CARL-SJR: A Socially Assistive Neurorobot for Autism Therapy and Research
Neurodevelopmental disorders, such as Attention-Deficit–Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), have core clinical symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity (often hyper- and hypo- responsiveness. These symptoms are often accompanied by reduced motor coordination and impaired sensory processing. We introduce a Socially Assistive Robot (SAR) with the goal of automating therapy for children with neurodevelopmental disorders. The novel robot, which is called Cognitive Anteater Robotics Laboratory – Spiking Judgment Robot (CARL-SJR), is designed for therapy and diagnosis. CARL-SJR is autonomous and capable of tactile sensing and interaction. A spiking neural network model and neurally inspired algorithms control CARL-SJR’s behavior. By providing a large tactile sensing surface that encourages touching with hand movements, CARL-SJR especially addresses impairments in tactile sensitivity and social interaction observed in children with neurodevelopmental disorders. Using CARL-SJR, we conducted a pilot study where children with different neurodevelopmental disorders show different behavioral metrics and tactile movements. The results suggest CARL-SJR might serve as a diagnostic tool for developmental disorders. Second, we showed that the information carried by temporal coding is higher than the traditional rate coding when decoding spike trains in response to tactile movements. Third, we implemented online learning capabilities on CARL-SJR, where the robot could associate a user’s preferred color pattern displayed on the robot with the user’s hand sweep across the robot’s body. The emerged behaviors and neural activities in the SNN are consistent with neurophysiological recordings. The underlying neural mechanism in the SNN also serves as an alternative explanation of how brains encode timing and associate (or learn) two temporally separated events.