That sounds futuristic, and yet it is true! A French start-up has designed a rolling robot capable of engaging children with special needs, particularly children on the “autism spectrum”.

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The future is coming

Shaped like a ball, it has an endearing ‘face’ that changes expressions, and uses sound, light and colours to interact with users through adaptable games that improve cognitive and motor skills. More than a tool for caregivers and educators, Leka is described by its developers as a “robotic companion”. For children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), connecting with others can be challenging.  The robot is able to guide children through a range of activities, helping them to improve their communication skills and ability to learn.

Leka may also help parents and caregivers, by providing data on how children interact with the device and enabling data sharing across a social network. It will provide understanding on the type of guidance that is more helpful to the child to complete a task. All of this information is displayed in graphs in the shared interface and parents or caregivers can comment on them, communicate with each other or share notes on a child’s use.

How can a robot change things?

ASD affects about 70 million people worldwide. In order to develop an efficient toy, Leka’s developers worked closely with children with ASD, parents and educators, to determine their needs and the role that the robot could play. The developers realised that children with ASD respond especially well to robots. Why? Because for these children, repetition and predictability are essential. Performing the same activity over and over can be hard for parents or educators.

Doing the same thing over and over is proper to robots. “The robotics help by repeating the same thing every single time and providing the child a sense of safety” – Ladislas de Toldi, Leka’s CEO and co-founder.

The rolling robot may also help child development by being controlled via Bluetooth and programmed through an app (available for both iOS and Android). Leka responds to a child’s participation in games, supplying positive images and sounds — for instance, showing a smiling face — to reward progress and encourage confidence. Currently programmed with three educational games, Leka will offer a total of seven activities toward 2017.

Adaptability is the key strength of this rolling robot. Caregivers can adjust the level of stimulation to fit each child’s needs – by changing the settings – , allowing the child’s progress to be tracked over time. Meanwhile, handling the spherical Leka provides children with a uniquely tactile interactive experience that they can’t get from a touch screen.

“Our mission is to help exceptional children live exceptional lives by reducing the learning inequalities that many children with different developmental disorders currently deal with” – Ladislas de Toldi.

Both these features justify the Leka’s cost of $699, say its developers. The robot is priced between an iPad Air and the iPad Pro… which are not exactly cheap, however the Indiegogo campaign (152% funded)  would enable mass production of the device and make it more affordable.  Besides, the start-up claims that the developers are looking for a solution for parents who can’t afford such a price but do need a Leka.

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The initiative highlights how a robot could enhance our way of living. Do you think robotics can change lives too? Do you like the article? Leave a comment then!

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