Job hunters with autism could benefit from ‘robot skill training’, researchers say

The latest research suggests that only 14 per cent of adults living with autism in the UK have a full-time job, and that many find it difficult to find their way into work, but innovators in Edinburgh believe that they have developed a unique solution to these problems.

Researchers at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University have designed and built robot which they say could help more adults living with autism spectrum disorders to get into work.

According to reports, Alyx the robot can teach individuals with autism how to recognise different social cues and facial expressions, enabling them to improve their social and facial recognition skills.

Alyx is able to do this by displaying ‘approving’ or ‘disapproving’ facial signals to those who interact with it – the two most basic social signals researchers claim are most likely to be seen in real-life workplace situations.

The team have so far managed to design and build a full humanoid head and face for Alyx.

In the future, they are hoping to build a ‘full-bodied’ version with the capability to teach further social skills through body language and other physical actions.

Peter McKenna, Research Associate at Heriot-Watt, said: “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.

“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.”