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For Some Kids, This Robot Is More Than a Cool Toy

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

That Speedy Gonzales on the right is zooming around in a UD1, a robot that lets toddlers with such conditions as Down syndrome, autism and cerebral palsy explore the world independently.

Invented at the University of Delaware by Cole Galloway, associate professor of physical therapy, and Sunil Agrawal, professor of mechanical engineering, UD1 is intended to encourage "embodied development" -- the use of touch and movement to define a space, which is key to cognitive and behavioral development.

Basically, Galloway explains, the concept is that "how we think is influenced by how we've interacted with the world."

The robot expands opportunities for kids who are ordinarily stuck either sitting or lying down, Galloway says. Also, the robot prompts other children to interact with the user of this cool new toy, thus aiding the child's social development.

Galloway says children as young as 7 months old can operate the joystick control and safely navigate an environment. The robot's sensors identify obstacles and can either let babies bump into them or steer tykes around them. The next version will have a control for parents to override the toddler and the robot.

-- Kathleen Hom

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