Cutting edge robot could reduce autistic unemployment rate



A state of the art robot which teaches people key facial expressions could reduce unemployment statistics for autistic adults in the future.

Currently, the UK has an unemployment rate of 4.4 per cent, with only 14% of autistic adults in full-time employment.
Now researchers at Heriot-Watt University have developed a Socially-Competent Robot Training Buddy called Alyx, who teaches people to recognise social cues.

Our analysis shows that there are certain facial expressions Alyx produces that are read similarly to a human face.

Dr Peter McKenna, Research Associate at Heriot-Watt

Part of the SoCoRo Project, the robot uses approving or disapproving facial signals – the two most used expressions in the workplace.

This helps adults with autism deal with social signals in workplace situations, improving employment opportunities.

Dr Peter McKenna, added: “This information is vital for developing a socially-competent companion for our future work with autistic adults. At present impaired social communication and interaction hold back the working potential of those with autism.

“However, robots like Alyx can help change this outcome by offering additional assistance and knowledge of social skills, thereby creating more opportunities for everyone, regardless of diagnosis.”

Initial work with Alyx has used the robot’s head but the team are currently working on a full-bodied, autonomous version which in the future which will teach further social skills.