Towards Spatial Methods for Socially Assistive Robotics: Validation with Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders
David Feil-Seifer
Socially Assistive Robotics (SAR) defines the research regarding robots which provide assistance to users through social interaction. Socially assistive robots are being studied for therapeutic use with children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). It has been observed that children with ASD interact with robots differently than with people or toys. This may indicate an intrinsic interest in such machines, which could be applied as a robot augmentation for an intervention for children with ASD. Preliminary studies suggest that robots may act as intrinsically-rewarding social partners for children with autism. However, enabling a robot to understand social behavior, and do so while interacting with the child, is a challenging problem. Children are highly individual and thus technology used for social interaction requires recognition of a wide-range of social behavior. This work addresses the challenge of designing behaviors for socially assistive robots in order to enable them to recognize and appropriately respond to a child’s free-form behavior in unstructured play contexts. The focus on free-form behavior is inspired by and grounded in existing approaches to therapeutic intervention with children with ASD. This model emphasizes creating circles of communication and fostering engagement through play. A key aspect of this approach is to recognize social behavior and use “engagements” to bolster social interaction behavior, and to study the ethical implications of therapeutic robotics applications.