Babies get a license to thrive
" They don''t have licenses, and they can't even sit in the front seat of a car. But some infants already have driving experience. For the past two years, researchers from the University of Delaware have been observing babies 4- to 15-months-old "drive" a special robot outfitted with a booster seat and joystick. They hope their findings will help determine how robots can enhance the progress of infants with developmental disabilities as well as those with long-term mobility limitations.
Most of the 20 babies studied thus far have demonstrated that they understand the link between their physical actions and the robot's motions; the results from two have been published in the journal Intel Serv Robotics. If this understanding continues, the next step is to see whether the robots can accelerate the interest of slow-developing children in moving on their own.
"If you take them out of the robot, they may still have that drive inside them to move," said James C. Galloway, associate professor of physical therapy at UD. "The robot may work as a stimulus, and then they may have the possibility after a couple of times using it to have the drive to learn to crawl."
More than 43,000 American babies were enrolled in special services in 2006, either because they had or were at risk of developing a disability, according to the U.S. Department of Education. In these infants, intellectual and physical development is hindered by their inability to explore their world, said Dr. Dara Richardson-Heron, national medical director of United Cerebral Palsy, an advocacy group. Once the babies obtain that ability to explore, their ability to think and learn skyrockets.
"There's a real cognitive explosion when a child without any developmental problems starts to explore the world by crawling and walking," she said. "To me, it seems very likely that a child with a developmental disability will have the same or similar response. What a difference if they were exposed to the world more actively."..
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