Scientists develop a robot to help children cope with their diabetes

by Barbara Hewitt on March 1, 2016

A robot has been developed by scientists in the UK to help younger children understand and manage their diabetes.

Robin the robot is 60 centimetres tall and can talk and interact with children and has been developed through ALIZ-E, an €8.3 million initiative funded by the European Commission involved researchers from universities in Plymouth, Hertfordshire and London.

They have found that youngsters are more likely to perform tasks related to their diabetes if prompted by an interactive robot. It helps them to understand the importance of their conditions and become more confident about handling it.


“This is not just about a novelty factor catching the youngsters attention, it is about the robots engaging in a way the children accept and giving them information they can understand and be motivated by,” said Tony Belpaeme, Professor in Cognitive Systems and Robotics at Plymouth University.

“In many cases where a child has diabetes, you notice their confidence has been knocked and the robot can help restore that. By personalising its responses and recognising the children it has met before, the robots can support and educate, and we have seen many times the positive impact this is having on children and their families,” he added.

The robot mimics a diabetic toddler and can teach children aged between seven and 12 to recognise low blood sugar symptoms. The researchers believe that it also boosts confidence.

The University of Hertfordshire has developed Robin’s emotion, and Imperial College London worked on machine learning. Dr. Lola Canamero and Dr. Matthew-Lewis of Hertfordshire designed and wrote the robot’s character

“Children love robots, they really relate to them very quickly. We ask them to look after Robin, to play, and while they’re doing that Robin shows symptoms of diabetes that the children have to learn to recognise and then they have to think what to do about that,” said Canamero.

“We try to give children a sense of responsibility and let them bond with the robot to understand that their actions can help with his diabetes and reinforce the sort of behaviours we’d like to see in them,” Lewis explained.

Simon O’Neill of British charity Diabetes UK described the robot as an interesting development for helping children with diabetes. “It’s really exciting to see this type of technology being used to help children accept and become more confident about their diabetes,” he said.

“The robot needs to personalise what it does. If it treats children on an individual level, they immediately relate to it, it taps into our primitive need to interact and communicate. One of the things that does appeal to children is that the robot does make mistakes. If it never did so, it could become intimidating. It does make the child realise they too don’t have to be perfect all of the time,” added Belpaeme.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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