In July 2017, the first prototype of the DE-ENIGMA robot was presented by the project consortium. Defined as a Wizard-of-Oz (WoZ) human-robot interaction (HRI) application for direct-instruction learning of socio-emotional skills, it will be tested for general acceptance by autistic children.
This first prototype arrives after the analysis of the data compiled throughout six rounds of recording sessions held in Serbia and the UK, from September 2016 to June 2017. These sessions provided DE-ENIGMA partners with an important understanding of the challenges faced by the perception modules and the integration requirements. In total, 132 autistic children aged 5-12 took part in these sessions. They participated in short interactions and therapeutic work with the humanoid robot Zeno and therapists, focusing on emotion recognition activities over a series of short sessions.
This time, therapist played the major role, while the robot simply supported them as a kind of “cool” assistant. In the first prototype, the consortium intended to reverse the procedure, making the robot the leading figure while themselves assisting by exhibiting some behaviour envisioned for the follow-up prototypes (although changes and improvements are expected as a result of the different experiments). Accordingly, the therapist will supervise the interaction and intervene if the robot makes an error or is asking for assistance.
Autism-Europe is part of the project, funded by Horizon 2020 (the European Union’s Framework Programme for Research and Innovation). The main objective is to design effective and user-adaptable styles of robot behaviour for autistic children, leading to more personalised and effective therapies than previously available. The robot will be tested by 130 children under the supervision of a team of psychologists. The project will run until August 2019.