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A Robot For Autistic Kids, Now In Schools

The humanoid NAO Robot can interact with kids in a way that grownups sometimes can’t.

For many autistic kids, social interaction is incredibly difficult—but not with robots. That’s because robots are more predictable and require the children to take in less external stimuli than with a human. And so researchers have offered up various robot models to interact with kids on the autism spectrum. Up until now, my favorite was the tiny yellow Keepon robot (it’s really just a dancing blob that can keep a beat). But the NAO humanoid robot might now take the top spot.

We first covered the NAO robot, which has actually been around for about half a decade, in April, when Vanderbilt researchers discussed their work with the robot and autistic children. And now, after a year of beta testing, it’s available commercially to schools who want to use NAO as a confidence and skill-building tool for autistic children.

Watch NAO in action here:

As part of its new ASK NAO (Autism Solution for Kids) initiative, Aldebran—the company behind NAO—is launching a series of educational games for the pint-sized robot. They’ll focus on everything from rudimentary academic skills to emotional intelligence. Sample games include Touch My Head (kids are asked to touch NAO’s feet, hands, or head), Guess Emotions (NAO mimics emotions and asks kids to guess what they are), and Follow Me (kids walk hand in hand with NAO to learn synchronization).

After watching the robot in action for a few minutes, it’s hard to imagine that anyone would reject its attention.