Project INSIDE: towards autonomous semi-unstructured human–robot social interaction in autism therapy

This paper describes the INSIDE system, a networked robot system designed to allow the use of mobile robots as active players in the therapy of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). While a significant volume of work has explored the impact of robots in ASD therapy, most such work comprises remotely operated robots and/or well-structured interaction dynamics. In contrast, the INSIDE system allows for complex, semi-unstructured interaction in ASD therapy while featuring a fully autonomous robot. In this paper we describe the hardware and software infrastructure that supports such rich form of interaction, as well as the design methodology that guided the development of the INSIDE system. We also present some results on the use of our system both in pilot and in a long-term study comprising multiple therapy sessions with children at Hospital Garcia de Orta, in Portugal, highlighting the robustness and autonomy of the system as a whole.