BRISTOL — At the MOVIA Robotics office, a white robot the size of a small kitchen appliance with perfectly spherical neon blue eyes and an upturned mouth guides you through a series of activities.

We’ll start with a game — a robot named Kebi that looks like something out of a movie. Wally, tap the falling snowflakes on your iPad’s screen and instruct them to “melt” them with your finger. “Good luck Emilia!” said Kevi.

Then we move on to the numbers lesson. Drag the 5, 10, 15, 20 small circles in the correct order to the center of the screen and count by 5.

Kebbi is one of four robots the company has programmed to work with children with special education needs, especially those with autism. Robots are used in schools, group her homes, and therapists’ offices to help children with their social skills and to encourage them through school lessons.

Tim Gifford, President and Chief Scientist, MOVIA Robotics

The company’s founder, president and chief scientist, Tim Gifford, said the company is using human behavior and interactions with the world to inform how people program artificial intelligence. said to have emerged from his research.

Gifford says his interest in using psychology to program robot behavior dates back to his time at Syracuse University. At UConn, he ran a robotics lab in the psychology department. Gifford said he started thinking about using robots to teach neurodiverse children after talking to his teacher, his wife.

“She showed me that there are so many children with autism and that they had no tools other than one-on-one interaction, which is not possible, especially in public schools,” he says. said. “So I thought that being able to bring this out of the lab and into the classroom would really make a difference.”

Gifford began working on the idea in 2008 after gathering researchers at UConn and receiving a grant from the National Institutes of Health. He launched his MoviaRobotics in 2010. Software He works with a team of engineers, special education professionals, and early childhood specialists to develop the software. such as applied behavior analysis (a type of one-on-one therapy that supports social skills in children with autism) and embodied cognition that examines the role of body-world interaction and how it contributes to thought processes. He said he studied learning techniques. .

Gifford said it’s important that the company’s robots keep kids engaged and engaged.

Tim Gifford looks at a table full of robots in the MOVIA Robotics office in Bristol, Connecticut.

“It’s very important that it’s not only working once and that your child enjoys it, but that it’s lasting,” says Gifford.

In addition to academic support, Kebbi can guide students through lessons on counting, days of the week, colors, letters of the alphabet, and teaches these social skills as well. For example, in one of her lessons on focusing on work, she presents children with a drawing of a student studying at a desk and another holding a paper plane. Kebbi asks your child to point out which students are staying focused and who are not.

The software also allows teachers to create individual plans based on each student’s abilities, collect data for each student, and create reports on student performance. Children who worked with robots improved their skills, Gifford said.

Robots are now in use in more than 70 schools, including public schools in Bristol, Wallingford, Hartford, Middletown, and Suffield, Gifford said, helping families, therapy offices and people with intellectual disabilities. It is also used by organizations for

In addition to pre-programmed lessons, teachers and therapists can also program robots to say specific things or interact with children, Gifford said. Gifford said the robot can also be used to guide children through “relaxation” techniques such as deep breathing and counting to ten.

“Therapists can actually use robots to guide children in dynamic ways through different discussions and interactions.”

Movia does not manufacture robots. The company buys robots from manufacturers in China, Taiwan and Japan and programs them with their software. Gifford said it’s important for the robot to be affordable for parents and school districts and robust enough for children to handle. He also said he prefers robots with human features such as faces and movable limbs.

Movia CEO Maniba Masood said children tend to respond gently to robots and form relationships with them quickly.

“They tend to be gentler. They tend to be kinder because of their physical abilities and because the robot can say their name and they know the robot’s name,” she said. “A lot of what we hear and see is that people with autism have difficulty interacting with people and making eye contact. Non-judgmental, repetitive, and almost subdued in tone and effect, it really lends itself to being a good intervention.”

Kebbi with software costs about $2,400 for the first year for families and $5,000 for institutions. After that, the cost drops to about $1,000 a year for a family. According to Gifford, the company also offers one-hour He to Her one-and-a-half training sessions for teachers and parents who use it.

Gifford said the company is working on a Spanish-speaking version of the software, which is what they’ve been asked to do. He also wanted to create more programs for older users and adults, and he wanted to give children lessons to help them use tools other than just tablets.

According to Masood, the robot does not replace therapists and teachers, but works in tandem with them, allowing more time to focus on assessing children’s progress and allowing teachers to refocus on children’s tasks. It reduces the time you would normally have to spend to .

“We want to meet individuals where they are, and we know how tech-centric we are,” says Masood. “So this is a great example of using technology for good and using it in powerful and impactful ways to improve lives.”

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