Romibo the Robot continues to help children with autism



Pittsburgh – a new robot has been developed in Pittsburgh called Romibo. He is a social therapy robot designed to aid therapists and teachers working with children with special needs, including those children with autism.

Autism Daily Newscast first reported on this story in July 2013 which you can read here.

Romibo is about the size of a small dog, and can be used with a colorful furry covering or a hard plastic shell.

Pittsburgh’s NPR News Station reported that Ethan Welker a 15-year-old freshman who has Asperger’s syndrome recently took place in an art therapy class with Romibo. His mum, Michele Welker, says she was surprised at how successful the class was.

Michele said:

“Where (Ethan) has difficulty interpreting people’s reactions to things, their facial expressions, that sort of non-verbal language … Romibo, the robot doesn’t have any of that,”

Ethan said he usually feels like he has to choose his words carefully when he interacts with people, but he didn’t feel that way with Romibo.

Tess Lojacono runs the program and said:

“Sometimes (Romibo’s) eyes can show a little bit of expression, but that’s it, it’s very minimal,”

Aubrey Shick the inventor of Romibo hopes to produce 5,000 Romibo robots within the next year. She came up with the idea for Romibo in 2011 when she was in graduate school at the Human Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. At the time the benefits of using robots as social therapy tools for children on the autism spectrum were well documented.

“I decided to develop a really low-cost social robot, because most of the robots in use at that time were $16,000-30,000, and I wanted to take the technology to the general public,”

Michele Welker says she was surprised to watch Ethan draw a self-portrait during the class.

Ethan said:

“I made it say ‘I’m a robot, I’m not a robot, I hate robots, I love robots.’”

Lojacono said she and her team at Fine Art Miracles are experiencing tremendous success with Romibo.

“All of the things that they saw in the laboratory, the ability to focus, to stay on task, increase verbalization and socialization, all those things are showing true in the classroom,”

Lojacono said she has plans to buy several more Romibos for her art therapy practice.

The original article by Liz Reid on the Pittsburgh’s NPR News Station website can be read here