Robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) are both revolutionizing all industries, and healthcare has been at the core of their activities. As PwC described it, “this is no longer sci-fi”, and we have already explored how robots could assist in hospitals and that the development of healthtech is holding a promise of better life conditions. But in fact, robots can do much more.
In March 2017, Reuters reported a story about a British robot called Kaspar whose job had gone beyond medical assistance to become a real supporter in the integration process and therapy of autistic children. How does Kaspar do it? Simple — he caters to the two fundamentals that autistic children are lacking: complicated emotions and efficient communication. Kaspar was designed to be less lifelike with simplified features so the autistic kid could feel more comfortable around him, which would stimulate more seamless communication and reflexes.
Milo is another example of a robot that participates in the socialization of autistic children via a robot-delivered, clinically tested curriculum. Under Robots4Autism, a comprehensive intervention program, kids will gain more confidence while improving their behavioral skills, thanks to their Milo fellow.
According to World Health Organization (WHO), one in every 160 children has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and tech is becoming a key player in this domain to help those children better socialize.
The MENA region is there, too
There are numerous examples of robots being more increasingly employed in integrating autistic children around the world, and the MENA region is demonstrating a similar pace.
Atlab, a UAE-based tech learning solutions company, has provided a robotic teaching assistant to interact with autistic kids at the Umm Al Quwain Autism Centre in Dubai in an initiative led by the Ministry of Community Development.
Atlab Teach Assist was unveiled for the first time in 2017 during Global Education Supplies and Solutions (GESS) Dubai. In an interview with Wamda, Nilesh Korgaonkar, general manager of Atlab, explained that Atlab Teach Assist is a humanoid robot specifically designed to be deployed in schools. “The Teach Assist that has been deployed at the Autism Centre assists in improving the students’ learning skills through visually attractive educational games and also helps the therapists assess individual students better,” he said.
The robot can provide the therapists at the Autism Centre with the required information about each student. Currently, the robot is remote-controlled by therapists who use a web portal to assign specific tasks to every student remotely.
According to Korgaonkar, the experience of interacting with a robot has undoubtedly created a lot of excitement among both the students and their parents. “Children with autism tend to get more interactive with robots compared to humans since robots are easier for them to understand and are more predictable,” he asserted.
He added that parents were especially encouraged by the changes they witnessed in the way their children interacted with the robots. As for the therapists, they were also impressed by the robot-assisted treatments. “Not only are they able to assess the patients better, but they have reported significant impact the games have on children and the way they perceive visual images,” he said.
Cost and future tasks
In general, Atlab focuses on developing innovative custom applications for education, corporates, and industries through robotics and humanoid applications. When asked about the reason behind providing services to autistic children, Korgaonkar explained that this was their first assignment in the healthcare sector. “We’re excited to be part of such an initiative and contribute to a meaningful change in our society. Atlab has been playing a lead role in supporting innovation within the education sector, and we are extending our mandate to cater to a more specific need group,” he stated.
When it comes to the cost of building such robot, and how profitable it would be for an autism center to hire it, Korgaonkar said the cost varies depending on the
features of the humanoid, but the average is at $20,000 for a basic robot. “Medical facilities have already started deploying robots for various services, including performing advanced precision surgeries. With technology advancing at a much faster rate, expect it to grow further into various spheres such as patient care post-surgical care...etc.,” he said.
He believes that the development of robots is limitless, elaborating that “with the advancement of AI and machine learning, and robots getting a more human look and feel, the possibilities are immense. Robots are already assisting those with speech and learning difficulties and those with hearing impairment to learn through sign language.”