Beds, Herts & Bucks

Robot with diabetes developed in Hertfordshire

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Media captionRobin is programmed to act like a child with diabetes to help youngsters with the condition

A robot is being developed to mimic a diabetic toddler to help children recognise symptoms of the condition.

Robin, short for "Robot Infant", is being developed at the University of Hertfordshire and can speak words including "hungry" and "hug me".

Developers said it was aimed at children aged seven to 12 to help youngsters learning to manage diabetes.

Diabetes UK said it had "been watching the development of Robin with great interest".

"It's really exciting to see this type of technology being used to help children accept and become more confident about their diabetes," said spokesman Simon O'Neill.

'Sense of responsibility'

Dr Lola Canamero and Dr Matthew Lewis designed and wrote the £5,800 robot's character.

Image caption Dr Lola Canamero said the robot was designed to appeal to children and can play, dance and ask for hugs
Image caption Developers hope Robin's "diabetes" will teach children how to manage the condition

"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," said Dr Lewis.

"We would like to try multiple interactions; so far children have only spent half an hour with Robin in just one session.

Image caption At the moment, Robin has a limited vocabulary and set of behaviours so children only spend half an hour at a time with it

"We'd like to have them interact with him several times and feel that they've improved.

"There are a limited number of behaviours Robin has at the moment which are sufficient for a half hour interaction but, for example, Robin only has a small number of words that he speaks. He also doesn't respond to noises."

What does Robin do?

Robin behaves like a toddler, he wanders around to look at pictures and toys, he plays, dances when he's bored, gets tired and asks for hugs.

These traits enable children to relate to Robin, which the developers say is crucial to them in remembering how to treat their condition.

Dr Canamero said that "children love robots, they really relate to them very quickly", which acts as a confidence booster for their knowledge of diabetes and treating it.

"We ask [children] 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," Dr Canamero added.

Image caption This laptop screen shows Robin's "blood sugar levels"

The next step for Robin, Dr Canamero and Dr Lewis is to conduct public engagement work and to continue to raise funds so that Robin can be "used with children in the UK".

The project, which began in Italy under a 142,000 euro grant as part of the ALIZ-E programme, has received £11,000 from the university to continue its work with support from the School of Computer Science.

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