Robotics

Moving, talking robots to help detect autism earlier

Inquiry, December 28, 2018

A team of University of Minnesota researchers have set out to help children with autism spectrum disorder benefit from early interventions—and to do it, they’re enlisting the help of a few mechanical assistants.

The researchers, from the U’s College of Science and Engineering and Medical School, are using moving, talking robots that can interact with children ages 2 to 4 years old and gather data that helps to reveal early signs of autism. One in 59 US children are on the autism spectrum, which can change the way they interact and communicate with others, but most aren’t diagnosed until age 4 or 5. Earlier detection increases the opportunities health professionals have to step in and begin behavioral treatment when children’s brains still have a lot of plasticity, making it easier to change the course of development.

The team includes Maria Gini, Ph.D., professor of computer science and engineering; Marie Manner, Ph.D. student in computer science; Amy Esler, Ph.D., assistant professor of pediatrics; and Suma Jacob, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics.

Unlocking Mechanical Minds: using robots to help diagnose autism