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Teaching robots to play Angry Birds helps children's rehabilitation


July 11, 2014

Researchers at Georgia Tech found that when assigned the task of teaching a robot to play ...

Researchers at Georgia Tech found that when assigned the task of teaching a robot to play Angry Birds, children were engaged for longer periods of time

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If Angry Birds is known for anything, it's an ability to keep youthful eyes glued to the screen for extended periods of time. But a new study conducted at Georgia Tech has shown that teaching a robot how to play the video game keeps kids slinging those wingless birds through the air for even longer, a finding that could help in the rehabilitation of cognitive and motor-skill disabilities.

The study observed how school-aged children engaged with Angry Birds and how that engagement could be dictated depending on who was sitting alongside them. The kids were first asked to play the game as an adult watched on, and then to teach a robot how to play for themselves.

In preparation, the researchers had paired a small humanoid robot with an Android tablet. The robot was programmed to watch the child's movements and record snippets of useful information, such as where swipes are stopping and starting and how the objects were moving on screen. It then mimicked the movements and offered up life-like reactions to developments in the game, shaking its head following misdirected shots and dancing when it struck a target.

Whereas the children played the game for an average of nine minutes with the adults, session times almost tripled to an average of 26.5 minutes when playing with the robot. The researchers also observed a much higher level of interaction, as seven percent of the session with the adult included eye contact, gestures, while the robot's session drew nearly forty percent.

The robots ability to analyze and adapt to new information suggests they could have a role to play in rehabilitation for disabled children, a process that often involves lengthy and monotonous exercises that can be tiring for a parent.

"Imagine that a child’s rehab requires a hundred arm movements to improve precise hand-coordination movements," said Ayanna Howard, Professor at Georgia Tech's School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and leader of the project. "The person’s desire to help their 'friend' can turn a five-minute, bland exercise into a 30-minute session they enjoy."

The Georgia Tech researchers will now look at programming the robot to learn other games, such as Candy Crush and ZyroSky, while further testing the technique on children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and children with motor impairments.

You can see a demonstration in the video below.

Source: Georgia Tech

About the Author
Nick Lavars Nick was born outside of Melbourne, Australia, with a general curiosity that has drawn him to some distant (and very cold) places. Somewhere between enduring a winter in the Canadian Rockies and trekking through Chilean Patagonia, he graduated from university and pursued a career in journalism. He now writes for Gizmag, excited by tech and all forms of innovation, Melbourne's bizarre weather and curried egg sandwiches.   All articles by Nick Lavars
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