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How robots can help kids

Host 1: The New York University School of Engineering has developed technology designed to help kids with learning disabilities and medical problems.

Host 2: Reporter Dasha Lisitsina went to an exhibition in Brooklyn to meet Caesar the Humanoid Robot, who mimics your facial expressions, and play CarbCrush – a video game that measures your blood sugar levels.

Caeser the Humanoid Robot doesn’t look very human. He’s just a white plastic head with big googly eyes, horizontal blocks for eyebrows and a wire for a mouth. When a guy called Khaled meets Caeser he smiles. Ceaser smiles back. He frowns, Caeser’s eyebrows turn inwards and his mouth makes an inverted U-shape. Caeser’s facial expressions are a textbook study in cartoon emotion.

KHALED: He looks like someone walked in but he shouldn’t be there.

He is there because he’s designed to help autistic children express and recognize emotion, according to one of its makers Jared Frank.

FRANK: So that a teacher or a student can practice showing different emotions by interacting with the robot and having the robot mimic it.

Caeser is built on the same software most smartphones and applications use to detect faces. All of his internal mechanisms came out of 3D printers, which means he’ll be relatively cheap to replicate.

Franks explains that autistic children have trouble communicating with other humans, but they’re perfectly comfortable hanging out with robots.

FRANK: Some of these activities can be very fun for these children, like going through different case scenarios like you give a new toy to the child and the child enjoys it, you practice happiness and you express it back and forth with the robot.

All kids, whether or not on the autism spectrum, learn a lot faster through playing games. That’s why Eddie Melcer and a partner have developed a game to help diabetic children to manage their own diet by controlling their sugar intake. It’s called CarbCrush – think of it as the healthy version of CandyCrush – it looks similar. Melcer helped me give it a go.

MELCER: You’ll see these fruit falling and you’ll want to eat different types. So you just ate an orange juice – there you go – and now your blood sugar level is back in the normal level range…

I am actually gulping down digital fruits by opening and closing my analogue mouth as the game registers this.

MELCER: You’re actually doing very well. You were normal right now but oh you’re getting a little low.

This is called simulated learning. Mercer says kids learn better from playing video games than they do reading instruction manuals.

MERCER: When you do things with your body it’s a lot easier to understand and learn through a kinesthetic way. So this type of approach where you actually embody the act of eating and actually move around may make it easier and more accessible and make more sense to kids if you actually relate it to a real life action.

NYU organizes this show annually to exhibit their students work to prospective buyers and curious member of the public. Diabetic kids are testing CarbCrush right now and Ceaser the robot is about to start working with autistic kids.

Dasha Lisitsina, Columbia Radio News.


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