Q: What does AuRoRA stand for?
A: Autonomous Robot as a Remedial tool for Autistic children. We want to emphasise that the term 'remedial' is present in the acronym mainly because of the relationship of this project to the general field of rehabilitation robotics. However we are not claiming to be able to cure autism: autism cannot be cured and therapeutic efforts are about allowing autistic people to lead as normal a life as possible, not about curing them.

Q: Are you developing a robot to replace the teacher or therapist?
A: No, the robot is to be a tool used by a teacher/therapist as part of a larger teaching/therapeutic program.

Q: Won't the project reinforce the child’s stereotypical behaviour and inhibit social interaction with people?
A: Our goal is to make the robot sufficiently unpredictable to challenge the child while remaining predictable enough that it remains a rewarding interaction partner for the child. The individual nature of autism means that the robot will have to be adaptable to the needs of individual children in this respect.

Q: Won't the project simply teach the child how to interact with a toy or robot?
A: The idea is that interactive principles learned with the robot can then be applied in other interactive situations. A major aim is to find ways to use the robot as a social mediator encouraging interaction with other people (children and adults). Again, it is important to realise that the robot is only intended to be one part of a larger program of therapy.

Q: Why don't you teach the child to interact with a human if your ultimate goal is to support human-human interaction?
A: From the point of view of many autistic children human beings are unpredictable, their behaviour may appear overwhelming or even threatening to a child with autism, and difficult to interpret (e.g. their complex facial expressions). The robot therefore serves as a much much simpler, and in this way "safer" interaction partner, that can be used to teach basic interaction skills. Also, with a robot you can practise and, together with the child, reflect upon socially undesirable behaviour, e.g. hitting or pinching – this cannot be practised with a person.

Q: But again, I've heard of dolphin therapy that can do wonders, isn't that much more interesting?
A: We agree! Of course it is more interesting and exciting if children with autism can be encouraged to interact with other living beings, including animals, if f this is practical and financially possible. Our approach is not meant to replace any existing therapy approach, but to complement them. Also, so far, in terms of different therapies on offer for children with autism, one particular therapy may work for some children, but not for others. In our view it is unlikely that one particular approach will work for all children.

Q: I have seen news report and articles where people use many other robots, which one is best for a child with autism to interact with?
A: Children with autism are attracted to computers and robots, and different robots can engage children in different types of play scenarios. The suitability of a robot depends on the therapeutic and educational needs of a particular child. We believe that the minimally expressive, humanoid robot such as KASPAR is suitable to teach about human-like behaviours and body features. Due to the realistic nature of its features children we think they find it easier to translate what they learn with the robot to other people. We have e.g. seen children with autism who in interaction with KASPAR were able to identify correspondences e.g. between their nose, KASPAR’s nose, and the nose of a co-present adult, as part of an enjoyable game with the robot. For children who cannot engage at all in interaction a much simpler robotic toy might be more suitable.

Q: What kind of impact of the robot on the children have you demonstrated, how does the robot help the children?
A: So far we have performed case study evaluations. For example, KASPAR has been tested with dozens of children in different schools. So far we have not conducted clinical studies to scientifically show any therapeutic effects. We have established how the children interact with various robots and shown case study examples of the possibilities that interaction with the robots might have on some children in areas such as body awareness and sense of self, turn-taking and imitation skills, encouraging communication with others, embodied and cognitive learning. We are now undertaking long-term studies in collaboration with clinical and educational professionals so these possible effects that the robots might have on the children can be established.