While doing research for her thesis, Dr Ramya S Moorthy met autistic children, parents of special children and special educators. While interacting with them, she got to know the various challenges they faced.
“Children with developmental disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorder(ASD) are on the rise worldwide at an alarming rate. In India alone, Autism Spectrum Disorder and other disabilities affect about 72 million children. Children with these disorders are unable to perform basic life functions, making them dependent on their caregivers for life. For example, some children born with autism spectrum disorder lack psychomotor skills that can impede their ability to button up a shirt, hold a pencil or grasp a knob to open a door. There is no known cure and treatment mostly involves occupational, speech and behavioural therapy that helps children to learn motor, fine motor, and communication skills. With the rise in the number of children with these issues, the need for innovative technology-based solutions has become clear. While there are a number of assistive technology products in areas of speech and communication, we identified that psychomotor skills are rarely being addressed. That’s how Nimaya Robotics was born to address this specific gap and make a difference to these children,” says Subashree Krishnan, co-founder of Nimaya Robotics.
In the US and other Western countries, research has shown that children with special needs engage very well with humanoid robots. Nimaya Robotics has developed six skill training units, which collectively address over 30 psychomotor and cognitive skills. Each unit is designed to address a group of skills. “For example, the joystick unit helps in developing palmar grasp, hand-eye coordination, the concept of direction, waiting and turn-taking, and responding to verbal instructions. It looks like a toy and the responsive motion of the yellow arm captivates children. This combination of play and learning — active learning — is the reason children quickly develop the grasp, hand-eye coordination and concept of direction,” she explains.
The team has done a pilot study with 60 children in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. They found that learning improves by over 50 per cent with Nimaya’s approach — not only are the children able to retain the skills but also are able to generalise to daily life.