Interactive Robot Teaches Programming, Helps Autistic Students

The robot, named Nao, helps autistic children to interpret daily information regarding facial and hand expressions.

by Debra Winters, The Record / May 15, 2015 0
Pines Lake Elementary School principal Jose Celis demonstrates to a kindergarten class some of what Nao the robot can do. Students at Wayne Hills High School have been programming the robot. Demitrius Balevski/The Record/TNS

(TNS) — The school district here has a new member of its teaching staff: Nao, an interactive robot that works with autistic students and those with language impairments.

It has been with the district about three months, and advanced computer science students at Wayne Hills High School have been busy programming and learning about it.

The robot, which cost about $8,000 and was obtained with federal funds, was created by a company called Alderbran and was initially researched by Wayne’s Pines Lake Elementary School Principal Jose Celis.

“I really love to have the high school kids working with it and the application they are learning,” Celis said. “It gives them a chance to work outside the box. And what they learn will trickle down to the younger students.”

Nao helps autistic children to interpret daily information regarding facial and hand expressions, Celis said.

“Right now, though, we are exploring and experimenting. But soon we will be able to say, ‘I need a program for this, or that,’” Celis said.

Among the students working on the robot’s programming are school seniors Danny Abbo and Andrew Har, who sat down along with their teacher, Neil Ascione, for an interview about the robot, which is rechargeable and stands about 2½ feet tall.

“We figured out how it works and how to implement it. Our fellow students broke up into groups focusing on different aspects,” said Abbo.

Har added, “It gave kids an opportunity to do something different, too. Our goal was to get the robot to interact with the students.”

Nao has touch sensors and is able to detect and memorize objects and faces. “It has a database of memory,” explained Ascione. “And its math program is random, too. It adds, subtracts, multiplies and so on.”

Superintendent Mark Toback noted that “in addition to connecting elementary students to technology, our high school students are involved in writing code to customize the robot for classroom use. Teachers provide high school students with lesson plans, and the high school students convert the plans into code, which allows the robot to carry out various jobs during class time.”

“Our Nao is a fantastic means for the school district to introduce students to robotics and all of the underlying integrated technology that makes a robot functional,” Toback said. “These robots are increasing in use across the country and serve a variety of purposes and student populations.”

©2015 The Record (Hackensack, N.J.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.