A Pilot Study with a Novel Setup for Collaborative Play of the Humanoid Robot KASPAR with children with autism

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This article describes a pilot study in which a novel experimental setup, involving an autonomous humanoid robot, KASPAR, participating in a collaborative, dyadic video game, was implemented and tested with children with autism, all of whom had impairments in playing socially and communicating with others. The children alternated between playing the collaborative video game with a neurotypical adult and playing the same game with the humanoid robot, being exposed to each condition twice. The equipment and experimental setup were designed to observe whether the children would engage in more collaborative behaviours while playing the video game and interacting with the adult than performing the same activities with the humanoid robot. The article describes the development of the experimental setup and its first evaluation in a small-scale exploratory pilot study. The purpose of the study was to gain experience with the operational limits of the robot as well as the dyadic video game, to determine what changes should be made to the systems, and to gain experience with analyzing the data from this study in order to conduct a more extensive evaluation in the future. Based on our observations of the childrens’ experiences in playing the cooperative game, we determined that while the children enjoyed both playing the game and interacting with the robot, the game should be made simpler to play as well as more explicitly collaborative in its mechanics. Also, the robot should be more explicit in its speech as well as more structured in its interactions.

Results show that the children found the activity to be more entertaining, appeared more engaged in playing, and displayed better collaborative behaviours with their partners (For the purposes of this article, ‘partner’ refers to the human/robotic agent which interacts with the children with autism. We are not using the term’s other meanings that refer to specific relationships or emotional involvement between two individuals.) in the second sessions of playing with human adults than during their first sessions. One way of explaining these findings is that the children’s intermediary play session with the humanoid robot impacted their subsequent play session with the human adult. However, another longer and more thorough study would have to be conducted in order to better re-interpret these findings. Furthermore, although the children with autism were more interested in and entertained by the robotic partner, the children showed more examples of collaborative play and cooperation while playing with the human adult.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-65
Number of pages21
JournalInternational Journal of Social Robotics
Issue number1
Early online date11 Sept 2013
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2014


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