Can Aldebarans’ NAO robot actually help children with disabilities? According to anecdotal information gleaned from the experiences of educators and children at Shaler Academy in Ridgefield, N.J. and at Vanderbilt University, it seems that NAO’s calm, non-threatening approach lets autistic children feel they can come out of their shell safely and interact with NAO in a way they cannot with other children or adults. A new study is underway to find out how true those observations are.
Anecdotal evidence is insufficient for a truly scientific appraisal of NAO’s effect on these children. Maybe the changes these educators at Vanderbilt actually see in these children is nothing more than a reflection of their own desperate hopes; they see the progress they hope to see. On the other hand, maybe there really is progress and an actual scientific study of the interaction between robot and child might add information to be used in future therapies -- and Nottingham-Trent University is trying to find out.
Although we here at RobotsLAB believe that NAO is an effective device working with autistic children we are still happy to hear that a new, more rigorous study of the robot’s interaction with children is underway at Nottingham Trent University in Nottingham, England. Hopefully this research will prove NAO is as effective as we believe he is and result in his becoming a more widely used and understood tool for aiding these kids.