Building a brighter future with robotics
Sitting on the floor, a toddler listens to her mechanical companion, who also sits.
“Clap your hands. Can you clap your hands?” her companion says.
The girl claps enthusiastically. She then stands up and dances vigorously to pop music with her companion. When all is over, she reaches down, pats the motionless companion on the head, and says to the young woman who’s been watching: “I like your robot.”
The scene was a baseline study of how young, healthy children interact with robots like this toddler's companion. The young woman, Marie Manner, was a graduate student with Maria Gini, a professor in the University of Minnesota Department of Computer Science and Engineering. Manner was investigating whether humanoid robots could help push back the age when autism can first be detected so that treatment may begin earlier. The idea is that children with and without autism in their future may interact with a robot—a standard, bias-free presence—in subtly different ways.