A nice story was in the news today (Washington Examiner): Kaspar the friendly robot helps autistic kids.
Ben Robins, a researcher who has already done a lot of work studying how robots might benefit children with autism, is quoted as saying:
“Children with autism don’t react well to people because they don’t understand facial expressions,” said Ben Robins, a senior research fellow in computer science at the University of Hertfordshire who specializes in working with autistic children. “Robots are much safer for them because there’s less for them to interpret and they are very predictable.”
The article neatly decribes the current state of the science behind the idea that social robots can help autistic children to learn and train certain social skills (basically, there are promising case studies, but a long-term effect study is lacking). And it mentions the opinions of various researchers, in the field and outside of it, on the merits of the work with Kaspar (which has been ongoing since 2005).
I also found a nice BBC video from 2008 about Kaspar and Robins and others’ work:
And there is a long, Japanese documentary about Kaspar and the work of Robins et al.