Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 47–65 | Cite as

A Survey of Expectations About the Role of Robots in Robot-Assisted Therapy for Children with ASD: Ethical Acceptability, Trust, Sociability, Appearance, and Attachment

  • Mark Coeckelbergh
  • Cristina Pop
  • Ramona Simut
  • Andreea Peca
  • Sebastian Pintea
  • Daniel David
  • Bram Vanderborght
Original Paper


The use of robots in therapy for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) raises issues concerning the ethical and social acceptability of this technology and, more generally, about human–robot interaction. However, usually philosophical papers on the ethics of human–robot-interaction do not take into account stakeholders’ views; yet it is important to involve stakeholders in order to render the research responsive to concerns within the autism and autism therapy community. To support responsible research and innovation in this field, this paper identifies a range of ethical, social and therapeutic concerns, and presents and discusses the results of an exploratory survey that investigated these issues and explored stakeholders’ expectations about this kind of therapy. We conclude that although in general stakeholders approve of using robots in therapy for children with ASD, it is wise to avoid replacing therapists by robots and to develop and use robots that have what we call supervised autonomy. This is likely to create more trust among stakeholders and improve the quality of the therapy. Moreover, our research suggests that issues concerning the appearance of the robot need to be adequately dealt with by the researchers and therapists. For instance, our survey suggests that zoomorphic robots may be less problematic than robots that look too much like humans.


Robot assisted therapy ASD Autism Ethics of robotics Trust Appearance Safety Therapy 



The authors thank the participants for making this study possible by completing the survey. We also thank the autism organisations we contacted for their permission and their help in making the questionnaire widely available to their members. We are also grateful for funding received from the European Commission for our FP7 project DREAM (Grant no. 611391).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mark Coeckelbergh
    • 1
  • Cristina Pop
    • 2
  • Ramona Simut
    • 3
  • Andreea Peca
    • 2
  • Sebastian Pintea
    • 2
  • Daniel David
    • 2
  • Bram Vanderborght
    • 4
  1. 1.Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility, Faculty of TechnologyDe Montfort UniversityLeicesterUK
  2. 2.Department of Clinical Psychology and PsychotherapyBabeș-Bolyai UniversityCluj-NapocaRomania
  3. 3.Clinical and Life Span Psychology DepartmentVrije Universiteit BrusselsBrusselsBelgium
  4. 4.Robotics and Multibody Mechanics Research GroupVrije Universiteit BrusselsBrusselsBelgium

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