ROBOTICS AND TOY DESIGN TO SERVICE DISABILITY
Nowadays the implementation of technology into medical environment is an hot topic, like the one of collaboration between robotics and toy design to service disability. There are plenty of case studies to demonstrate how progress in these fields is run by enlightened minds and by project teams made by people with different and sometimes opposite backgrounds. Most of times, exactly for this reason, they reach unexpected results.
Marino for example is a humanoid, model ‘Nao’ by SoftBank Robotics, and was gifted to pediatric ward of Bologna hospital to take care of children with oncological disease. Milo too was recently developed by RoboKind, US company: apparently a little boy but actually a great step forward into the education of children with autism. Many more could be mentioned to demonstrate the great appeal to this topic that is still alive mostly thanks to the positive feedbacks on patients.
Leka fits completely into this matter and demonstrates a unique and fascinating approach to the collaboration between robotics and toy design to service disability. Leka first of all is not a humanoid. Unlike the other robots on the market it looks like a sphere with a display, a simple robot that hide a one-of-a-kind technology. This interactive smart toy is designed to be a companion of children with special needs, to help them develop motivation and educate through play. Is tested indeed that robots are beneficial for autistic children, especially because they encourage kids to establish an empathic relationship with outside world.
Behind this project, that reached 152% of the requested goal on the last IndieGogo campaign, there are software engineers, UI/UX designers, ergonomic and autism experts and parents, each of them fundamental for the 360° development of this toy. Leka was tested with more than 100 children with autism or special needs in France and US, monitored by parents, experts and therapists.
The sphere is programmed through an app that can be used by both the kid and parent/therapist and through which they can choose activities and interactive games (is all open source). Leka is perceived by the child as a funny playfellow that reward him with lights, expressions and sounds. Most of the activities are focused on understanding and emotion developing, others suggest educational and motion games to develop many different skills into the children.
But Leka’s role doesn’t finish with game interaction: the sphere monitors and keeps continuously datas during the activities on use and progress of the game; then datas are easily shared and readable by parents and therapists through Leka’s app. At this point is natural to imagine (and hope) a worldwide diffusion of this robot, to collect datas always updated and suitable for experts for the improvement of therapeutic treatments for specific pathologies.
Leka’s tangible force is in uprooting robotics and toy design to service disability from specialized hubs and therapeutic environment to enter in the houses of all that children with special needs, where they live their daily life and feel safe. This was possible not just because its playful and interactive nature, but also thanks to a competitive price compared to other robots with therapeutic meaning.