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'I'm Here to Make You Feel Better'

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Researchers are developing socially assistive robots that can provide therapy and support to people with cognitive and physical handicaps. One example is CosmoBot, a robot developed by AnthroTronix that provides language and reading stimulation to children with cognitive disabilities through repetition and predictable behavior. Human-robot interaction depends on the machine's ability to express a personality, ascertain the user's emotions and intentions, exhibit empathy and similar feelings, or follow social conventions.

"We can write algorithms to allow the robot to sense what a person is doing so it can respond immediately, appropriately and safely," says Maja J. Mataric with the University of Southern California's Center for Robotics and Embedded Systems.

A person is more likely to take a robot's direction if the robot can perceive and respond to human signals, while close correspondence between the robot's personality and that of the user or patient also is advantageous. Determining the look of socially assistive robots is another challenge, as preferences can vary among people of different ages and/or with different disorders. Autistic children, for instance, prefer distinctly machine-like robots. Despite the readiness of socially assistive robot technology, researchers say they need to learn from clinicians what robotic features are appropriate for treating a disorder, while funding is required for research to demonstrate that such machines are ready to migrate from the laboratory to the real world.

From The Washington Post
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