New Research Says Virtual Reality Robots Can Treat Autistic Patients

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Virtual Reality and Autism Treatment

Difficulties in social behavior and interacting with other people are common in those who have disorders such as schizophrenia, autism, and anxiety. For this target group, the European research project "AlterEgo" is developing a rehabilitation method for the treatment of such deficiencies using virtual reality and humanoid robots. The coordinator of the project is Benoît Bardy, Professor of Human Movement Sciences and Director of the EuroMov Center at the University of Montpellier. Participants include the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) in Kaiserslautern.


Recently, the project team received the fifth edition of the "Étoiles de l'Europe" award at the fourth Horizon 2020 in Paris. The event was sponsored by French Research Minister Frédérique Vidal.

Alain Beretz, Director-General for Research and Innovation, and Jean Chambaz, President of the Sorbonne Pierre et Marie Curie University in Paris and Chairman of the European Stars Jury, handed over the trophy for AlterEgo to Bardy.

According to DFKI, the basic idea of ​​the research project, in which scientists from France, Germany, England and Switzerland work together, is based on a new interdisciplinary theory in the field of neuroscience and cognitive science, the theory of similarity.

It says that it's easier to interact socially with someone who is similar to you.

AlterEgo's concept is to mimic these similar features in real time. At the beginning, the patients with a virtual character, according to the DFKI, should interact on a screen, later with a human-like, humanoid robot. Characteristics and behavioral changes during the interaction will be observed.


Patients should be stimulated to communicate with their counterpart. With the help of more or less socially neutral artificial agents, the new rehabilitation method will improve the deficits in affected patients and facilitate interaction with real people.

The evaluation of the field tests showed that a gradual adaptation of the mixture of similarity and dissimilarity is successful in therapy.

According to the institute, DKFI scientists created a 3D full-body scanner. "The scanner captures images from all perspectives in fractions of a second with the help of 44 single-lens reflex cameras. Afterwards, a virtual image of the person will be created,” explains Professor Didier Stricker, head of the DFKI research area Advanced Reality involved in the project.

The new scanning system enables the creation of an individually animating model of a person within a very short time. The scanning methods offer great potential beyond the rehab application in other non-medical areas as well.

"The automated creation of a digital, three-dimensional, and mobile avatar can be used, for example, for film productions or interactive computer games," says Stricker.

Reference: Aerzte Zeitung

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