Momo the robot meets children with autism



Production / Professional


Minja Axelsson, Olli Ohls, Teemu Turunen


1. Bringing social robotics to autism therapy.

Social robotics is an emerging field, with the technology only starting to mature and lots of potential yet to be explored. The initial scenarios of use are obvious: hospitality, reception desk, telepresence. In all of these, the state of the technology is a weakness: the interactions are limited to the limits of the technology. But could we go it the other way? Could we apply social robotics to contexts where the current state (or at least the near-future state) of the technology could be a strength rather than a weakness?

For people with autism, the subtle emotional cues found in most human communication can be distracting, confusing. A robot however is predictable: it can perform the exact same communication again and again, without getting tired, without all the subtleties. This can be an advantage.

In this project, we experimented with using an open source humanoid robot doing sign language in communication therapy for autistic children. The physical part of the robot was a modified version of an existing open-source robot build. The communication part we prototyped via a wizard-of-Oz technique, which allowed us to jump a few years ahead of the technology, avoid extensive development costs and focus purely on better understanding the human aspects of conversing with a physical robot.

The experiments have shown the disruption potential in bringing social robotics to autism communication therapy. Though more work is needed in the field, we believe this kind of exploratory work to be very important–especially in fields easily overlooked– if we want to realise the full potential of emerging technology.


2. Impact-driven innovation

Futurice is a digital consultancy and Chilicorn Fund, the force behind this project, is our social responsibility program. Chilicorn Fund’s mission is to serve our people’s drive for doing good in the world, while still delivering value for our business and keeping our efforts sustainable. With this project we have shown once again that this is absolutely possible.
The chosen problem was worth addressing and the results are meaningful. The interestingness of the topic attracted partial funding (from Prizztech). The learning experience was very useful for us and is enabling a new business offering (social robotics). Our student partners got to learn too, on a super interesting project (the new robotic hands). Digitalents Helsinki are creating employment through their video coverage of the project.

More disruption is on the way. All of our robotic efforts so far are now leading to the creation of Momo 2.0–a more robust, more versatile, proper social robot, shared under a more permissive open-source license, designed and built from scratch in Finland. A collaboration is now in place for this, with the design sprint scheduled for the end of this year.


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