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The New Face of Autism Therapy

Jun 03, 2010, 22:32 (0 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Gregory Mone)

[ Thanks to dr. Hannibal Lecter for this link. ]

"Matari´c used to research military applications, but as she raised a family, she decided that she "didn't want to be the mommy who builds killer robots." And Bandit does not resemble a killer in the slightest. When I first encountered the robot at Matari´c's USC lab last July, it was powered down and standing still. Compact arms with bulging triceps hung at its side. Its rounded, hairless gray head resembled a mannequin's, and its torso sat on a base stacked with a Linux computer, speakers, a router, batteries, and an electric motor to drive the wheeled "legs." Its small stature, playful face, and moveable, rubber-covered wire lips all gave it a harmless, come-play-with-me charm. For additional kid appeal, the group attached one of the bubble blowers used in diagnostic tests to the base and added a clicking noise that many autistic kids find soothing.

"I was transfixed by Bandit's humanlike face and silvery eyes, but researchers have been careful to avoid making it look too human. A realistic face could be off-putting, since autistic children often find other children intimidating. Matari´c wanted the difference to be clear. "The robot is not a substitute for other people," she says. "It's a catalyst. It's not like the movie AI. I didn't want to do the perfect boy who's a robot.""

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