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Kaspar the Friendly Robot Helps Autistic Kids

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Scientists at the University of Hertfordshire are working with a preschool for autistic children to study the impact of robots on the development of students' social skills.

The students get to play with Kaspar, a human-looking, child-sized robot, once a week in a 10-minute supervised session. The scientists control Kaspar, which has shaggy black hair, a baseball cap, and stripped red socks, with a remote control, and the robot is programmed to do things such as smile, frown, laugh, blink, and wave its arms.

"Children with autism don't react well to people because they don't understand facial expressions," says Hertfordshire researcher Ben Robins. "Robots are much safer for them because there's less for them to interpret and they are very predictable."

Similar projects are underway in Canada, Japan, and the United States, but the British initiative is believed to be the most advanced. The British project has several versions of Kaspar, including one that is capable of playing Nintendo Wii. Although the robot is still in the experimental stage, the researchers believe it could eventually be mass-produced for a few hundred dollars.

From Associated Press
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