Edinburgh robot could help autistic adults find work

A robot which teaches people key facial expressions could help boost the employment outlook for autistic adults, researchers have claimed.

The current UK unemployment rate is 4.4 per cent but just 14 per cent of autistic adults have a full-time job.

Researchers at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University have developed a robot called Alyx to teach people to recognise social cues.

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Alyx displays approving or disapproving facial signals, the two most-used expressions at work, to help adults with autism deal with social signals in workplace situations.

Peter McKenna, research associate at Heriot-Watt, said impaired social communication can hinder some adults.

He said: “Our analysis shows that there are certain facial expressions Alyx produces that are read similarly to a human face. This information is vital for developing a socially-competent companion for our future work with autistic adults. At present, impaired social communication and interaction hold back the working potential of those with autism.

“However, robots like Alyx can help change this outcome by offering additional assistance and knowledge of social skills, thereby creating more opportunities for everyone, regardless of diagnosis.”

Initial work solely involved the robot’s head and the team is now working on a full-bodied version which will teach further social skills.

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