EMBOA is an acronym for project ” Affective loop in Socially Assistive Robotics as an intervention tool for children with autism”. The project is conducted by an international consortium and aims at the development of guidelines and practical evaluation of applying emotion recognition technologies in robot-supported intervention in children with autism.ith autism.

It combines three domains: autism therapy, social robots and automatic emotion recognition.

The EMBOA project goal is to confirm the possibility of the application (feasibility study), and in particular, we aim at the identification of the best practices and obstacles in using the combination of the technologies. What we hope to obtain is a novel approach for creating an affective loop in child-robot interaction that would enhance interventions regarding emotional intelligence building in children with autism. The lessons learned, summarized in the form of guidelines, might be used in higher education in all involved countries in robotics, computer science, and special pedagogy fields of study.

EMBOA is a mixed research and didactic project under EU Erasmus Plus Strategic Partnership for Higher Education Programme. Years: 2019-2022.

The objectives of our project are matching the UE horisontal priority of Social Inclusion with regards to supporting the actions for improvement of learning performance of disadvantaged learners (testing of a novel approach for improvement of learning performances of children with autism).

As in all Erasmus Plus projects, the findings of the project will be widely disseminated in higher education, in research, among autism therapy specialists as well as to the general public in the variety of forms:

  • 2 short-term joint staff training events;
  • 1 intensive program for higher education learners;
  • 6 multiplier events for autism therapy professionals and caregivers in all participating countries;
  • openly available guidelines;
  • scientific and technical papers,
  • papers, posters and presentations to general public.

Autism therapy

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) suffer from multiple deficits, and limited social and emotional skills are among those, that influence their ability to involve in interaction and communication. Limited communication occurs in human-human interaction and affects relations with family members, peers, and therapists. There are promising results in the use of robots in supporting the social and emotional development of children with autism.

We do not know, why children with autism are eager to interact with human-like looking robots and not with humans. Regardless of the reason, social robots proved to be a way to get through the social obstacles of a child and make him/her involved in the interaction. Once the interaction happens, we have a unique opportunity to engage a child in gradually building and practicing social and emotional skills.

Robot-assisted therapy in autism has been a growing area of research in recent years. Many robots have been used to encourage social interaction and collaborative play amongst children with ASD, e.g. mobile robot IROMEC creature/cartoon-like robots such as Probo and Keepon, artificial pets like the teddy bear Huggable and the baby seal robot Paro and more. Humanoid robots, e.g., Robota, Nao, Kaspar, Milo have been used with children with autism to help mediate interactions with peers and adults. Studies examined the use of these robots as mediators focusing on communication and social interaction, e.g. self-initiated interactions, collaboration, verbal communication, turn-taking, imitation, joint attention, etc. The ASD practitioners expressed the robot Kaspar to be of added value to ASD objectives in domains such as communication, interpersonal interaction, social relations, and emotional wellbeing. In the project we use Kaspar robot to study child-robot interaction. Kaspar robot was not used in conjunction with emotion recognition technologies before.

Kaspar social robot

Emotion recognition

There are several works on facial expressions in children with autism. Multiple studies suggest that participants with ASD display facial expressions less frequently and shortly, and they are less likely to share facial expressions with others. Their facial expressions are also judged to be lower in quality and less accurate. However, participants with ASD do not express emotions less intensely, nor is their reaction time of expression onset slower. The findings were observed in several studies that analyzed spontaneous expressions and used diverse play activities: free, semi-structured or structured. None of the studies reported were based on interaction with a social robot, however some studies reported emotional expressions in autism analyzed with automatic recognition software. The approach of the EMBOA project is to combine social robots with automatic emotion recognition in the therapy of children with autism.