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Read about where we have been and where we are going.

Come check out the latest press releases about MOVIA, robotics, and robot based therapy for autism!

For more information, contact us at (860) 881-2228 or info@moviarobotics.com.

Press

Therapeutic robot to operate in Billund

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A therapeutic robot designed to help autistic children reinforce learning, social and language skills is being introduced into Billund Municipality... Show More ▼

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The robot named ‘Bob’ is equipped with the unique Danish software developed by the Public Private Partnership PATRIA (Social robots for children with autism). The software is developed to capture and retain autistic children’s attention and was created in cooperation with the US company MOVIA Robotics, University of Southern Denmark and the Danish company Blue Ocean Robotics.

By helping to bring Bob to Denmark, Capital of Children is giving autistic children the opportunity to learn through play. Timothy Gifford, CEO of MOVIA Robotics, brought Bob to Billund in July 2013. Since then the robot has been testet at Odense University Hospital.

The robot is being testet further at Sdr. Skole in Grindsted and at a school in Odense.

Mette Thybo, CEO of Capital of Children, believes there are three major benefits to a collaboration of this nature:

  • The therapeutic robot is of great benefit to autistic children and their families in the Capital of Children, as well as the rest of Denmark. Educational staff working with the robot and children will develop professionally and be at the forefront when it comes to working with the latest technology in the field. It offers businesses in Billund Municipality the chance to lead the way in a rapidly developing, high-tech area.

The project is funded by the OPI pool, administered by the Region of Southern Denmark and the European Regional Development Fund. Show Less ▲

How Robots Can Help Children with Autism Learn and Communicate

Published on April 25, 2013
By: Tom Breen & Bret Eckhardt, Category: Science & Health

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The young boy, Jack, shyly approaches his friend in a classroom at Whiting Lane Elementary School. This is the last time they’ll see each other, and Jack has a gift for his playmate: a picture of the two of them together, and the words, “I’ll miss you.”... Show More ▼

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A common enough scene, except the “you” in this case is a humanoid robot programmed by researchers affiliated with the University of Connecticut and MOVIA Robotics to help children with learning delays like those on the autism spectrum improve their social and communication skills.

“Hi, Jack,” the robot chirps in greeting, before he and the student get into a sequence of activities designed to help Jack not just in the classroom, but in his daily life.

Timothy Gifford – who is the CEO of MOVIA Robotics as well as the director of the Advanced Interactive Technology Center at UConn’s Center for Health, Intervention, and Prevention (CHIP) – sees the work as having potential to cross over into the marketplace.

“That’s really the goal: to take this out of the lab and into the classroom,” he says. “One of the reasons we wanted to make this a commercially available product is to get it into the hands of as many schools and students as possible.”

That’s going to take some time, and the project is still in development, as Gifford and his team learn what works, and what a high-tech product like a robot needs to have in order to function in the world of elementary school kids and daily use.

“This is ultimately a very satisfying project to be involved in. It’s something that’s not just interesting from a research perspective, but something that can also make a difference in people’s lives.”

At his lab at the Connecticut Science Center, where he’s currently scientist-in-residence, Gifford works with programmers who are developing the sequences the two-foot-tall robots, which are made by a French company called Aldebaran Robotics, use in their interactions with students.

While the robot engages the students one-on-one, someone else – right now a researcher, but hopefully soon a teacher or teacher’s aide – guides the interaction from a laptop computer. The six sequences are flexible enough to be effective when working with children with different levels of ability: one child delightedly bangs on a drum along with the robot, while another runs through more complex verbal exercises designed to improve his ability to communicate with peers.

“This system is really neat because the robot becomes the focus for the child. The robot acts as sort of the mediator or the deliverer of the information,” Gifford says.

Far from being a potential replacement for teachers, the robots will ideally become a powerful tool for communicating with students who have trouble understanding verbal cues or body language from adults.

The work is currently being done with students in kindergarten through fifth grade at Whiting Lane, with plans to expand to two other elementary schools soon. An exhibit on the project is also on display at the Connecticut Science Center, where one of the robots explains its functions with the aid of a video and a push-button console.

Among the challenges Gifford is working to address are the wear-and-tear the robots absorb over the course of sessions with the students, and what Gifford calls “the novelty factor.”

“We were worried the kids would get bored with the robots after a few weeks, but so far we’ve been able to consistently stimulate interest,” thanks in part to the use of simpler toy robots in conjunction with the state-of-the-art Aldebaran models, Gifford says.

And while more work remains to be done before their research can reach conclusions, Gifford is encouraged by what he’s learned so far.

“This is ultimately a very satisfying project to be involved in,” he says. “It’s something that’s not just interesting from a research perspective, but something that can also make a difference in people’s lives.”

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UConn Today | Robot Speaks the Language of Kids

Published on August 5, 2010
By: Beth Krane | Category: Science & Health

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A robot delivers a karate chop or makes drumming motions and a child imitates the robot, taking delight in a novel playmate. But if a child with autism imitates the robot, much more than that may occur... Show More ▼

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Anjana Bhat, left, CHIP principal investigator and assistant professor of kinesiology, PI on the grant. She is shown with Aiden, age 3, center, and Timothy Gifford, director of CHIP's Advanced Interactive Technologies Center and co-investigator on the grant. Photo by Sheila Perretta

Two researchers with the Center for Health, Intervention, and Prevention (CHIP) at the University of Connecticut are studying whether a small robot with a big personality holds the potential to help children with autism improve both their motor and their social communication skills.

“Anecdotal evidence suggests interventions using robot-child interactions may enhance motor and social communication skills of children with low- and high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), but there are very few clinical trials currently testing robot-child interactions as therapy for ASD,” says Anjana Bhat, a principal investigator with CHIP.

Bhat, an assistant professor of kinesiology in the Neag School of Education, recently received a two-year, $404,639 grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to design a series of robot-child interactions that would help improve the gross motor skills and the imitative and turn-taking abilities of children with ASD. The second two-year phase of the project will include a clinical trial of the intervention with 20 children with ASD and 20 typically developing children between the ages of four and eight.

During her post-doctoral work in the field of autism, Bhat learned about the motor impairments of children with ASD, such as poor motor coordination, balance, and difficulty imitating complex movements. She became particularly interested in this area because research suggests impairments in these areas contribute to the social-communication impairments of children with ASD.

Before applying for the NIMH grant, Bhat and her co-investigator, Timothy Gifford, director of CHIP’s Advanced Interactive Technology Center and a robotics lab in UConn’s psychology department, conducted a pilot study using a seven-inch robot they bought off the shelf and programmed themselves.

For the federally funded project, Bhat and Gifford have purchased a two-foot-tall robot named Nao from Aldebaran Robotics in France, using internal equipment grant funds.

Nao introduces himself, extends his hand for a shake, announces that children like to play with him, and takes a bow. Nao even performs elaborate Tai Chi routines with accompanying music. But, most importantly for the researchers, the robot can be programmed to incrementally increase the complexity of its routines over time, as the children progress through therapy.

Bhat and Gifford have begun using Nao in sessions with children in Bhat’s Infant and Child Development Laboratory on campus. As part of the first phase of the study, the researchers will have five children with ASD and 16 typically developing children interact individually with Nao during eight separate sessions. Each session will include four or five robot actions to imitate.

“So far, our data suggest that robot-child interactions are a highly motivating context for children, those with and without autism,” Bhat says. “Children not only connect with the robot but also with the tester who controls the robot, as they both share the novel experience together.”

Bhat says that children with ASD typically feel more comfortable with robots than with other people initially, because robot interactions are simpler and more predictable and the children are in control of the social interaction. “Robots also are fully-embodied beings that encourage children to engage in whole body interactions,” she adds. “Children with ASD typically enjoy playing with them, and respond with imitative behavior often delayed during interactions with other people.”

Bhat says robots could initially serve as intermediaries between therapists and children with ASD, until a connection is made, and may help extend the reach of clinicians. “Often children with ASD have intense therapy needs – often 30 to 40 hours per week – and a robot could perform some of the tasks typically performed by an untrained individual and could support the clinician by delivering more standardized interventions,” she says.

Gifford says that eventually, robotics systems will have the potential to collect video and kinematic data of a child’s fine and gross motor performance and may further reduce the human resources required to deliver intensive interventions and perform frequent assessments.

“The ultimate goal will be to extend the capabilities of therapists and bring this technology to the target population in a useful, affordable way,” he says. “Someday perhaps, robots could be used in a variety of settings, such as schools and homes, as well as clinicians’ offices.”

Kerry Marsh, an associate professor of psychology and PI with CHIP, and Deborah Fein, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Psychology and CHIP affiliate, are collaborators on this project. Show Less ▲

A New Force: Hartford Firm's Robotics System Helps Children Manage Autism

Published on April 13 2012
By: Story and Photos by RICHARD MESSINA | rmessina@courant.com,
The Hartford Courant

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Timothy Gifford isn't looking to cure childhood autism. But he does want to improve the quality of life for children who struggle with it.

MOVIA Robotics LLC, which Gifford founded in 2011, integrates systems in the field of robotics, particularly in the fields of education and therapy... Show More ▼

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"Our system is a combination of the hardware and software," says Gifford, CEO of the Hartford-based company. The system provides an interactive experience that teachers and clinicians can use to help autistic children learn and practice basic interaction skills.

"It can be used as a training tool for children with autism to help them interact with the real world," Gifford says.

MOVIA's multifaceted computer program enables a robot to use information from external sensors in a room to provide social cues to a child. The robots that MOVIA uses in its system are manufactured by a company in France and are built to resemble the human form, complete with face and articulated arms and legs.

The robot communicates with a child through voice commands and movement.

People love robots, and children are particularly fascinated by them, Gifford says. Because the robot is predictable and works on a simpler level than humans, he says, children can feel more at ease working with them than with adults.

Through repetition of the cues provided by the robot, a child learns appropriate responses to social situations and then "generalize that into interactions with people," Gifford says.

Gifford, director of the Advanced Interactive Technology Center in the University of Connecticut's Center for Health, Intervention, and Prevention, says multiple departments at UConn are working on the research, including computer science, psychology and the Neag School of Education.

The research is funded through a grant that UConn received from the National Institutes of Health. MOVIA has licensed the robotics system's application from UConn.

Gifford's company is working to make the robotic and software system easy to use while also developing curriculum and activities to support the robot system's interactions with the kids, he says.

With its robotics system currently in pilot testing, MOVIA is seeking second-stage funding to commercialize and market the system to schools, therapists and independent clinics by 2013.

Gifford, of Hartford, saw a connection to robotics when his wife, a teacher, told him that there were few tools available to teach autistic children in the classroom.

"We're trying to improve their quality of life by giving them basic skills," he says, "and through these skills giving them a way to better interact in the world with kids and adults."

To suggest future subjects for this series, email rmessina@courant.com.

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Timothy Gifford and Anjana Bhat on Using Robots to Help Autistic Children

Published on April 2011
By: Fast Company Staff

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MOVIA Robotics CEO Gifford, 48, and Bhat, 34, an assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of Connecticut, use robots to help autistic children develop social and physical skills... Show More ▼

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[Gifford: "Because the robots are simpler than people, they're more accessible. The children feel as if the situation is safer, so they're able to explore more and have a greater feeling of control."

GBhat: "Robots address some of the deficits we know are present in children with autism, especially coordination and social problems. Compared to an adult, the robot is very systematic in its interactions, and that's less daunting for a child with autism. What's more, it's fun for a child to play with a robot."

Gifford: "We're continuing to add more complex behaviors, such as having the robot play music so the kids feel as if they're playing in a band with the robot. But it's important to note that these are treatment and learning tools — we're not making any claims about robots being a cure."

A version of this article appeared in the April 2011 issue of Fast Company magazine.

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