How robots can be used to help children with autism
and other special needs.
Hosted by: Justin Ratliff
Introduction: Who Am I?
Justin Ratliff
 I live in Monroe, OH (known for the flea markets and
outlet mall)
 Day Job: I work for UnitedHealth Care as an Sr. IT
analyst
 Side Job: Owner and Operator of J2R Scientific
(www.j2rscientific.com)
 A life long robot builder and enthusiast
 President of The Robotics Club of Yahoo –
www.trcy.org
My Interest in Robotics:
 Robotics for artificial intelligence research, after all
who would not want a robot like Johnny Five or an
Android like Data from Star Trek.
 Security (personal/home)
 Autonomous Fighting
 Medical Assistant Care
 ….and Robots to help child, especially those with
Autism or other Special Needs.
Autism and Special Needs:
What is Autism?
 Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both
general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain
development. These disorders are characterized, in
varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction,
verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive
behaviors.
Autism and Special Needs:
What is Autism?
 ASD can be associated with intellectual disability,
difficulties in motor coordination and attention and
physical health issues such as sleep and
gastrointestinal disturbances. Some persons with ASD
excel in visual skills, music, math and art.
 Autism appears to have its roots in very early brain
development. However, the most obvious signs of
autism and symptoms of autism tend to emerge
between 2 and 3 years of age.
Autism and Special Needs:
What is Other Special Needs?
 Other Special Needs would be needs of children that
overlap with the needs of children with Autism.
 For example children with Down Syndrome (while it is
completely medically different from Autism) can
exhibit similar learning, social interaction and physical
difficulties as children with Autism.
Autism and Special Needs:
Why I am passionate about this research?
 I like solving problems and building robots..
 I was looking for new project to throw myself into
 ….I saw Autism the Musical on HBO
 It’s a documentary that follows five autistic children as
they work together to create and perform a live
musical production.
 After seeing it, I knew robots could help child with
autism.
Autism and Special Needs:
How can a robot help children with autism or other
special needs?
 Robots can provide a safe and comforting way to
interact socially by acting as a social mediator
 Robots allow children to interact how they want
 Robots facilitate learning
 Robots remove the human element
 Robots need help to interact in the world
 Robots can be customized
 Robots are fun!
Autism and Special Needs:
How can a robot help children with autism or other
special needs?
 Research shows that robots are helping to reveal a
potential shift in kids’ social and learning
psychologies—moving from acts of knowledge
transmission toward acts of exploration, collaboration,
and creation.
Robotics and Autism:
History of robots used to help children with Autism
 … A long time ago, in an island nation far, far away
…by accident (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it)
 The UK and Europe Lead with way with projects like
 The AuRoRA Project: (circa 2003, University of
Hertfordshire, UK)
Robotics and Autism:
History of robots used to help children with Autism
 iCub - an on going Italian research project aimed at
artificial intelligence primarily but some research is
directed towards Autism simply because it is a social
robot.
Robotics and Autism:
History of robots used to help children with Autism
 KASPAR - which stands for Kinesics and
Synchronization in Personal Assistant Robotics.
Sprang from the AuRoRA Project
Robotics and Autism:
The current state of robots designed for children with
Autism
 There are lots of new robot products coming out now
to help children with Autism
 Nearly all robots designed or advertised as being for
children with Autism can be used for many other
applications such as research, personal use or general
education
 Nearly all robots designed for children with Autism are
extremely cost prohibitive!
Robotics and Autism:
The current state of robots designed for children with
Autism
 What does cost prohibitive mean?
 If the robot costs as much as a entry level car its “own
ability” is going to be limited to the wealthy or
Universities or Medical Research Centers or Hospitals.
 Most robots cost upwards of $12,000.00
 Let’s look at a couple…
Robotics and Autism:
The current state of robots designed for children with
Autism
 Hanson Robotics: RoboKind
 Frubber skin with emotionally expressive face
 Cost: 12k to 17.5K
Robotics and Autism:
The current state of robots designed for children with
Autism
 NAO robot from Aldebaran Robotics, a French based
company
 ONLY available for research institution
 Cost: 16K
Robotics and Autism:
The current state of robots designed for children with
Autism
 Keepon - developed by a Ph.D. student in robotics at
Carnegie Mellon University
 Being used to study how children interact socially
 A toy, selling for $20-40
 It really just dances
Robotics and Autism:
The current state of robots designed for children with
Autism
 A couple of other interesting designs:
Robotics and Autism:
The current state of robots designed for children with
Autism
 And a lower end design:
My Robotics Development:
The history of my development work to create a robot to
help children with Autism
 Yul – Microcontroller linked to a PC running my first
AI robot control software built in .Net
My Robotics Development:
The history of my development work to create a robot to
help children with Autism
 Reese – Microcontroller based
mobile robot. Wireless link.
Better developed custom AI
software. Refined with help
from Pixar Character
Developer and a Dr. of
Clinical Psychiatry.
My Robotics Development:
My list of features such a robot should included in its design
 It should include interactive head and arms
 It should be mobile
 It should be wireless
 It should offer a “puppet” or “avatar” mode
 The software should include easy to adjust scripting and
control interfaces
 The software should be easy to add additional software
modules, functions or content
 It should be affordable for home use
 It should not be creepy…
My Robotics Development:
What makes for a Creepy Robot?
 Creepiness is obviously subjective from person to
person, but overall there is a measurable effect called
the “Uncanny Valley”.
 The uncanny valley is a hypothesis in the field of
robotics and 3D computer animation, which holds that
when human replicas look and act almost, but not
perfectly, like actual human beings, it can cause a
response of revulsion among human observers. The
"valley" refers to the dip in a graph of the comfort level
of humans as a function of a robot’s human likeness.
My Robotics Development:
How artificial intelligence is incorporated in my design
 …or will be, as I am creating a new software framework
 Learn about people the robot interacts with
 Learn patterns of interaction
 Identify Problems
 Problem Solve
 Store information learned
 Apply information to new problems
My Robotics Development:
A very short break down of different artificial
intelligence methods
 Neural Networks – Numenta – attempts to replicate
biological brains; human or animal
 Expert Systems – Used in Hospitals and Defense Areas
– attempts to store knowledge in IF-THEN relational
ways
 Behavior Based or SubSumption Based – module
based behaviors
 Biological Interfaces
My Robotics Development:
Behavior Based SubSumption in action:
 Subsumption architecture is a reactive robot
architecture heavily associated with behavior-based
robotics. The term was introduced by Prof. Rodney
Brooks and colleagues in 1986 at MIT.
 A subsumption architecture is a way of decomposing
complicated intelligent behavior into many "simple"
behavior modules
My Robotics Development:
Behavior Based SubSumption in action:
 Lets say you wanted to make a robot: Explore, Follow a
Light, Avoid Loud Noises and most importantly Avoid
Obstacles. You might have end up with a setup like
this…
My Robotics Development:
Neurons vs. Behavior Based designs and why I choose
Behavior Based
 Because you are either a Kirk or Spock when it comes
to robot design.
 Neural Net designs based on neuron research from the
40’s have not yielded what I would call intelligent
system.
 Behavior Based designed let you accomplish more
results in less time
My Robotics Development:
My current production prototype
 Based on the J2 Robot Chassis
 Features a wireless camera
 Articulated arms
 Manual clamp hands
 Small, light weight
 Easily Programmable
 Estimated price: under $499
My Robotics Development:
The guts of the Robot
 BasicStamp 2 Activity Board MicroController
 16 i/o lines (plus 2 serial)
 BlueTooth serial link to PC
 Wireless Camera link to PC
 Laser (red dot)
 PING Sonar Unit for distance measurement
 Onboard Text-to-Speech for voice output
 7 servo motors and 6 AA batteries
My Robotics Development:
The software and AI design
 My software is going through a complete re-write
process as my previous AI framework was not
sustainable and mostly hodge-podged and blobbed
together.
 It will largely be based on SubSumption architecture
 With a few pieces of frame work designs that I believe
are going to be very unique.
My Robotics Development:
The software and AI design
 The basic elements of my framework are Services,
Behaviors, and Commands.
My Robotics Development:
The software and AI design
 Services is the “Stuff” – Soooo What’s the Stuff?
 “Stuff” are real things in hardware or software.
 Hardware like: Motor controls, servo controls, sensors,
how to read sensors, lighting controls, battery
monitor, sound sensors
 Software like: voice recognition, text input from
keyboard, Mp3 player, Video camera drivers, Internet
access, email, twitter, Facebook, and external 3rd party
software elements
My Robotics Development:
The software and AI design
 Behaviors are the “How To” and where the magic happens.
 Everything you would want the robot to do is modularized
into the smallest possible behaviors.
 Behaviors are assigned numbers; the lowest numbers have
the highest overriding say in a SubSumption system.
 For example, the “Exploring and Seek Out New Life” is fine
behavior, but “Power Low” would ideally trump that
behavior.
 Behaviors also have a way to indicate their own priority
level for their desired output
My Robotics Development:
The software and AI design
 Commands are the “To Do”
 There is a command filter that protects the robot or
software from crashing or just twitching with new
orders every second
 Commands out the output of actions…
 For example: if the robot speaks, drives forward,
checks power levels, reads a sensor, flashes an LED
 If the act of storing data or retrieving it would be
considered a “Command” as it requires an action
Question and Answers:
 Feel free to contact me anytime with robotics
questions. You can find me at: www.J2RScientific.com
and my e-mail [email protected]
 You can also join www.TRCY.org and our group on
Yahoo!
How can I build a robot?
 I always recommend to first put some thought into

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
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what you really want to achieve. What is your end
goal?
Let’s say, you want to build Lt. Commander Data from
Star Trek..
Humanoids cost about $100K USD
A custom android head might cost $25K from Hanson
Robotics
ST Next Generation Costume $55 on ebay….
….You don’t have 125K? Hum....
How can I build a robot?
 Next step is to consider your budget and how much are
you willing to spend?
 To ease into robotics, you should start with a
microcontroller, a book, a small set of electronics parts
and a few tools
 For about $200 or less you should be able to purchase
everything you need separately or get a complete
starter robot kit.
How can I build a robot?
 For microcontrollers there are a lot to pick from but I
recommend with a BasicStamp2 from
www.Parallax.com or an Arduino board.
 Parallax is where I direct a lot of beginners too. Their
products are extremely well supported and there are
tons of user created content on the web including my
own.
How can I build a robot?
 While there are lots of free tutorials on the web I do
highly recommend to anyone wanting to build their
own robot to seriously consider the book, “Robot
Builder’s Bonanza, 4th edition”, by Gordon McComb
 It’s like a bible for robot builders
 Gordon is a life long robot and technology enthusiast
and members of www.TRCY.org
 Gordon also runs www.budgetrobotics.com
How can I build a robot?
 A magazine I recommend is SERVO magazine, which
is a spinoff of Nuts and Volts magazine.
Question and Answers:
 Feel free to contact me anytime with robotics
questions. You can find me at: www.J2RScientific.com
and my e-mail [email protected]
 You can also join www.TRCY.org and our group on
Yahoo!
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Robotics to Assist Children with Autism and other