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  • Small Robot 'Therapist' Being Developed in Spain

    Researchers in Spain would like to introduce you to the "social therapist" of the future (some assembly required; batteries not included).

    Fully human physical therapists (PTs) obviously can’t pack it in just yet, but a multi-university project centered at the University of Carlos III (UCIII) in Madrid has unveiled NAO, a 9-pound 22-inch fully articulated robot designed to lead and evaluate a child's rehabilitation exercises.

    According to a press release from UCIII, NAO is able to interact with children by asking questions, demonstrating correct form for particular rehab exercises, evaluating whether the child carries out the exercises correctly, and then instructing the child on what he or she needs to do differently. The robot is also capable of providing words of encouragement and can acknowledge when a set of exercises may have left a child feeling exhausted.

    And NAO's kind of cute too, as robots go. UCIII has created a video of the robot in action.

    NAO has worked with "more than 100 children," according to the release, which states that "both the children and their parents, as well as the medical staff who work with them, have noted that this makes the activity more fun and attractive for the patients."

    Researchers acknowledge that much more work lies ahead before an army of mechanical exercise evaluators can be unleashed, but they say that advances continue, including the development of algorithms that will "allow the robot to recognize the child's gestures using camera" and the ability "to recognize when the child is smiling, getting angry, or having difficulty with an exercise."

    Rather than a replacement for human PTs, the researchers see the robot as a way to "enliven rehabilitation processes." Even at that level, they say, there is much work to be done, right down to the robot's "contribution to the evaluation and monitoring of the therapies"—something yet to be determined.

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