The University of Hertfordshire is currently developing a robot with artificial skin as a tool to help teach children with autism how to communicate and improve social skills.

The robot, KASPAR, is described as a child-sized humanoid robot, and is being used in the University’s studies into how robots may be used to help children with autism learn social interaction skills.

The study is a part of the European IROMEC project, which,  using state of the art equipment, emphasises the importance of play in child development. Play in children is seen as crucial to the development of physical and social interactions, knowledge of the self, and for developing social relationships.

KASPAR will have a robotic skin – a silicon face mask, on an aluminium frame – and is able to move it’s head, neck, arms, and hands, as well as being able to open it’s mouth and smile. The project is aiming to develop robotic toys which will enable learning and enjoyment for children with disabilities.

Some children with autism find it incredibly difficult to interpret social cues such as facial expressions that  children without autism may achieve with relative ease, and the use of robots eliminates some of the interpretation required to develop understanding in social relationships.

The team are developing new sensor technologies to provide tactile feedback from various parts of the robot’s body with the intention of making the robot able to respond to different types and styles of play, and encourage the children to engage in ‘socially appropriate’ play.