Impact of the appearance of a robot for autistic children

Title:Impact of the appearance of a robot for autistic children
Institute:University of Twente (HMI)
Place:Enschede The Netherlands
Type:Capita selecta and Research Topics
End date:not present
HMI ContactMariët Theune


In the DE-ENIGMA project [1], we aim to develop a novel intervention for teaching emotion recognition to autistic children through the use of Robokind’s R25 model Zeno. This humanoid robot has an expressive humanlike face than enables it to produce different facial expressions.

This assignment aims to investigate the appearance impact of the robot Zeno. Indeed, the appearance of robots has an impact in how likeable they are to autistic children [2,3]. In addition, in [3], the authors emphasized that an attractive appearance in addition to the robot’s specific abilities can increase the child’s motivation to actively participate in the therapeutic process. For example, in the DE-ENIGMA project, the robot needs to display facial expression of emotions, but the body appearance can change.

Previous work in autism research showed that autistic children gazed more towards certain objects, as trains or computer, and less towards others as clothes or plants [4]. Identically, in [5], autistic children were observed to play more with Thomas the Tank Engine theme toys, gross motor toys, infant toys, dress-up accessories, action figures and plastic animals than construction toys, dolls, and ‘house’ toy. This preference towards train or mechanical objects has been already successfully used in the Transporters animation series [6] to teach young children with autism emotions. This cartoon used animated vehicles with real emotional faces to catch the children attention on their face and expressions.

Based on these studies, we want to investigate the robot’s appearance via different costume (train costume, doll-clothes, …) and which one are the most attractive for autistic children. The main tasks to be carried out in this project will be: a literature review, to design different costumes to the robot Zeno, to develop and perform a user study (children with and without autism).

For more information, contact Pauline Chevalier (

[2] Robins, B., Dautenhahn, K., & Dubowski, J. (2006). Does appearance matter in the interaction of children with autism with a humanoid robot?. Interaction studies, 7(3), 479-512.
[3] Peca, A., Simut, R., Pintea, S., Costescu, C., & Vanderborght, B. (2014). How do typically developing children and children with autism perceive different social robots?. Computers in Human Behavior, 41, 268-277.
[4] Sasson, N. J., Turner?Brown, L. M., Holtzclaw, T. N., Lam, K. S., & Bodfish, J. W. (2008). Children with autism demonstrate circumscribed attention during passive viewing of complex social and nonsocial picture arrays. Autism Research, 1(1), 31-42.
[5] Dominguez, A., Ziviani, J., & Rodger, S. (2006). Play behaviours and play object preferences of young children with autistic disorder in a clinical play environment. Autism, 10(1), 53-69.
[6] Golan, O., Ashwin, E., Granader, Y., McClintock, S., Day, K., Leggett, V., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2010). Enhancing emotion recognition in children with autism spectrum conditions: An intervention using animated vehicles with real emotional faces. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 40(3), 269-279.