Limited options are available for young children who require motion interventions. We view assistive robots as a key opportunity for improvement in this space. This work is funded by the NSF National Robotics Initiative.
As improvements in medicine lower infant mortality rates, more infants with neuromotor challenges survive past birth. The motor, social, and cognitive development of these infants are closely interrelated, and challenges in any of these areas can lead to developmental differences. At the same time, early motor interventions are often highly limited or postponed until a later age.
The combination of socially assistive robotics and infant tendencies including contingency learning and imitation opens up possibilities for early interventions during which robots can model desired infant behavior and/or reward the practice of these behaviors. This concept can apply in seated and mobile interventions for children with a variety of needs. Robots show promise for extending the abilities of intervention specialists; by designing robot interventions with experts from physical therapy, health science, kinesiology, and other areas, we can create scalable and appropriate interventions with the potential to lower the cost and raise the availability of early targeted motor practice.