Using technology to engage children with autism
QTrobot is made by a Luxembourg company, LuxAI. The company was founded by Aida Nazarikhorram, a medical doctor, and Pouyan Ziafati, whose specialty is artificial intelligence.
Aida had some experience working with children with disabilities through a non-profit organization that she had cofounded, and she knew that a growing number of children are being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Her work had put her in contact with some artificial intelligence experts, and together they developed the idea of using a robot armed with A.I. to help parents and therapists reach breakthroughs with autistic children. QT was the result of their research and development.
“Often it’s difficult for children with autism to engage in social interaction that is aimed for teaching something, but they have a high tendency to prefer technology and get effortlessly engaged with it,” Aida says. “That’s mainly because technology is consistent, it’s predictable, it’s structured, and it’s non-judgmental, which is exactly what children with autism prefer.”
Also important, Aida says, is creating a triangular relationship among the child, the robot, and the parent or therapist. QTrobot comes with two tablets, one for the child and one for the teacher/parent, and a wide range of curricula.
“So if you have an activity that’s focused on social interaction and communication, QT will practice it a couple of times with the child, and then ask the child to practice the same activities with their human partner,” Aida says. “That way the child learns it’s not only a skill that they can use to interact with QT but also with other people around them.”
LuxAI was one of the winners of the 2018 Social Innovation Tournament, which is organised by the European Investment Bank Institute to promote creative responses to societal problems.