As the number of children diagnosed with autism continues to rise, researchers are looking to robots to help children better understand how to relate to people.

Developers at the University of Southern California are in the early phases of testing a robot called “Bandit” with young children who have autism. The rudimentary version of what researchers hope will be a dynamic tool for kids to learn social skills, is currently able to make expressions and move closer or farther from a child. A researcher in an adjoining room can listen in as the robot interacts with a child and instruct it to provide a speech response.

So far results from early tests are mixed. Some children who have a history of struggling to interact with other people are drawn in by the robot, which researchers say is more predictable than a person could ever be. But other children are not the slightest bit interested in the electronic contraption.

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Developers are still working out some kinks. For example, they realized that the sound of the robot’s wheels bothered some children and worked to quiet the mechanism. And the android has a long way to go in terms of sensing when to shift its approach with a child.

In ten years, researchers hope an advanced version of Bandit will be among the first tools used to intervene with children who have autism in tandem with a human therapist. They want to see a robot priced under $1,000 so that families with a newly diagnosed child could reasonably bring one home to begin round-the-clock intervention, reports Popular Science. To read more click here.

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