Many researchers believe today that the interaction between children with autism and robots holds the key to early diagnosis and treatment of this condition. In Italy, the Sicilian start-up Robotics Life has develop RoboMate, a customizable learning platform, in his researching in the fields of medicine and the interactions of Robot with humans and particularly with children. The company was founded in Catania by software developers Daniele Lombardo and his brother Marco, together with their cousin Giuseppe Pennisi, to understand how to best treat autism in children aged 2-6.
“As software developers we are interested in studying robotics and in particular in finding applications for social robotics, that is robotics applied to everyday life”, says Daniele Lombardo.
RoboMate, the learning platform
For this purpose Robotics Life built and put on the market RoboMate, a customizable learning platform that includes behavioral software; these programs are designed according to the paradigm of “edutaiment” and allow the robots to interact with children based on the different needs of the patients and the therapists.
Although the robots are not built in Italy, the RoboMate platform and the software are all Italian: the Sicilian developers of Robotics life created both the user interface, that is operated by a tablet computer and allows doctors, therapists and parents to interact with the robots, and the software that instructs the robots, so that they will perform specific exercises that help the children.
The project will soon be expanded to bring RoboMate into elementary schools and to use the robots for specific games that make them “inclusion mediators” for autistic children.
Robots are in fact considered promising in the treatment of autism because affected children can sometimes find social interaction threatening, while robots, that look but are not human, can make communication less complicated and more comfortable for the child. With this new “inclusion” program, the robots, instructed by the Italian software, will create games that involve both autistic children and other children or members of the family that are not affected by the condition, stimulating social interactions.
RoboMate, a true italian innovation
“Research has shown that the use of human-like robots produces a 30% improvement in the social interactions of young patients”, says Daniele Lombardo. “Our project is already in the testing phase and we have sold the first robots equipped with our platform. The real challenge for us was to both program these machines and to design an application for a simplified use of the robot”. Such an application is a true Italian innovation: human-like robots have been around for a while, but no one had so far created a software to allow an easy, direct and personalized use of the machines for doctors, therapists and parents, without the supervision of an It expert.