Humanoid robots help kids with autism

HAYS, Kansas – Sheldon the robot’s main job at Fort Hays University is to get students involved in science, technology, engineering and mechanical learning.

“A couple things I like about it is that it’s not too hard to learn to program it, although it does very complex things, and it’s engaging. I mean there’s something unique about seeing a robot like this that will stand there and move around and dance, and it just draws people in,” said Dr. Paul Adams, Interim Dean of College of Education and Technology.

Dr. Paul Adams demonstrates the humanoid robot with KSN's Molly Hadfield. (KSN Photo)
Dr. Paul Adams demonstrates the humanoid robot with KSN’s Molly Hadfield. (KSN Photo)

It’s that ability to draw people in that researchers are using to help reach children with autism.

Sheldon is good with autistic kids because he does slow deliberate actions, and he can do them repeatedly, and if you talk to him or touch him, he reacts.

“What they’re finding is that when the robot has infinite patience, it will do things again and again and never get upset and never get tired, so it seems to just engage those students in particular, the way they interact with the world in a fashion better than a human can.”

The research will be done with autistic children from the Hays school district, but the learning will be a two-way street because Fort Hays students will be doing the actual programming for Sheldon.

“So, we have a lot of interest in students wanting to begin programming and starting to do the programming, and I think it’s going to draw more people into learning how to do computer coding, a humanoid robot is a great way to get people engaged,” added Adams.

Sheldon and another robot named Buddy live in the basement of Forsyth Library and are involved in a maker-space program that’s open to students and is also used in the community.

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