This humanoid robot can help children describe their concerns better, research shows

A team of roboticists, computer scientists, and psychiatrists conducted the study with 28 children aged eight to thirteen, using a child-sized humanoid robot to administer a series of standard psychological questionnaires to each participant.

Nao tried to understand what problems the children might have by asking open-ended questions about their mental health.

“After I became a mother, I was much more interested in how children express themselves as they grow, and how that might overlap with my work in robotics,” said professor Hatice Gunes, who leads the Affective Intelligence and Robotics Laboratory at Cambridge’s Department of Computer Science and Technology.

“Children are quite tactile, and they’re drawn to technology. If they’re using a screen-based tool, they’re withdrawn from the physical world. But robots are perfect because they’re in the physical world – they’re more interactive, so the children are more engaged.”

This humanoid robot can help children describe their concerns better, research shows

Nao, with his wondering eyes.

The University of Cambridge

How was the process?

For the study, Nao — which stands about 60 centimeters tall — met with 28 children for 45-minute sessions. Members of the research team and a parent or guardian watched from a nearby room.

Children and their parents or guardian completed a common online questionnaire before each session to gauge each child’s mental health.

Nao, which has the voice of a child, asked children how they felt last week and administered a questionnaire on feelings and mood and also a questionnaire used in diagnosing anxiety, panic disorder, and low mood.

Kids were placed into three groups based on how likely it was that they would be having mental health issues. Throughout the session, participants spoke with the robot by speaking to it or by touching sensors on its hands and feet. During the session, additional sensors monitored the pulse rate, head, and eye movements of the individuals.

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