Meet CASTOR: a robot that assists in the therapy of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
A robot developed in Colombia in partnership with Ufes and other international universities will help in the rehabilitation of children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The Castor Robot, as the project became known, has already been tested in 2 countries and had positive results. Castor is another one of the projects of the Ufes Telecommunications Laboratory (LabTel) in the area of social robotics.
Professor at the Graduate Program in Electrical Engineering (PPGEE) and researcher at LabTel, Camilo Diaz, leads the team that is working on the robot here at Ufes. He explains that the use of technologies for rehabilitation is not something new.
“There are several robots being used in therapies, but here we are looking to create a device that is flexible and resistant, for that we built the robot with a 3D printer, which makes it cheaper and simpler to replace any parts that may break”, said Díaz .
The professor also explained that Castor is made with Compliant Soft Robotics technology, a technology that seeks devices that are more elastic and not so rigid, allowing Castor to simulate greater elasticity and human mobility.
For Maria Fernanda, master’s student at PPGEE and researcher at Castor, the project can be very useful in therapies with children with ASD. “The ability of the Castor Robot can influence the social skills of children with ASD. The addition of the robot to traditional therapies was also studied, where an improvement in the specialty of occupational therapy and Castor’s adaptability to the needs of non-verbal and hearing-sensitive children was found,” she explained.
The student highlighted the impact on the motivation of children who participated in therapies with the help of Castor. “We engaged in long-term therapies, where surprising scenes took place, such as the first words of one of the participants”, explained Fernanda.
The Castor robot has an integrated mini computer that allows it to control various commands, such as moving its arms and neck. In addition, Castor’s eyes are simulated by an LCD display, which allows you to reproduce various facial expressions.
“For children with autism this is very important, because the robot will simplify facial expressions, something they have a hard time understanding,” said Díaz.
The professor explained that the robot works through a complex system, but that in the end it delivers conditions that can help a lot in therapies.
“The commands are sent through an interface with Wifi, they can be complex and the functions are divided into the movement of the arms, neck, facial expressions, speaker and eyes”, said Díaz. The robot also has motors in its arms, which help with social interaction, enabling it to hug children.
At LabTel, the researchers’ focus is instrumenting Castor with new sensors. Although the robot already exists in other countries, the device used in the Laboratory will be the first in the world to instrument specific sensors to monitor interactions with children during therapy.
“With this, it will be possible to understand how the children are interacting with the robot, whether they are touching it, hugging it or even squeezing it,” said Díaz. The professor added that these sensors open up new study possibilities and allow for a smoother device, as it is soft robotics.
“We are working on validating low-cost fiber optic pressure sensors in Castor. This will allow us to improve how it works and create a smoother structure for it,” said Gaitán.
With 3D printing and some engines, the robot has a very affordable price, close to R$ 7500 reais. The price, at first scares, but when compared to competitors already sold on the market, it is not all that. The Now robot, also used in TEA therapies, costs up to BRL 65,000. In addition, the Castor robot has Open Source code, that is, it can be distributed free of charge, only with production costs.
Castor has already been tested in Colombia, in a clinic for children with ASD, and in Chile, in a rehabilitation center.
As it is open source, Castor is a project that involves different universities. The development of Castor began at the Colombian School of Engineering Julio Garavito, in an agreement with the Universidad del Rosario.
Under the supervision of professors Marcela Munera and Carlos Cifuentes, from the University of the West of England Bristol (UWE), the project had its first results presented in the article “An Open-Source Social Robot Based on Compliant Soft Robotics for Therapy with Children with ASD ”.
“The idea was to develop something within the field of social robotics for children. We wanted to build something that was hard to break and easy to fix, when we thought about Castor we had this dream of making this technology easily accessible to people, hence the open-source. I don’t like to think of a technology full of patents and the open source made testing in different countries much easier, which brought very positive results”, he added.
Castor is also being studied and improved by the Federal University of Espírito Santo, University of West of England Bristol (England) and the Rehabilitation Corporation Club de Leones Cruz do Sul (Chile).
The Castor robot is funded by the Espírito Santo Research Support Foundation (Fapes) and the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq). The research was also funded by the Royal Academy of Engineering (England) and the Department of Science and Technology Administration (Colombia).