Computer avatar and robotics aided rehabilitation for patients with social disorders

Written by Ellen Clarke

Researchers have found that individuals suffering from social disorders such as schizophrenia or social phobia could benefit from humanoid robotics and computer avatar aided rehabilitation. The technology is based on the theory of similarity, which suggests that it is easier to interact socially with someone who looks similar to ourselves or behaves in the same way. The results of the study were published recently in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.
Researchers from the University of Bristol (UK), in collaboration with researchers at the Universities of Exeter (UK), Montpellier (France) and Naples Federico II (Italy), developed a robot or avatar to play a version of the mirror game, which involves two players copying each other’s motions whilst playing with colored balls that move horizontally on a string.

The avatar is designed to look and move like the patient to increase their feeling of attachment. However, to aid social rehabilitation the avatar is gradually altered to become less similar.

The study highlights that individuals sharing similar movements, interact and co-ordinate better. Avatars may therefore provide a novel method of rehabilitation for individuals with social disorders.

Mario di Bernardo, from the University of Bristol, commented: “It is very challenging to build an avatar that is intelligent enough to synchronize its motion with a human player, but our initial results are very exciting.”

To enable the avatar to synchronize and respond to the motion of the patient the researchers utilized the principles of dynamical systems and feedback control theory.

The team next plan to set up multiple human-machine interaction for social rehabilitation, in which groups of patients and avatars perform joint tasks.

Source: University of Bristol press release