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Communication Support via a Tele-Operated Robot for Easier Talking: Case/Laboratory Study of Individuals with/Without Autism Spectrum Disorder


The advantages of using a tele-operated robot to facilitate otherwise difficult verbal disclosure of thoughts and concerns was examined. In a field study, individuals with autism spectrum disorder, who often face obstacles in social interaction, were provided daily-life-guidance by a robot tele-operated by their caregiver. In cases in which the robot was operated remotely or from the same room, subjects were able to disclose concerns to the robot that they had not previously disclosed to their caregiver. Furthermore, under the latter case the improved communicability was maintained through subsequent conversation with the operator. In a separate laboratory experiment involving participants not judged to be on the autism spectrum, it was observed that the participants were silent longer during conversation via a robot than in face-to-face conversation. The enhanced length of silence in the first setting can be considered to be an index for good counseling of a subject. Furthermore, the enhanced length of silence was maintained in subsequent face-to-face conversation with a robot operator in the same room, which appears to be consistent with the results of the field experiment. The findings encourage future applications in therapeutic conversation approaches such as counseling for providing clients with environments that facilitate the disclosure of concerns.

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We are deeply grateful to the participants and their guardians for their kind cooperation. We also appreciate the beneficial support and feedback provided by the schoolteachers. This work was supported by the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST), the Exploratory Research for Advanced Technology (ERATO) the ISHIGURO symbiotic human–robot interaction project, and Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) KAKENHI Grant Numbers 25220004, 24680022, and 15K12117.

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Correspondence to Jiro Shimaya.

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Y. Yoshikawa and H. Ishiguro serve as consultants of Vstone Co. Ltd.

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In this study, ethical approval was received from Graduate School of Engineering Science, Osaka University and Research Center for Child Mental Development, Kanazawa University.

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Shimaya, J., Yoshikawa, Y., Kumazaki, H. et al. Communication Support via a Tele-Operated Robot for Easier Talking: Case/Laboratory Study of Individuals with/Without Autism Spectrum Disorder. Int J of Soc Robotics 11, 171–184 (2019).

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  • Tele-operated robot
  • Human robot interaction
  • Ease of conversation
  • Side-by-side operation
  • Autism spectrum disorder