to replace people, but rather to be used as a facilitation tool to improve teaching and learning.
Many of you know that there are children with autism who have difficulty interacting with humans and are uncomfortable practicing and using social skills with people. Anxiety and emotional disabilities can impact the ability to learn because, as we all know, students learn best when they are engaged and comfortable.
Milo the robot is effective because he motivates; Robokind’s research has shown that children working with a therapist and Milo are engaged 70-80% of the time compared to just 3-10% of the time with traditional approaches. Furthermore, children want to work with Milo again, which increases their opportunities to learn and their developmental success.
First of all… he is a ROBOT! This, in and of itself is cool, and it is obvious to me why this tool would be engaging to students. I mean, how long have we been waiting for robots to interact with us like humans?! Robots like Milo indeed do bring a unique aspect to autism therapy. Personally, I myself would greatly enjoy having a a robot to interact with that could do all of my household chores… a la the Jetsons’ maid, Rosie. Much to my dismay, I learned at the conference that this kind of robot apparently is still going to take awhile and may not even be available in my lifetime.
However, Milo can walk, turn his head, move his arms and, using a full range of facial muscles, can model most emotions. In fact, as you can see in the above photo, some facial expressions go beyond “happy” and “sad” and are quite complex. Milo utilizes exaggerated expressions to teach children that don’t often pick up on social cues – and these are important for all to learn as social cues are ubiquitous in our society.
How does Milo actually work? Well, an internal HD camera allows Milo the robot to see objects and people – including their motions, facial expressions, and gestures. An internal computer also runs his movement, intelligence and teaching programs using microphones that listen, speak and record and sensors that detect touch, faces and motion.
Milo teaches lessons to students – with a facilitator there too (see video below) – and then collects the learning data from the students. Another cool feature about Milo is that he doesn’t make mistakes on the data – after all, he is a ROBOT people!
Moreover, I think one of the best features of Milo is that, unlike most humans, Milo can deliver lessons with as much repetition as needed, without any visible -even subtle- frustrations on the part of the facilitator. How many teachers can say that? Even the most patient teachers out there have a breaking point and might show frustration or disappointment with a student even when they really don’t intend to.
Finally, i will leave you with this statistic: It is estimated that approximately 1 in every 68 children are born on the autism spectrum. If using Milo can lead to more inclusive learning environments and a more inclusive society by teaching children to act more appropriately in social situations, to self-motivate, self-regulate, interact better and understand facial expressions and social cues, I say bring on the robot generation.
Learn more about Milo by watching the video below or going to Robokind’s website at: http://www.robokindrobots.com/