The video: An affectionate, human-mimicking machine has helped a group of autistic children in England overcome their aversion to intimacy. (View video below.) Kaspar, built by scientists at the University of Hertfordshire for just over $2,000, has been programmed to laugh, blink, wave his arms, and imitate other human responses, with the goal of demystifying social cues for autistic kids. The robot's "skin" is coated with silicone patches that feel like human skin, and the most advanced version of Kaspar can even play Nintendo Wii. Kaspar's creators hope to eventually mass-produce such machines for a few hundred dollars each.
The reaction: "Children with autism don't react well to people because they don't understand facial expressions," says autism expert Ben Robins, as quoted by the Associated Press. "Robots are much safer for them because there's less for them to interpret and [robots] are very predictable." Indeed, so far Kaspar has been a hit with kids and their parents. "Before, [my daughter] would make a smiley face no matter what emotion you asked her to show," says one parent, also quoted by the AP. "But now she is starting to put the right emotion with the right face. That's really nice to see." Watch Kaspar in action: