The KASPAR child-sized humanoid robot works with autistic children, to help them learn about social interaction. KASPAR has RoboSkin, skin with embedded tactile sensors to detect different kinds of touch.
“Children with autism have problems with touch, often with either touching or being touched,” said Professor Kerstin Dautenhahn. “The idea is to put skin on the robot as touch is a very important part of social development and communication and the tactile sensors will allow the robot to detect different types of touch and it can then encourage or discourage different approaches.”
Our aim is to study what types of human-robot interactions a minimal set of expressive robot features can afford. The goal is not perfect realism, but optimal realism for rich interaction. KASPAR has 8 degrees of freedom in the head and neck and 6 in the arms and hands. The face is a silicon-rubber mask, which is supported on an aluminium frame. It has 2 DOF eyes fitted with video cameras, and a mouth capable of opening and smiling.
The RoboSkin project is being undertaken by a consortium of European universities.
The first [objective] is to develop new sensor technologies that can provide tactile feedback from large areas of the robot body.
The second objective is to develop and integrate fundamental cognitive structures for efficient and safe utilisation of tactile data in terms of a robot body image, safe reflexive reactions to tactile events and flexible representations of spatially and temporally distributed patterns of physical contact.
The last objective is to develop cognitive mechanisms that use tactile feedback to improve human-robot interaction capabilities particularly in the domains of programming through demonstration and robot assisted play.
The following video shows autistic children interacting with KASPAR; this clip is more than a year old, and mostly describes the effort to draw children in with interpretable gestures.
(KASPAR robot works with autistic kids)
Science fiction readers may recall David, the robotic child from Supertoys Last All Summer Long, a 1969 short story by Brian Aldiss.
"There have been mechanicals on the market with mini-computers for brains - plastic things without life, super-toys - but we have at last found a way to link computer circuitry with synthetic flesh..."
(Read more about synthetic flesh)
Note that Aldiss is referring to more than just a skin-like surface; this is a realistic, sensor-embedded skin and flesh covering - just like RoboSkin.
Read more about various efforts to improve robot skin: