The University of Hertfordshire's groundbreaking work on a child-like robot it developed to help children with autism, has been chosen as one of the most important research projects taking place in universities today, with the publication today (16 June) of the Big Ideas for the Future report.
The report, which is jointly published by Research Councils UK (RCUK) and Universities UK, pulls together the leading research projects currently taking place across UK universities. Research from all fields, including science, social sciences, engineering, the arts and the humanities, were eligible to be included and the University of Hertfordshire's project was selected for inclusion from hundreds of submissions. The report is narrated and backed by high-profile celebrities such as Professor Lord Robert Winston, Dr Alice Roberts and Professor Iain Stewart.
The Hertfordshire team led by Professor Kerstin Dautenhahn at the University of Hertfordshire are using interactive humanoid robots as therapeutic 'toys' to help children with autism. They developed KASPAR (short for Kinesics and Synchronisation in Personal Assistant Robotics), a child-like robot.
KASPAR can be controlled and tailored to an individual child's development needs. While obviously non-human, it has simple human features, minimal expressions and predictable movements. The robot acts as a mediator, encouraging children to communicate with people, at first indirectly and then directly. The research has the potential to transform the social and educational development of children living with autism in the future.
Professor Rick Rylance, Chair Elect of RCUK said of Big Ideas for the Future: "Research has an impact on all our lives. Whether it is a breakthrough in experimental science, or an invention that makes new things possible, or a project that leads us to understand better the strengths and weaknesses of our society, research is the key to the UK's growth, prosperity and wellbeing. Big Ideas for the Future showcases just some of the excellent research being carried out in UK universities that achieves these aims. It is vital we continue to support the talented individuals whose work makes a real difference."
Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: "The research that has taken place at UK universities has helped to change the world and the way we live, whether that's discovering DNA, inventing the world's first computer or finding cures for life-threatening illnesses. It is great to see this tradition of world-leading innovation continue and get an insight into the many inspiring and potentially-life changing projects currently being developed by our universities. I would like to congratulate the University of Hertfordshire their inclusion in the Big Ideas for the Future report, and wish them the best of luck with their research."