Social Robots Helping Children With Diabetes

Social robots are helping diabetic children accept the nature of their condition and become more confident about their futures, scientists have announced following a four-and-a-half year research study.ALIZ-E – an €8.3million initiative funded by the European Commission and led by Plymouth University – has shown young people are more inclined to perform tasks related to their condition if prompted to do so by a friendly interactive robot.Now researchers believe the robots could assist children with other medical conditions, such as autism, or act as classroom assistants aiding pupils who may be in danger of falling behind their peers.

ALIZ-E uses ‘Nao’ robots – each standing around 60 centimetres tall – and equips them with specially designed speech recognition software through which they can interact with a child and deliver personalised responses.

During the course of the project, they have been tested through dozens of studies, involving hundreds of children aged 7-11, in hospitals, summer camps and schools across Europe.

Tony Belpaeme, Professor in Cognitive Systems and Robotics, and academic lead for ALIZ-E, said:

“This is not just about a novelty factor catching the youngsters’ attention, it is about the robots engaging in a way the children accept and giving them information they can understand and be motivated by. In many cases where a child has diabetes, you notice their confidence has been knocked and the robot can help restore that. By personalising its responses and recognising the children it has met before, the robots can support and educate, and we have seen many times the positive impact this is having on children and their families.”