East Netherlands


UT puts robots to use in special education

Researchers at the University of Twente, partner Think East Netherlands, have discovered that primary school children in both regular and special needs schools make strides when they learn together with a robot. On 30 April both Daniel Davison and Bob Schadenberg will obtain their PhDs from UT, with comparable research but working in different contexts.

Whereas Davison’s robot worked independently at a Montessori primary school, Schadenberg took his robot lab, with explanations, to a special class for autistic children. Davison: “As far as I know our Zeno robot is the first to have spent this long – four months – working independently in a classroom. Our results show that social robots have the potential not just to help educate children but to improve their mindset with regard to their own learning process and intelligence. We also saw that children returned to the robot for help with their tasks throughout the entire period, even after the initial novelty had worn off. This is a very promising result, and it paves the way for more of this kind of long-term research.”

Schadenberg’s study examined whether a robot could support learning processes for children with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD, hereinafter referred to as ‘autism’). His Zeno social robot was deployed as an assistant in the supervision of these children by a teacher or therapist. Schadenberg: “I was there myself, too, given that my study was also about the design of the robot, which I wanted to be a close fit with the kinds of interaction suited to autistic children. The results showed that these interactions varied widely from one child to another, partly because of how autism affects the development of the individual child. The robot needs to anticipate this fact in determining how best to communicate with these children. Our results will now allow us to develop more tightly-focused robots able to take account of the differences between individual children.”

Source: University of Twente, partner Think East Netherlands