International Journal of Social Robotics

, Volume 2, Issue 4, pp 391–403 | Cite as

An Approach to the Design of Socially Acceptable Robots for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

  • Karla Conn Welch
  • Uttama Lahiri
  • Zachary Warren
  • Nilanjan Sarkar


Investigation into technology-assisted intervention for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) has gained momentum in recent years. Research suggests that robots could be a viable means to impart skills to this population since children with ASD tend to be fascinated by robots. However, if robots are to be used to impart social skills, a primary deficit for this population, considerable attention needs to be paid to aspects of social acceptability of such robots. Currently there are no design guidelines as to how to develop socially acceptable robots to be used for intervention for children with ASD. As a first step, this work investigates social design of virtual robots for children with ASD. In this paper we describe the design of a virtual environment system for social interaction (VESSI). The design is evaluated through an innovative experiment plan that combines subjective ratings from a clinical observer with physiological responses indicative of affective states from the participants, both collected when participants engage in social tasks with the social robots in a virtual reality environment. Two social parameters of importance for this population, namely eye gaze and social distance, are systematically varied to analyze the response of the participants. The results are presented to illustrate how experiments with virtual social robots can contribute towards the development of future social robots for children with ASD.


Virtual robots Identification of emotional expressions Social interaction Autism intervention 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science & Business Media BV 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Karla Conn Welch
    • 1
  • Uttama Lahiri
    • 2
  • Zachary Warren
    • 3
  • Nilanjan Sarkar
    • 2
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Electrical and Computer EngineeringUniversity of LouisvilleLouisvilleUSA
  2. 2.Department of Mechanical EngineeringVanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA
  3. 3.Department of PediatricsVanderbilt Kennedy Center, Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD)NashvilleUSA
  4. 4.Department of Computer EngineeringVanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA

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