Embodiment and cognitive learning - Can a humanoid robot help children with autism to learn about tactile social behaviour?
The work presented in this paper is part of our investigation in the ROBOSKIN project. The project aims to develop new robot capabilities based on the tactile feedback provided by novel robotic skin. The main objective of the project is to develop cognitive mechanisms to improve human-robot interaction capabilities. One application domain that is investigated in the project is robot-assisted play in the context of autism therapy. The article provides a case study evaluation of segments of trials where tactile interactions were observed between children with autism and the humanoid robot KASPAR which was equipped with the newly developed tactile sensing capabilities. A preliminary observational analysis was undertaken which applied, in abbreviated form, certain principles from ethnography and conversation analysis. The analysis first reports initial observations concerning range of tactile behaviours that children displayed towards KASPAR and the change in these across the trials. Subsequently the analysis examines in detail one sequence of interaction in which a child's tactile actions towards KASPAR are considered in terms of their responsiveness to the sequence of interaction in which they occur - and specifically to the intricate details of KASPAR's responses to the child's tactile behaviour. In this way the paper suggests that children appear to interact in a tactile manner quite spontaneously with KASPAR, that the child's tactile actions become modified through exposure to KASPAR and that children with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can demonstrate a marked responsiveness to the behaviours that KASPAR displays in sequences of tactile interaction.