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Robots Can Help Young Patients Engage in Rehab

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Royal Children's Hospital patient Miles workes with Nao.

Swinburne University of Technology researchers are exploring the use of social robots for pediatric rehabilitation.

Credit: Alvin Aquino/Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne

Researchers from the Swinburne University of Technology are exploring the use of social robots as therapeutic aids in pediatric rehabilitation.

Over the past 12 months, the highly engaging humanoid robot Nao has worked with more than 30 individual patients at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne. The 23-inch-tall robot features life-like gestures and is programmed to perform the roles of motivator, demonstrator, and instructor. Equipped with a range of sensors, Nao attentively tracks movement, provides feedback on technique, and reacts to specific milestones with gestures and words of encouragement.

Physiotherapists have generally noted improvements in both patient compliance and mood when Nao is present compared to sessions when it is not. Nao's persona as a child-like peer instead of instructing adult and its novelty factor have contributed to its success.

The researchers say the rapport with patients should improve as more advanced machine-learning, natural-language processing, and computer-vision algorithms build up Nao's situational awareness.

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