News Social robots

News article on our robot pet future

This week I spoke to Ben Knight at the UNSW Newsroom, to share my thoughts on whether we might be able to expect robotic pets to become more widespread in the near future. This discussion seems particularly pertinent now, given that for many of us, we are not able to experience the social interactions and relationships that we were pre-Covid. The question is, could a robotic pet fulfil some of these relationships in the meantime?

Dr Belinda Dunstan was also quoted in the piece, and went on to speak further with John Stanley about the topic on 2GB radio. Belinda and I did our PhDs alongside one another in the Creative Robotics Lab, where Belinda focused on social robot morphologies before moving to the School of Built Environment.

Disability News Social robots

Disability Innovation Institute news story

The new Disability Innovation Institute at UNSW (DIIU) has posted an article about my work with Kaspar and the importance of creative practice in disability research.

The DIIU is an exciting initiative by UNSW, which promises to embed consideration of disability in research across the institution. Importantly, the DIIU brings an interdisciplinary approach to research and industry partnerships. This is an exciting opportunity to bring together the work of researchers at UNSW Art & Design with the sciences and humanities.

Autism News Social robots

Kaspar project in the news

We’ve been fortunate enough to be featured in the media for our pilot study with the Kaspar social robot over the past couple of months. ABC News ran a story with us on their TV bulletin and news radio.

This project is in collaboration with Dr David Silvera from the CSIRO, where have recently finished our first exploratory study with Kaspar and 3 autistic boys under the age of 5. The first stage was led by myself at the Creative Robotics Lab and the final 2 studies were carried out between a psychologist and children in a clinical therapy space. In addition to engaging the specialist knowledge of a therapist to lead the study, this allowed us to conduct the research in an environment that was familiar to each child and therefore less overwhelming or overstimulating. In these studies, Kaspar was used as a ‘peer’ in social story activities.

Social stories were developed as a targeted approach for each child in consultation with their parents. We began the process by developing activities relevant to each child, to introduce social and communication skills in a context specific to the child. During the subsequent clinical sessions, Kaspar would be used as a tool for facilitating these stories. In therapy where a peer (such as another child) might be used to help an autistic child learn social interaction skills, we believe Kaspar could be a useful scaffolding tool to prepare some children for this kind of interaction. Where the interaction of a human can be ambiguous and complex, the responses of Kaspar are clear and repeatable.

With the positive response we received from the children and their parents, we hope to expand the research through collaboration with autism services and practitioners.

Autism Projects Social robots

Kaspar social stories (2018)

Kaspar is a humanoid social robot, designed by researchers at the University of Hertfordshire to support autistic children with social communication and interactions. Led by Dr David Silvera-Tawil (CSIRO and UNSW), the Creative Robotics Lab (CRL) have a Kaspar robot on hand to conduct research examining the usefulness of a humanoid robot as a tool for enacting Social Stories.

Social Stories are a tool that Dr David Silvera-Tawil and Dr Scott Brown are using to help autistic children scaffold their social interactions in a controlled space, before applying these skills with other children. In collaboration with each child’s parents or carers, an individual plan is made for the child to ‘practice’ interactions or other social skills that the child may be having difficulty with. By enacting these with or alongside Kaspar, the child can experience and learn these skills through an interaction that is repeatable and manages expectations.

A boy and male researcher stand beside the Kaspar robot. The boy's face is pixelated for privacy reasons.
Image credit: ABC News

Kaspar has been designed to limit ambiguity in facial expressions and behaviour. Unlike humans whom often behave in unexpected or unclear ways, a programmable robot is thought to be a useful ‘stepping stone’ to more complex and demanding social interactions.

Silvera-Tawil and Brown have found that Kaspar can be most helpful as a supporting or mediating tool in clinical settings. As a presence for a clinician to refer to, or use to prime a child for other tasks, Kaspar shows promise. The researchers are currently looking to build on this exploratory study and welcome enquiries for collaboration and further development.

Kaspar in the news