EDINBURGH – Researchers at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh have built Alyx, a robot colleague that teaches autistic people to recognise social cues.
Alyx was designed to help adults with autism acquire this vital skill in the workplace.
Unemployment rates among autistic adults is high – only around 16 per cent are in full-time paid work.
Researchers in Scotland believe Alyx could help improve that statistic.
“The main issue is not that they can’t do the work, it’s the workplace politics, especially being able to understand what people really mean rather than simply what they say. And part of that is understanding emotional expression, so that’s why robots like Alyx are going to help them,” said Dr Thusha Rajendran, associate professor of psychology at Heriot-Watt University.
During a session with Alyx, autistic adults complete a variety of clerical tasks, such as filing paper.
Alyx then generates either an approving or disapproving facial expression.
Learning to identify and process these facial expressions are critical to workplace interactions.
“Because ambiguity is the real problem for people with autism: How do I know when somebody’s pleased with what I’ve done? We might understand it as the neuro-typical population, people with autism have difficulties,” said Dr Rajendran.
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