New Social Robot to Help Your Children Regulate Their Emotions

You know those days when things are hectic, your nerves are at the breaking point, and the kids won’t quit acting up?

What if someone came along at that moment and at least removed the hyper kids from the scenario?

Apparently, this could become a reality one day – thanks to a social robot created to help regulate the emotions of your children.

Another incredible development in social robotics

Over the years, roboticists have managed to create a wide array of social robots. These are robots that have been designed specifically to interact with humans in several ways. This also includes robotic toys as well as other bots to be used by kids.

Researchers from the University of California- Santa Cruz (UCSC), King’s College London, and a United States company called Sproutel have recently created a socially assistive robot to help regulate emotions in children. This robot, unveiled in a recent report, resembles a tiny creature that could significantly entice a child to cuddle with it.

“My research team at University of California Santa Cruz had been working on designing smart fidget devices and understanding use of fidget objects for a while, and I met Petr Slovak (a key collaborator on the work in the paper) at a conference workshop,” claimed Katherine Isbister. She was one of the researchers that took part in the study. “His interests were focused on social-emotional learning and how to scaffold those skills.”

Unique robotic idea

Slovak, who is a researcher and a lecturer from King’s College London, first conceptualized the notion that smart fidget devices could very well assist in the emotional learning and regulation within children. Thus, he began a collaboration with Isbister, and other researchers at UCSC, to develop and design a robot to be used by kinds for regulating their emotions.

The social robot they built appears to be a stuffed animal. The social robotic stuffed toy eagerly responds to the touch of a child – which instantly calms them down and reduces its movements when the child gently hugs and caresses it.

Various design iterations of the social toy were sent out for field studies – to optimize and test the prototype.

“The child can tell or assume how the creature ‘feels’ through haptics,” Isbister points out. “When the creature is nervous, it has a rapid heartbeat, but as it calms down, it also slows down, then turns to a purr. This interaction helps the child to self-soothe because they are using fidgeting actions that can contribute to calm, and they are getting ‘outside of themselves’ by focusing on someone/something else.”

Fidgeting toys are not new

Even though many fidgeting toys currently on the market are supposed to help calm children down, many of them are too rigid and don’t respond very well to a child’s touch. What’s more, they don’t induce the interactions as this new version. For these reasons, this new robot is unique and offers something new and effective for children.

The research team evaluated their social robot in several initial experiments, where kids and parents interacted with this robot and shared feedback. All feedback received was quite promising, as every child enjoyed engaging with the prototype and wanted to keep it longer.

In the future, the research team may be able to commercialize and implement the robotic toy created by this team to help children self-soothe and regulate their emotions. Isbister, Slovak, and their fellow researchers intend to continue researching the possibilities of these types of devices.

“We are currently conducting an NIH-funded trial for a smart fidget ball that we developed to help those with ADHD to focus,” Isbister revealed.